Shelf Control #60: The Caravan Family by #EnidBlyton #Children’sLiterature

Wednesday the 25th of September–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks.

This time my pick is a book from one of my favourite authors, whose books I’ve loved (and which I occasionally write about on this blog) since I was a child–The Caravan Family by Enid Blyton. This is the first in what is called the ‘Family series’ , which has six books. These feature three children Mike, Belinda, and Ann who go on various adventures–in a Caravan, staying at the seaside or on a farm, aboard a houseboat, and even on cruises. In this one, as the name suggests, it is adventures aboard a caravan. The three children’s father buys not one but two caravans for them to live and travel in. The book was first published as a serial in Playways Magazine between March 1945 and February 1946.

As I said, Enid Blyton (1897–1968) is and has been one of my favourite writers since I was a child. A prolific writer, she published over 700 books (wikipedia lists 762 during her lifetime) and while she essentially wrote children’s fiction, she wrote across a range of genres–mystery, adventure, and detective series like the Five Findouters, the Famous Five, the Adventurous Four, the Secret Seven, the Secret Series, the Adventure Series, the Barney Mysteries; school series,  like St Clares, Malory Towers, the Naughtiest Girlfantasy and magic like the Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books besides standalones featuring pixies, brownies, goblins, and other fairy and magic folk; farm stories like the Six Cousins, and Willow Farm; circus stories like Galliano’s Circus, and the stories featuring Pip and Susy-ann; nature books like the Animal Book among many many others including short stories, re-tellings, poems, and puzzles.

The family series is not one I really read as a I child, at least not one that is as familiar to me as some of her others, so I’m really looking forward to picking this one and the others in the series up, once I wrap up the final book in my Malory Towers revisits (My post on book 5 of Malory Towers is here).

Have you read this book or any of the others in the series? How do you find these? Which are your favourite Blyton books? Looking forward to your thoughts!

The book is available in public domain via fadedpage.com. Info on the book is from goodreads (here) and the Enid Blyton society (here).

Children’s Book (?) of the Month: Enid Blyton’s School Stories

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!

Malory Towers Challenge: In the Fifth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

It’s been a few months since I last read a book in this series though I’ve been thinking about it for sometime now. I read and reviewed book 4 last November (here), where Darrell’s sister Felicity, attends Malory Towers for the very first time.

In book 5, Darrell and Felicity return to Malory Towers, where Darrell is now in the fifth form. As the girls have passed their school certificates in the previous term, the term before them is to be a light one work-wise as their form mistress, Miss James informs them. But there’s still plenty in store as Darrell finds herself appointed games captain for the form, sharing duties with Sally, and the fifth form are put in charge of the Christmas entertainment to be written and produced by them entirely. Darrell takes charge of writing the play, Irene the music, Belinda the sets, and Janet the costumes. There is one new girl Maureen, very like Gwendolen-Mary, and three others who weren’t sent up to the sixth form because of age or illness or because they weren’t prepared enough, among them Moira who is a little too hard and domineering, and Catherine, far too saintly. Maureen like Gwendolen Mary is too full of herself, but has only the latter for company as no one else wants her. Once again the different personalities clash or at least don’t get along as games are played and the pantomime is written and rehearsed. Meanwhile Alicia’s cousin, June is also being a handful, just as malicious with her tongue but not as straight as Alicia herself. There are quite a few in the fifth form and below who need to be set right, and the girls are up to the task. Looking at themselves as they are, is hard for them all, and some find it hard to face up to it until things go very wrong. But of course, amidst these more serious moments, there are many lighter ones too in the matches and scrumptious teas that follow and also the tricks which the first form now plays on poor unsuspecting Mam’zelle Dupont, the jolly French teacher. But Mam’zelle isn’t taking it all quietly this time around!

This was a much lighter instalment in the series in some senses with the fun and games taking the centre stage rather than study and exams. But as in the rest of this series, this book too acknowledges that it takes all kinds of people to make the world, which often means unpleasantness, but if one has to get things to work, and to get along with those we are meant to live our lives amidst, one has to face up to oneself, recognise our ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and try to make things run smoothly even if we can’t always change magically. Gwendolen begins to understand this a little when faced with her almost doppelgänger, Maureen and certainly makes an attempt to do so even if doesn’t bring her the reactions she hoped. Catherine too seems to understand this but is a little hurt in the process. June in the first form and Moira in the fifth find this a lot harder to do, one refusing to give in and the other interpreting it in a rather unfortunate way. But sooner or later the girls do begin to see sense, as we too must in our lives.

But aside from this unpleasantness and spite, it was fun watching the girls write and stage their pantomime. They are lucky of course to have all the talent they need—a great writer in Darrell, a musician in Irene, a singer in Mavis, artists in Belinda and Janet, and indeed also acting talents like Alicia—but I enjoyed looking at the whole process unfold which involves a great deal of work but also fun. Staging theatre productions (amateur or professional) and the work that goes into them has been something that’s been part of a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately (the Blue Doors books by Pamela Brown (reviews here, here, here, and here), and then Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild review here), and I had fun reading Blyton’s version.

