Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: An unscheduled childhood

I believe firmly that adults ought to read children's books, because there's something extra magical about children's lit, although it can be embarrassing to be seen in public with it.  We were at Brigid's orthopedic surgeon's office and he squinted at the book I had brought with me and pronounced Peter Duck as if he had never seen an adult with a children's book before, and yes, I felt foolish and stammered something about great children's books.

Peter Duck is one of the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, and today's assignment is Pigeon Post, another book from this series.  I just finished it and enjoyed it immensely.

I know I probably annoy people by recommending mid-series books, but with the Swallows and Amazons, you don't really need to read the series in order.  There might be references to incidents in past books, but they don't interfere with your understanding or enjoyment of the story.  Pigeon Post is the sixth book in this series, set in the 1920's about a group of British children who meet each summer and have adventures, mainly involving sailing although most of Pigeon Post takes place on land.

These books make me feel a little wistful for the free childhood that these children have.  I allow my own children more freedom than most parents do--Seamus spends so much time with his gang of boys he is practically feral--but they don't come close to having the independent adventures that the Swallows and Amazons do.  My own childhood was slightly nearer the mark--we certainly spent lots of time unsupervised in boats and climbing mountains on our own--but never did we camp for weeks on end and fend for ourselves.

Remember being a child, and being entirely engrossed in some sort of make-believe with your friends or siblings?  So engrossed that you could hardly bear to take time out for a meal or to go to bed?  It's really the ideal experience of childhood, and the Swallows and Amazons have it in spades.

In Pigeon Post, the children try their hand at mining, lured by the tale of a man who claimed to have found gold in one of the old mines under a nearby mountain, then went off to fight in WWI and never returned.  The story is a mix of make believe and real.  The children identify a strange man with a squashy hat as being their enemy, although all he really seems to be doing is minding his own business, but they also encounter real danger.  Left to figure things out for themselves, they use books to teach themselves how to build a blast furnace, how to make their own charcoal, how to separate gold from ore, how to douse for water and how to dig their own well.

The book is funny as well.   In Pigeon Post, the children are expecting the delivery of "Timothy," from their uncle, who travels all over the world.  They anticipate that Timothy will be an armadillo.   The reveal of what Timothy actually is made me laugh out loud.


  1. I love reading children's books.

  2. I've just finished 2 Young Adult books, both by John Green. I highly recommend The Fault in Our Stars by him.

  3. These books sound like just the thing for summer night read alouds. Thanks for the review.

  4. I think it depends on the individual book. There's ben a few times when I've re-read one of my childhood favourites to find it was terrible. Too simplistic in character and plot.
    But I did enjoy re-reading Robert Heinlein's books designed for the children's Market.
    Podkayne of Mars
    Red Planet
    Farmer in the Sky

  5. Cat, I'll have to check those out.

    Green Girl, any of the books in this series would be a great read aloud--good for ages 6-12.

    TSB, I agree, some children's books don't wear well, but these are keepers.

  6. I have the whole set, but have never read them--thanks for the reminder. They are on a high shelf--a poor excuse.

  7. BTW.
    Why the picture of Airing the Laundry?

  8. TSB, a blog like mine exposes the personal life to the public, so the picture alludes to the expression "Airing one's laundry in public." Is that an expression that's not used in Scotland or NZ?

  9. Ah, yes, I understand now. Very subtle.