by Arthur Ransome
Here is the second book in the "Swallows and Amazons" series... Or is it the third? It's embarrassing to be brought to a halt so early in a review, but frankly I'm confused. This book was published in 1931, after Swallows and Amazons (1930) and before Peter Duck (1932). Yet it makes several backwards references to events that happen in the latter book, which (according to the time-line on this Wiki page, took place between the events of the first two books. Holy Hornblower! It's another one of those series!
All the same, I didn't have any trouble following this story while reading through the series in publication order. And although it doesn't have the high historical drama and gruelling action of, say, a book about pirates or the naval warfare of the Napoleonic era, it is a spanking good series. Ransome's books about a circle of siblings and friends messing around in boats, beginning in England's Lake Country, are some of the original "school holidays novels" that have, throughout the past eighty years, given endless pleasure during the holidays (in case it rains and you're stuck indoors with nothing to do but read), between the holidays (so you can enjoy a kind of outdoors adventure while you're stuck in school), and after you reach the point in life where you don't get school holidays any more. (If any American readers are be confused by the British lingo I'm borrowing from the books, by "school holidays" I mean "summer vacation.")
Arthur Ransome blazed the trail, and countless authors followed--and continue to follow. And though there is very little real mystery, conflict, or serious danger in them, his books hold much more enjoyment than you might expect of an account of how two brothers and two sisters passed their summer holidays. For these Walker children are such lucky kids. I wish I could rewind my life so that I could live my childhood years the way they do. They spend it sailing the dinghy Swallow up and down a fictionalized lake in the north of England, camping first on an island and then in the hidden valley that gives this book its name.
They don't have magicians or pirates or bandits chasing them, but they make up for this deficit by using their imagination and making adventures for themselves. They have an honest-to-gosh shipwreck. They discover a secret cave. They climb to the peak of Kanchenjunga (or its nearest local counterpart). They got lost on a foggy moor. They wage a cold war against a terrible Great Aunt. They take part in an exciting sailing race. They make friends with a colorful collection of farmers, woodsmen, charcoal burners, and shipbuilders - none, however, so colorful as their own bright personalities and adventure-loving outlook on life.
Books like this make me want to rise up off my soft couch and go back to being a 12-year-old, sunburned, active, and carefree British youth in the year my Grandpa F. turned one year old. Obviously, that isn't going to happen to me. But with ten of this series's twelve books still to go, I can at least look forward to living that life vicariously.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 10+
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