This book also had its humorous moments in the trick that the first formers decide to play on Mam’zelle Dupont (here June takes after Alicia), and more so when Mam’zelle decides to play on them a trick of her own. Though it is a success of sorts, I’m not quite sure who the joke ended up being on!

This was another enjoyable volume in the series, and now I have only the final book left (I am only reading the six books that Blyton herself wrote) to see how things turn out for the characters as they prepare to finish school and make their way into the real world.

Have you read this book or others in the series? How did you find it/them? Only as a child or as an adult as well? If both, how did the two experiences compare?

My reviews of the first three books in this series are here, here and here.

Malory Towers Challenge: Upper Fourth at Malory Towers

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Book #4 for my Malory Towers challenge. I would like to clarify that for this ‘challenge’ I’m only reading the original six books written by Enid Blyton herself. There are six further books by Pamela Cox which explore more of Felicity’s adventures. Read a little about them on the World of Blyton Blog here.

 

Upper Fourth at Malory Towers picks up a couple of terms after the previous book when Darrell and her friends were in their third form. Now they have spent some time in the Upper Forth taught by Miss Williams and are preparing to take their certificate exams. But that doesn’t of course stop school life from going on as it usually does. This is the first term in which Felicity has joined Malory Towers. Darrell is excited to show her little sister around and help settle her in, but before she can do that Alicia’s rather nasty little cousin, June, takes Felicity under her wing, and out of Darrell’s way, something the latter can’t approve. To add to the situation, Darrell has been made head-girl of the form, a post she is proud to occupy but her temper rears its ugly head again, putting everything that she’s been working for at risk. There are also new girls of course, the meek and unattractive Honourable Clarissa Carter, who Gwendolen (rather like St Clares’ Alison in this respect) is keen to befriend, and (non-identical) twins Connie and Ruth, opposites of each other in more than one way.

 

This was another interesting instalment in the series once again focusing on the girls’ different temperaments, and how this leads them to like or repel each other, and causes differences as well. At the end of the day, the message if one can call it that, which comes through is that one must be responsible for one’s own acts, face up to one’s own failings and deal with them if one wishes to be a good human being, not merely a winner of prizes and scholarships (the very same that Miss Grayling gives her new students each year). Some of the girls (Clarrisa, for one, Felicity another) must learn to see their ‘so-called’ friends for who they really are rather than the face they put on for them. Darrell must learn to face her temper and deal with it, or else face the consequences, just as Gwendolen must do for her deception and machinations. The twins have to learn to deal with each other’s personalities, and not get overshadowed by the other, while Alicia has to learn not to scorn other just because she has some gifts that others do not. For some these lessons have long-term results, but others merely fall back into their own ways.

 

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Another Cover (Harper Collins 1971): The girls having their midnight feast by the pool.

That was the serious side, but there is a lighter side too. This was the first of the Malory Towers books where the girls actually had a midnight feast (St Clares seemed to have far more), which is fun though it does get interrupted and has some unpleasant cosequences. They also play a trick, once again on the unsuspecting Mam’zelle Dupont, who doesn’t realise what is happening (not even once its all over), much to the amusement of the girls, and Miss Williams. And of course, there is the usual fun of term time, a picnic, games and swimming which some girls are excited about while others perpetually try to get out of, Belinda and Irene’s madcap antics, and the usual fun. All-in-all a good read again. I think I’m appreciating these better reading them now, than when I read them as a child.

 

p.s.: An interesting fact I learnt from this book was that EB was a regular contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica on English fauna. I knew she wrote nature books and was very knowledgeable about nature (something that reflects in her other books too) but not that she was a contributor to Britannica too.

Malory Towers Challenge: Third Year at Malory Towers

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Book #3 for my Malory Towers Challenge, or rather of me reading through the Malory Towers books chronologically. Although this one is titled ‘third year’, as always, it deals with one term at the school. The story opens as usual with Darrell preparing to return to Malory Towers, where her sister Felicity will be joining her next term. Her friend Sally is in quarantine, and they must take along Zerelda Brass, a new American student, along as they drive down. Zerelda is Blyton’s somewhat typical American student concerned with her appearance alone, and not so much with studies or the activities (sport and such) that the English girls love. She also appears a lot more grown up than she is because of this inviting disapproval from the teachers, though admiration from Gwendolen Mary. At school, we meet two other new students, Wilhemina or Bill whose whole life revolves around horses, especially her own horse Thunder, and Mavis who is supposed to have joined last term (but this is the first we meet her—I am not reading the books Blyton didn’t write for this challenge), and whose sole concern is her excellent voice which makes her rather conceited but also somewhat adored by Gwendolen Mary. Also we find, like Sally, Alicia’s pal Betty is in quarantine so Alicia decides to team up with Darrell for the time being. While we do see what the usual cast of characters get up to, the focus of this one is the three new girls, their temperaments and problems, and how Malory Towers and the girls (and indeed teachers) they meet there change their approach to life, and to school.

