This month I didn’t read any children’s books except for In the Fifth at Malory Towers which I’ve reviewed already (here). So for my children’s book of the month this time, I thought I’d do a more general post about Enid Blyton’s school stories. If you’ve been following this blog, you know of course that Blyton is one of my favourite writers who I read a lot of as a child and still continue to. With over 700 books to her credit, she has written so many genres, fantasy and magic, circus stories, mysteries, farm stories, adventures, nature books, and much much more. But this post is all about her school stories–all set in different boarding schools of course, where there are the ‘usual’ elements of school life–lessons, exams, and games, but also adventures and fun, and sometimes, a mystery or two as well. Among her school stories are three series and one standalone.
Malory Towers: I’m starting with this since this is the series I’m currently revisiting. This series (of six books) tells the story of Darrell Rivers, a twelve-year-old who heads off to Malory Towers, a boarding school in Cornwall, when the series opens. She is excited to make new friends in her time there but when she arrives, she realises that making a good friend is perhaps not as easy as she first thought. And before she does, she must see people for who they are, because first impressions are not always right. What I’ve been loving about this series is how (even though Blyton had a certain idea of how ‘good’ children were) it throughout carries the idea that the world is made up of all sorts of people (like the level-headed Sally, the sharp-tongued Alicia, talented scatterbrain Irene and musical Belinda, and the self-absorbed ‘baby’ Gwendolen Lacy), and one has to learn to deal with them, accept them, also each of us need to change a little for things to go on. I also like the fact that our heroine Darrell isn’t a perfect character, she has temper issues which she has to constantly deal with. Though not students, the two Mam’zelles especially the jolly Mam’zelle Dupont stand out as well! These are fun school stories of course with fun and games, and tricks (the funnest ones were when they write with invisible chalk on the music master’s stool, when Alicia’s cousin June inflates herself in Mam’zelle’s class (where all tricks are played), and when Mam’zelle Dupont plays a trick of her own) too but what I liked most on this reading is the focus on people and human nature. The distinctive Cornish landscape too stands out in many of the stories.
St Clares: This was the series (once again six books) I read more of as a child (countless times, in fact) and so it remains a kind of favourite with me, the details staying more with me than in the other school stories. Here we have not one ‘heroine’ but two, twins Pat(ricia) and Isabel O’Sullivan, and unlike Darrell Rivers, they are not looking forward to St Clares when they first head there. They’ve been head-girls at their old school and believe they are good at everything, and wanted to attend a more ‘snobbish’ school where they friends were going. Luckily, their parents think otherwise and find St Clares the more sensible choice. After initially attempting to be ‘difficult’, the twins soon realise the worth of the school, making friends and doing well. This series has its share of amusing characters too, the fun Doris and Bobbie, the fiery-tempered circus girl Carlotta, and the French girl Claudine among them. And substituting for Gwendolen Mary, is the less selfish but empty headed Alison, the twins’ cousin. Again first impressions are not everything, when the ‘mousy’ Gladys turns out to be a superb actress! There are once again games and matches (lacrosse particularly, but also tennis), lots of tricks, and also plenty of midnight feasts (more than in Malory Towers If I remember right) in this series.
The Naughtiest Girl: This series of four is set in Whyteleaf School, a very different one from Malory Towers or St Clares. Our main character here, Elizebeth Allen, is like Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan not particularly keen to go to Whyteleaf, and tries her best to be thrown out. But of course, that changes soon enough when Elizabeth realises she actually likes the place, but she has to work up the courage to say so! The school itself is what stands out in this one. For one, it is co-ed unlike Malory Towers and St Clares. But more than that it is much freer and also in a way much more radical, since all decisions are taken by a student body, including determining punishments and trying to keep the environment as egalitarian as possible (the other schools are pretty traditional with the teachers and head in-charge of discipline). The students have a wider range of activities, and yes, they allow pets (just the place for me–of course, Malory Towers allowed Wilhemina ‘Bill’, and Clarissa to keep their horses at school).
Mischief at St Rollo’s: Unlike the other three above this is a standalone and was published under Blyton’s pseudonym Mary Pollock. This is one I haven’t actually read yet, and only found out about fairly recently. This one features siblings Mike and Janet Fairley who are being sent to St Rollos (where they don’t want to go, of course 🙂 ) but begin making friends from when they get on the train to school. There is the usual sharing of tuck, midnight feasts, and even a case of cheating in the previous term, the consequences of which are still playing out.
Have you read any of these books? Which ones and which are your favourites among them? Any other school stories or series you’d recommend? And yes, If I missed any of Blyton’s school stories here, do let me know. Looking forward to your thoughts!