I ordered myself a copy of The Secret Island from ebay. It was always one of my most favourite Blytons – the independent children, running away and living their little self sufficient life on an idyllic island in the middle of a lake.
I’ve started reading it out loud to Smallest, but first of all, I read it right the way through first. It’s such a different time – it was written in 1938. Children whose parents disappear, and their aunt and uncle pull them out of school and force them to do house and farm work. (Domestic servitude anyone?) Most of the children in Blyton seemed to do chores it had to be said, I have distinct memories of Fanny having to do washing before they could go to the faraway tree. The male/ female breakdown grates a little too – the three children discuss running away, and Mike makes the decision, despite Peggy being older.
I don’t know to what extent Smallest will notice that sort of thing at age 4. Should I switch some of the names around to even out the chores as we get further in? Or is it enough to discuss roles, balance out our reading with more modern books that are more evenly balanced?
Difficult to tell. Although I grew up with this sort of thing all around me, and I’ve come out of it pretty well balanced. Is that despite my reading material or because of it? One of the first books I remember reading that wasn’t Blyton or Chalet school is Wizard of Earthsea by Le Guin – I must go back and reread that. And there was a Wrinkle in Time, which has a wonderful non subservient, utterly authentic, female character in it. (I don’t want to say strong female as I think that particular stereotype is being just as abused as the sweet little girl, particularly at the moment.)
Maybe I’m overthinking it all. Maybe The Secret Island should stand as it did when I first read it, a wonderful, slightly nostalgic, and fanciful adventure tale. Were children in 1938 really that self reliant and capable that they could live on an island, hidden away for 6 months? Always assuming that they could find any tiny little bit of space that remains so wonderfully untouched.
What have you been reading this week?