Home » Book Review » Swallows and Amazons // by Arthur Ransome – #20BooksofSummer

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!

10 thoughts on “Swallows and Amazons // by Arthur Ransome – #20BooksofSummer

    • We have PILES of books everywhere – it’s the one thing that Mom definitely did NOT get rid of haha In our family, book snatching is legal, so sometimes they get shifted around a bit, too. :-D Also, I totally got your message about the library shindig towards the end of the month. I will get with Mary Rose and see what we can work out!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. My grandmother gave me Swallows and Amazons when I was eight and I read it in the car as we moved rom Connecticut to Illinois. I was entranced and fell in love with sailing. She sent me the rest of the books as her book dealer found them – this was 60 years ago, they were out-of-print in the US, long before networked book dealers, let alone eBay and Amazon. Ransome wrote for young people in a voice that rang totally true. I read them all aloud to our kids, years ago. Happily they’re available today from Amazon – I bought a bunch of them this spring on Kindle, to read on our first trip to the Lake District.


    • That is such a happy story – I’m so glad you shared!! I am definitely looking forward to collecting these. There are several authors who published more in Britain than here from that time period that I’ve discovered as an adult, like E. Nesbit and Elizabeth Goudge. The internet has made it much easier to find their titles. I lucked out on my purchase of Swallowdale – it’s a beautiful hardcover edition! I’m super stoked.


  3. I hope you will like Swallowdale too. I enjoyed reading it more the second time after being disappointed with it as a child due to the way it turns its back on the lake, island and boats, but it still has a lot to offer – it’s just a lot easier to appreciate it if you don’t approach it with the wrong expectations. If you find it significantly less enjoyable than the first book, you must not let that stop you reading the rest of the series – there are several others in the 12 that are every bit as good as the first. You really have to think of them as being 12 chapters of a much bigger book, each very different from the rest. (Some of them don’t even have any Swallows or Amazons in them, and, much as I like those characters, their lack does not diminish those books at all.)


    • While I enjoyed the boating aspect because it was such a fun setting, the parts where they were describing what they were doing with the sailboat and such went completely over my head, since I have never even been on a sailboat! So as long as there is still a fun and happy story in Swallowdale, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I really am looking forward to finding the whole series.


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