 

As I wrote in my review of book 2, reading this series, I really appreciate that Blyton has made these characters very real, even the ‘good’ ones have flaws, and not ones that get magically cured, but that creep back time and again as they do in real life, and have to be dealt with, at least by the ones who are capable of recognising these in themselves. This instalment, as I said, concentrates more on the stories of the three new girls. I wonder how Blyton formed her picture of the typical American girl, but Zerelda in this one is very like Sadie from St Clares concerned with her complexion, hair, and nails, and not much else even though they are good natured people, mostly. (Incidentally, Gwendolen Mary’s habit of fawning over a new girl each term is much like Alison of St Clares too). But even so, that is clearly not her idea of what children should be like, growing up before they need to. Zerelda of course has more to her than simply being a Sadie clone, with her ambitions to be a successful actress someday. But she realises in the course of her term at Malory Towers, that there is more to being an actress than she thinks. Mavis too has ambitions, but while she has talent as well, she lets that make her conceited, which doesn’t go down very well with the others. And Bill (Wilhemina) needs to start accepting that there is more to the world than just her horses though they will continue to be an important part of her life. I know Blyton has a specific idea of what children should ideally be like and that shows through in many of her books (therefore, weaker characters don’t come through as simply one type of person, but ones that have to become stronger), but some of these ideas—especially of being good people—are definitely something that people need to learn to be, even today (and which schools aren’t much concerned with). Of course, besides these issues, and Sally and Darrell dealing with their own problems and progress in school, there are the antics of the other girls (Irene and Belinda), Alicia playing tricks which Mam’zelle finally takes good-naturedly as always and the term time staples, making this an enjoyable read in the series.

Malory Towers Challenge: First Term at Malory Towers

So a couple of months ago I wrapped up my Five Findouters Challenge which was all about reading the Findouters books by Enid Blyton (15 in the series) chronologically (my review of that challenge is here), and then decided to pick up next, this series of school stories by Blyton which I don’t know as well as one of her other school series St Clares which I read countless times as a child. Malory Towers is a series of six books by Blyton (there are other ‘continuation’ books by a different author but I am not going to pick up those here) and is one of her three school series (that I am aware of)—St Clares and the Naughtiest Girl being the other two.

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Mammoth ed., 2000: Darrell in the Malory Towers Uniform

In this, the first of the series, we see Darrell Rivers (named after Blyton’s husband Darrell Waters—incidentally I also see from wiki that he was a surgeon like Darrell’s father in the book) ) preparing to set off to boarding school, Malory Towers in Cornwall, since she has just turned twelve (the youngest they take pupils), and is ready in her new uniform to head off to the station to take the train for school (The Malory Towers train arrives at platform 7 not 9¾ 🙂 ). She is nervous but also eager to get started, meet her school mates and settle in, and also to make new friends, since none of her old ones are going to Malory Towers. At the school, her friendly nature and sharp brains ensure that she begins to settle-in in no time, something that cannot be said for the other new girls in her form, the pretty but spiteful Gwendoline Lacey, and the withdrawn Sally Hope. Darrell takes to two ‘old’ students, Alicia and Betty who are also intelligent, but the kind who play tricks often in the form and are happy to voice whatever enters their mind, Alicia especially, and hopes to befriend them soon. School goes on as usual—with classes and work of course, but also games (swimming and tennis since it is the summer term), and also a few tricks. But the class is a mix of girls with very different personalities, and clashes are inevitable leading also to a fair bit of trouble. To top it all Darrell must address her own troubles, not being able to make a friend as easily as she thought she would, and more than that, to control her own hot temper which leads to more misery for herself than she ever thought it would.

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1946 Methuen ed.

To start off with, a thought that popped into my mind was how this story linked with Blyton’s other mystery/adventure stories (something I’ve never consciously thought before)—while those (like the Findouters books) tell of what the children get upto during the holidays, these deal with term time, so one does get a rounded picture of children’s lives after all.

