Three families of children enjoy themselves outdoors in general, and sailing in particular, over several holidays. In Swallows and Amazons, John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker meet Nancy and Peggy Blackett and strike up a friendly rivalry as they go sailing in the Lake District. Come the Winter Holiday, the two sets of children are joined by the Callums, Dick and Dot, and they all enjoy winter sports for even longer than usual once Nancy gets the mumps and they are all in quarantine.
Like those of their near-contemporary, The Chronicles of Narnia, the twelve books in the Swallows and Amazons series have continued to be published since their first editions between 1930 and 1945. Yet this series’ penetration among young people is far less, which is a shame. Both series have a perennial value both for their storytelling and for the virtues they assume. I’ve no idea what the statistics are overall, but a quick survey of boys at the club I help to run shows that most of them have read at least one of the Narnia stories and some several, while none has done more than dip their toe into the waters of the Swallows and Amazons series.
I admit that I did not find myself drawn to these books as a child. My father had most of the stories in the original green hardback editions, and I tried a few times but failed to get into them. It was only as an adult, and then only when I saw one particular edition whose cover illustration caught my eye, that I started to read them and to enjoy the world they portray. Obviously, no one book or series is going to please everyone. But I believe that series like Swallows and Amazons would represent a breath of fresh air to many children. And that, in spite of the slight unfamiliarity of their style, they would not be too demanding or challenging. Perhaps there’s even a case for reading them out loud to younger children: certainly there’s nothing untoward whatsoever in the books, only a few very slightly frightening episodes, such as when the children get carried out to sea (a story I’d keep for older readers).
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.