Swallows and Amazons // by Arthur Ransome – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1930//

Do you ever have a book that you barely remember reading as a child, and then you revisit it as an adult and it’s really nothing at all like you remember?  That happens to me from time to time, since I grew up in a reading household.  I started reading at a ridiculously young age, and I was blessed with parents who loved to read to us out loud as well.  Some books, like Wind in the Willows, I only ever hear in my dad’s voice when I’m reading them!

At some point, Dad also read Swallows and Amazons to us, but it didn’t really stick in my memory.  I could only remember a few hazy things – it had something to do with boats, something to do with camping, and when they wanted to say “goodnight” they all said “Drool!  Drool!” which meant “goodnight” in their made up language haha  Otherwise, I didn’t remember much about this 1930 classic.

As an adult, it has been on my lists of reads to revisit for quite some time, and I was surprised to learn that it is actually the first in a series of twelve books!  These stories were originally published in Britain and appear to have been much more popular there.  Sadly, my library only has Swallows and Amazons, but none of the sequels, so if I want to read the rest, I’ll have to invest some cash!  There’s a pretty high probability of that happening, though, because Swallows and Amazons was a delight from end to end.

The story does indeed have something to do with boats and camping.  Four children – John, Susan, Titty, and Roger – are staying with their mother and their baby sister alongside a lake for the holidays.  Their father is in the Navy and his ship is all the way in Hong Kong.  The story begins when the children receive a telegram from their father giving them permission to spend the summer camping on a small, uninhabited island in the lake, which they will be able to access via a lovely little sailboat called the Swallow.  The rest of the book chronicles their adventures as they set up camp and explore the island and the lake, and then run into two sisters, Nancy and Peggy, who man their own little sailboat called the Amazon.  The two sets of siblings are both rivals and compatriots, especially when it comes to the “retired pirate” who lives on a houseboat in a nearby cove.

While this definitely isn’t a story of high drama and intensity, I was completely engaged in all of the adventures.  The children are delightfully independent, and their mother swiftly became one of my favorite characters as well.  She grew up in Australia on the coast, and has plenty of sailing and camping knowledge of her own.  Everyone felt realistic, and I honestly fell in love with literally every character in this story.  Even the “slower” parts, like the children visiting the charcoal burners, were still interesting both in what they added to the story, and what they had to say about the time period and area.  I loved how both the boy and girl characters in this story were equally involved in the adventures.  Yes, Susan was in charge of cooking and other “mothering” aspects of the camp, but all of the girls were just as capable of handling the boats and other more traditionally masculine aspects of the adventure.

All in all, I enjoyed every page of this story, and so ordered a copy of the second book, Swallowdale, on eBay.  I’m quite looking forward to delving into more adventures of this intrepid group of explorers.

Read #5 for #20BooksofSummer!