But anyway, back to the actual book, I though Blyton did a great job in this introductory story of showing us how in school (in books as in real life) we meet all kinds of people—friendly, reserved, brave, cowardly, bright, not so very bright, honest and good-natured, and spiteful (we also have the exaggerated French mistress, Mam’zelle Dupont). One may or may not meet all types in every setting and in that way one might say that these various types have been consciously put in together, but still, I found it made for a believable story. What I liked about the girls were that while many of them have likeable qualities, none is perfect, we see people who can speak their minds but equally those who are unable to and are judged harshly for that. But in this one, while the ‘cowardly’ Mary Lou is looked down upon by her peers, even considered a nuisance at times, unlike in some of her mystery stories (where in an instance or two, it seems as if Blyton herself is judging them harshly), Blyton tries to get Darrell to understand with an incident what being in such a position could be like, could feel to the person, and then she is at least able to understand her better. Darrell also learns an important lesson or two about friendship as well—that first impressions or the ‘glamour’ (not the kind related to appearance) that one associates with people may not always translate to real friendship, that requires people who are able to support you in times of need, quite like the saying goes. The various girls that we see closely have failings in one way or another, and while some are able to address them or at least to begin to address them, others are not. And Gwendoline Lacey—no spoiler that she is the ‘villainess’ of the piece—I ended up wondering about her as well, she is spoilt, spiteful, self-absorbed, and not very likeable at all, but I did end up with the question about why she really was that way—was it only her upbringing (and thus something that could perhaps be resolved unless it was too late) or something more? At the end, finishing the book, while I did read a fun school story, I found on this reading I focused more on the people themselves, on human nature and the various pictures of it that emerged. (And this was a line of thought I think that was partly sparked off by a review by a fellow Blyton fan that I read on facebook—the group Blytonia—just this morning (of different book though): The link to the group is here, sorry I have no idea how to link to the specific review but it is of the Put-Em Rights.

Five Findouters: Series and Challenge Review and Plans for My Next Enid Blyton Challenge

Last October onwards, I began reading the Five Findouters books by Enid Blyton, in chronological order for the first time. This was one of my favourite series as a child, and Blyton among my favourite authors (she still is), but while I had read all of the books (some many times over), I’d never read them in order. The Findouters are siblings Laurence ‘Larry’ and Margaret “Daisy’ Daykin, and Philip ‘Pip’ and Elizabeth ‘Bets’ Hilton, and Frederick Algernon Trotteville whose initials give him a very fitting nickname, Fatty, all of whom live in the English village of Peterswood. Larry is thirteen, the oldest of the lot, Pip, Fatty, and Daisy, twelve, and Bets only eight. The Findouters are of course not complete without Fatty’s Scottie Buster, who is as much part of the group and of any adventure they have, as children themselves. (They are after all the Five Findouters and Dog; this is unlike the Famous Five books where Timmy is one of the five).

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The Findouters and Dog with Mr Goon, the village constable. The illustration is by Mary Gernat from the Mystery of the Spiteful Letters (Armada ed., 1988) and also appears in Eva Rice’s Who’s Who in Enid Blyton.

The findouters have their first outing in the Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, where Larry and Daisy, and their friends Pip and Bets smell a fire one night and step out to investigate. It is there, at the scene of the fire, in one of their neighbours’ homes, that the four first encounter a ‘fat boy’, who’s been staying at the local inn with his parents and who they don’t much like but who has a Scottie they all love. Before long, the five have formed a detective club of sorts, looking into the secret behind the fire at the cottage and staying a step ahead of the somewhat bumbling village Constable Mr Goon, who soon becomes something of an enemy. Along the way, they also make friends with Inspector Jenks who thinks highly of their skills and supports, and even relies on them through all the books. Inspector Jenks, who goes on to be Chief Inspector, and Superintendent as the series progresses, also gives them a talking to when they need it or when their tricks go that little bit too far.  (My review of book 1 is on this page here: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/reading-challenge-five-findouters/)

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Burnt Cottage cover (1943 Methuen)

 

By the second book, the Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, Fatty’s parents have bought a house in and moved to Peterswood, so the findouters are together again in the next holiday (the four older children attend different boarding schools while Bets is still at home), this time to tackle the case of a prize Siamese cat, Dark Queen who belongs to the Hiltons’ neighbour, and who disappears not once but twice. My review is here https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/96/

Disappearing Cat cover

Disappearing Cat cover (1990 Dean and Sons)

 

It is really in the third book, the Mystery of the Secret Room (no I’m not discussing each of the fifteen in separate paras) that Fatty begins to develop his detective skills, and pass them on to the others. He is by now thirteen (and Bets has turned nine), and he promises to teach the others what he’s learnt only if he is made head of the Findouters which the children agree to since of course, it is really he who solves all the mysteries. This adventure takes them to a mystery ‘furnished’ room in an otherwise empty house, and the secret that it holds. My review is here:https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/findouters-challenge-disguises-invisible-ink-and-secret-rooms/

With book 3 Fatty has begun to develop his detective skills, and these include over the books, writing in invisible ink (or since that’s much too expensive, orange/lemon juice, an effective substitute- it’s been used in real life), escaping from a locked room (if the key’s been left in the keyhole, outside, of course), disguising himself, and ventriloquism. Fatty uses all of these skills or a combination of different ones in their different adventures and also passes them on to the others. From tramp to old woman, to rag-and-bone man, Fatty assumes many guises fooling poor Mr Goon and most of the others almost always. Bets however, manages to spot him much of the time. He and the others use disguises to solve cases of course but also to prank poor Mr Goon, and even his nephew Ern (who makes his first appearance in the Mystery of the Hidden House [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/findouters-challenge-enter-ern-goon/%5D, and after this in 5 titles, become more and more a friend of the children and a fairly good detective in his own right).  Mr Goon is not to be left behind in the disguise game and tries his own hand at them (in the Mystery of the Missing Man [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/findouters-challenge-where-fatty-meets-his-match-in-a-way/%5D, and in the Mystery of the Invisible Thief [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/findouters-challenge-the-battle-of-the-disguises/%5D).

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Fatty in disguise in the Mystery of the Missing Man. Illustration by Mary Gernat (Granada ed., 1984).

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PC Goon in disguise, also in the Mystery of the Missing Man (1975 ed.). I used a book cover here because none of the pictures I took came through properly.

Each of the Findouters 15 mysteries pops up in successive school holidays, Easter, Summer, Christmas breaks. Their cases come to them in different ways, sometimes they simply stumble upon them, sometimes their friend Inspector Jenks seeks their help when they’ve come across something, and sometimes the tricks they play (upon Goon, Ern, and others) with false clues and mysteries lead them into real mysteries and adventures. Their ‘cases’ range from missing people and kidnapped children to robbery and stolen jewels, and even a poison pen (The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters, review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/findouters-challenge-a-poison-pen-in-peterswood/).

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Spiteful Letters cover (Armada, 1988)

Solving their ‘cases’ involves not only clues the children pick up on, but also interviews of suspects and witnesses, shadowing, and proper detective work. Also, many of their cases are pretty complicated with a twist or two along the way which makes for interesting reading (the Disappearing Cat, and the Mystery of the Invisible Thief [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/findouters-challenge-the-battle-of-the-disguises/%5D, for instance). What makes these books also stand out for me as mysteries (as a child and even now) is how imaginative some of the solutions are. This is not the case in all of the books but quite a few of them, and this is something that I enjoyed in all my revisits. Among the most imaginative are the Disappearing Cat, Missing Necklace (review:https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/findouters-challenge-on-the-trail-of-a-missing-necklace/), Holly Lane (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/findouters-challenge-a-robbery-lots-of-food-and-some-well-deserved-payback/),  Vanished Prince (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/findouters-challenge-a-little-prince-goes-missing/), Strange Bundle (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/30/findouters-challenge-fatty-the-venriloquist/), and Tally-Ho Cottage (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/findouters-challenge-of-a-poodle-and-a-stolen-painting/ ).

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Vanished Prince Cover

Holly Lane and Vanished Prince: Some of the Findouters’ Cases with quite creative solutions. (Holly Lane cover, 1991 Dean and Sons; Vanished Prince cover 1951 Methuen). More disguises on the Vanished Prince cover.

All the children play a role in the investigations in most of the books, following suspects, following up on clues, and interviewing various people, and all this is done in a believable way, through family connections, people they meet in the course of the day, and such. But it is Fatty who puts everything together at the end, piecing together the jigsaw and coming up with the solution. (Fatty is a whiz at many things, though a bit of a boaster, but has usually done whatever he boasts of.)

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Fatty (in the Mystery of Holly Lane, Dean and Sons, 1991, Illustration by Trevor Evans.

And very often, it is little Bets who picks up on the most important clue in the case―her observations or remarks are what leads Fatty to ultimately solve everything.The other children, Pip especially fails to see this often chiding her (in an older-brother way) for being childish and not knowing things. Pip too finds the all-important link in one book (the Invisible Thief). Ern Goon, Mr Goon’s nephew who the children initially make the target of one of their pranks, too plays an active role in many of the books that he appears in (Vanished Prince, Tally-Ho Cottage, Strange Messages, and Banshee Towers [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/findouters-challenge-sea-paintings-and-two-crazy-dogs/%5D). In Tally-Ho Cottage and Strange Messages, particularly I though he showed great resourcefulness and courage, besides always being a loyal friend. One can’t write about Ern without writing about his ‘portry’ as he calls it (many of which start with ‘the Pore/Poor Old…’, which he always manages to begin can never finish, but Fatty who among his many skills sprouts poetry, can finish in no time. One of my favourites (or at least one that I always remember) from the Mystery of the Vanished Prince (started by Ern and finished by Fatty)

A pore old gardener said, “Ah me!
My days is almost done.
I’ve got rheumatics in me knee,
And now it’s hard to run.
I’ve got a measle in my foot,
And chilblains on my nose,
And bless me if I haven’t got,
Pneumonia in my toes.
All my hair has fallen out,
My teeth have fallen in,
I’m really getting rather stout,
Although I’m much too thin.
My nose is deaf, my ears are dumb,
My tongue is tied in knots,
And now my barrow and my spade,
Have all come out in spots.
My watering can is…”

 

And speaking of Ern, one must also mention his twin brothers Sid and Perce; Sid always has his mouth stuck with toffee which makes it hard for him to speak even when he has important things to tell. (Sid and Perce only appear in Vanished Prince but we hear of them in other stories as well). He also has twin cousins Liz and Glad who appear in Tally-Ho Cottage.

Tally Ho cover

(Tally-Ho Cottage, 1965 Armada ed.)

Still on Ern, reading these stories as an adult I couldn’t help notice and disapprove of their attitude to Ern (especially initially) and Mr Goon.  As far as Ern is concerned, they’re invariable checking him for his manners and commenting (Pip, particularly) on his being a coward as he’s scared  of Mr Goon, but they think nothing of playing a mean trick on him which gets him into a fair bit of trouble with Goon, nor Pip of the fact that he himself is pretty terrified of his own parents. Plus, the children (other than Bets) seem always to doubt Ern’s intelligence or observations, not even always trusting what he says (probably because he belongs to a different (read: lower) rung of society), but still, in this I thought their behaviour not really acceptable. And then Goon (I never thought I’d be writing in his defence) but there are times when their tricks do go too far, and let’s face it, the children may be cleverer than Goon and able to put two and two together faster, but he is the policeman, so deliberately planting false clues and misleading him doesn’t exactly qualify as outsmarting him or good detective work. There are of course occasions when Goon too crosses the line, especially when it comes to Buster, and one can’t help but dislike him there (Holly Lane), and feel for poor Buster and the children, and cheer on when Fatty gets back at him.

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Goon with Fatty and Mr Trotteville in Holly Lane, Fatty having outsmarted him after his nasty trick with Buster. Illustration by Trever Evans from the 1991 ed. (Dean and Sons).

One other thing I had a problem with (besides the childrens’ behaviour) was not to do with Blyton herself but with the ‘updated’ editions of these books (of which I happen to own a copy of Strange Messages) which make what I felt were unnecessary language changes which any child can understand (as did we), as well as one for political correctness that spoiled the whole intent behind its usage. I won’t rant too much here but I have in my review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/findouters-challenge-anonymous-messages-and-hidden-secrets-and-a-rant-about-the-new-eds/

 

On the point of pc-ness, an aspect of the books that might bother readers looking at these books with a ‘modern’ or present-day pov is that these aren’t the most politically correct books so bear that in mind when you read them. As far as I understand this, this was simply a reflection of the time when the books were written, I feel one needn’t attach too much to it (even if one does raise one’s eyebrows).

 

One can’t write about the Five Findouters or for that matter, any Enid Blyton book without talking about food. Most of the books are rather full with food (some overflowing), with not so much breakfasts and lunches and dinners (though these are there too), but more the teas and little treats in between, sandwiches and cake, macaroons and hot buns, lemonade and icecream in summer, and hot cocoa (and coffee, in one instance―Missing Man) in winter. Buster (and in the last book Ern’s dog Bingo) has his share too, with biscuits topped with potted meat, bones, and biscuits besides sharing the childrens’ icecreams as well (At the tea shop, separate ices are ordered for him too). In pretty much all of my reviews, I’ve rated the books on a ‘foodmeter’ not specific marks but low, average, and high (Pantomime Cat [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/findouters-challenge-the-findouters-go-to-the-pantomime/%5D and Invisible Thief are among the ‘highs’).

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Missing Man (another cover, Granada 1984)

This was overall a very enjoyable reading experience for me and while noticing issues such as the childrens’ behaviour did change the impression I had of the books (from my childhood reading), it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of them too much. I had great fun revisiting these, watching how the children first met, and developed their skills as detectives, how the findouters leadership changed (and rightly so), and especially, finding that the solutions to the mysteries that I found interesting (and different) as a child (and also on revisits from time to time) still come across as creative, and make these ‘proper’ detective stories, which stand out from Blyton’s other series.

 

For my next EB challenge, I plan to pick up a shorter series, and one that I haven’t really read that much as a child, Malory Towers (I read the St Clares books more and am thus more familiar with those as well). Like this challenge, I will of course be reading them in order, and my reviews will appear on this page as these have. So, time to set off to school!

Malory towers cover

First Term at Malory Towers cover (1946, Methuen)

[Pictures of illustrations are all mine: I’m not very good at this. All my reviews of the books (linked) are spoiler-free]

Findouters Challenge: Ern, Sea Paintings, and Buster and Bingo

The Mystery of Banshee Towers (The Five Find-Outers, #15)The Mystery of Banshee Towers by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: Book 15. The final book of the findouters series, this marks the end of my findouters challenge which I began last October. This one opens a little differently from the rest as while the children are setting out to receive Fatty as usual, this time around he comes by bus rather than train. There is no mystery waiting for Fatty to solve at the start, and as the childrens’ parents want them out of their hair, they suggest the children go on expeditions to different places around Peterswood. Meanwhile Ern has also come to the village, staying once again with Mr Goon, as one of his sisters has the measles, and this time around he’s brought with him his very own dog Bingo, who not only the children but also Buster takes to instantly. Ern gets into a bit of trouble with Mr Goon and moves into Fatty’s shed thereby also getting the time to join them on their expeditions. So almost Famous-Five-like, their first ‘trip’ takes them to Banshee Towers, an old house that now houses a gallery of sorts for sea pictures. Ern and Bets are awfully keen on seeing these and it is their interest, and Ern’s keen eye that gives them the first hint of mystery. On their very first trip they find some mysterious and rather unfriendly characters in Banshee Towers, the owner included, and also that a banshee actually wails there at a certain hour. Not only that, there is a mysterious trap door, and also a secret path from the outside, which Buster and Bingo have discovered, When Fatty and Ern return a second time to investigate, Ern notices something wrong with one of the paintings he was admiring the previous day. While the other children are not inclined to believe him at the start, Bets has noticed the same thing, and so begins their ‘investigation’ to discover what’s really going on in Banshee Towers.

This one lacked quite a few of the ‘trademark’ elements of the findouters stories, Fatty not disguising himself even once, and the children not pranking Mr Goon (the second bit was more welcome, because as I’ve been noticing this time around, they do tend to unnecessarily bother him, and do interfere with his work), except one little trick at the end. Mr Goon too, though wanting the findouters out of his hair, isn’t at his worst, and by the end is even ready to extend a friendly hand to the children, and one begins to wonder if this will work, but of course…. In this one also, the children are in no direct ‘competition’ with Mr Goon to solve the case, which makes things somewhat smoother. But this doesn’t mean Fatty doesn’t get to use some of the tricks he’s learnt or that the mystery is any the less dangerous or exciting, or the villains, any the less menacing. Ern, as has been the case in the last few titles in which he appears, plays a much more active role, and shows that he too is very bright (he’s proved himself enterprising too before―the children unfortunately still have that somewhat arrogant opinion of Ern’s brains not perhaps being as good as their own), even if not as much so as Fatty, who as usual pieces together the puzzle and works out the answers in what seems like no time at all, leading Chief Inspector Jenks to remark that they would both make good policemen. In fact, he can’t wait for Fatty to grow up and join the force. Ern’s is still at his portry as well, of course, but for a change, his pome does begin with ‘The poor old…’ :). The mystery while not overly complex did have some interesting elements to it, and it was nice to see how Fatty worked out some parts of the puzzle. On the foodmeter, this was above average, though the children don’t go to the tea shop as often as usual, there are teas, toffee, and biscuits in the shed, breakfasts and suppers for Ern, and also some treats for Buster and Bingo. Buster and Bingo I thought made a fun pair of crazy dogs who also played their part in the mystery, besides snapping away at poor Goon’s ankles. This was a fun read and a good close to the series, though if one reads the last lines, it reads like any entry in the series anticipating another mystery, though in this case, no other comes. Which means of course, that one simply has to start back at the beginning 🙂

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At some point next week I will have a post reviewing the series as a whole, my experiences with this challenge, and of course plans for my next Blyton challenge, because of course, there’s going to be another one 🙂

Review: Bookworm

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood ReadingBookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House, UK for what turned out to be a quite lovely read for me. I’d also like to add a thank you to my goodreads friend Susan for mentioning this book, else I mayn’t have come across it.

Bookworm quite simply can be described as the author’s memoirs of her childhood reading, and it is that, but also so so much more. The author, Lucy Mangan, takes us through her reading from the days she was read to, to when she began reading herself, through till her teens, and eventual transition into grown-up books. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Mog the Cat, Babar the Elephant to Topsy and Tim, Miffy, Milly Molly Mandy, Rumer Godden, Blyton, Beverley Clearly, school stories, dystopian literature, All of a Kind Family, Dr Seuss, Dahl, Narnia, Nesbit, William, Burnett, to Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume and more present-day books like the Harry Potter books and Hunger Games books―this has it all, and much much more (a real feast of children’s literature). And it isn’t just about the books themselves and the joy that they brought Mangan as a child but also the things about life and people that various books taught her, or rather opened her eyes to, and of course how she relates to or appreciates these as an adult. She also writes about children’s literature itself, how it has evolved over the years, about illustrators and their visions of/approaches to their work, and also different genres and how they developed.

Starting this book, the first thing that caught my eye (and probably does every other reader’s) was the little illustration at the beginning of each chapter―a cat, a teddy bear, a school hat―this changes with every chapter and relates in some way to it, and I thought it a delightful touch. I also really enjoyed the writing―Mangan is not only witty, she has a knack for describing the books themselves and her feelings about them just perfectly. One can “feel” her love for them (and for bookish spaces), and how she is enraptured by the books, the characters, the stories, and the illustrations (the section on illustration was among my favourites). One can’t help being affected by her enthusiasm (of course one is probably already enthusiastic about books to start with). Also reading the book, I couldn’t help but reminiscing about my own childhood reading, in which there was quite a bit (though not all( in common with the author’s―mine was a lot of Enid Blyton like hers (but I have a grouse about that part that I’ll come to), Burnett, Heidi, Alcott, Topsy and Tim, among others, though while the author went through a Sweet Valley phase (these were books I’ve never read though I remember other children in my school reading them), my phase around that time with a similar type (conglomerate-produced) of book was Nancy Drew―I read pretty much all I could get my hands on, the original books, the files, even the supermysteries (that featured both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in one), and I also read related series like the Hardy Boys books, and Dana Girls. (Writing this down I realise that this probably has to do with my love for mystery/detective stories in general, which extends to my current reading as well.) But not to get carried away, my point was her sentiments were ones I could really relate to, much of the time. Another point on which I agree with the author is the needlessness of “updating” books to make them more relatable, editing out period specific features―I mean if books had to be relatable, why at all do we need to learn about other cultures or parts of the world, they aren’t things we see and do in our daily lives, are they? Why learn history at all?

The Enid Blyton chapter in this book was the one that I was looking forward to the most and that was the one that turned out to disappoint me a little as well. While I agree with her response to many of the criticisms against Blyton, the fact that she finds Blyton unreadable as an adult (reiterated elsewhere in the book) was something that I just couldn’t digest. I loved EB as a child and I still do, I still read her and love her books (may be I am more critical of them and notice things that I mayn’t have as a child), so does my mother, so does a friend who only began to enjoy her as an adult and loves Ern and Fatty and Snubby and Barney as I do (and this is a very well read someone), and so does a whole group of EB fans of various ages I am part of on Facebook. Her Findouters mysteries (so many of them) have solutions I still find interesting, the imagination she shows in her “fantasy” books like the faraway tree books is something that always delights (and amazes), and her quite good knowledge of nature and animals reflects in some of her fiction series (the ‘Adventure’ books, for instance, or the Adventures of Pip for that matter) as well as in her non-fiction. And she doesn’t deal with only light themes, one only had to read, say, the Six Cousins books to see that. Yes, I do realise this is the author’s personal opinion but I couldn’t help but be disappointed by it (kind of like the author’s own reaction to Richmal Crompton’s opinion of her William books―not to compare the books themselves of course).

But anyway, at the end of it all, this is a great book for Bookworms in general and lovers of children’s literature in particular. Like me you will probably have added quite a bit to your TBR at the end of it, so be prepared to do a lot of book shopping. But also be warned, there are some spoilers along the way (not in every case, but you are told once in a way which characters, er… pop off, etc.) so in case there are books you’re planning to read from those she mentions, may be you’d want to skip a para or two. Four and a half stars!

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March Theme Review (very embarrassing) and Theme for my April Reading!

So March turned out to be a very busy month and as a result, book-wise, it was rather embarrassing with me finishing only four books 😦 I have of course read most of Bookworm by Lucy Mangan which I should be done with in a day or two and more than half of Vanity Fair which I have been reading with a reading group on goodreads. So while not as bad as four makes it sound, but still not very good. Also I wasn’t able to do my poetry or non-fiction posts this month. Clearly I need to manage my time much better.

Well, back to the books I did read this month from the Catching-up theme that I’d planned. The first was of course one I’d got from NetGalley, The Hazel Wood, which is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice who has been living a more or less itinerant life with her mother for wherever they live, ill-luck seems to follow. Something changes and they settle down to a more “normal” life but it doesn’t turn out to be quite as they’d expected. One fine day, Alice’s mother suddenly disappears and it falls to Alice to find her. All she knows that this might have something to do with her grandmother, who she has never met, and who is the author of a volume of rather dark fairy tales, which she can’t get her hands on either, no matter how hard she tries. This was a book I quite enjoyed though I wasn’t as grabbed with the second half of the book as I’d have liked. Still I enjoyed the author’s imaginativeness in the very dark fairy tales and the world in which those tales play out, that she creates. Very very creepy. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/review-the-hazel-wood/

While I had planned to finish the four books that I had left of my Findouters Challenge, I ended up reading only two of these this month, Book 12 The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage and Book 13, The Mystery of the Missing Man, both very different from each other as far as this series is concerned. Tally-Ho Cottage involves a stolen painting, and the missing ‘thieves’―actors who have been living at Peterswood until they pretty much walked out of the village, while Missing Man is of course about what the title says, and also sees the Trottevilles with a guest, one Fatty can’t get the better of (for a change). Tally-Ho also has Ern, Mr Goon’s nephew and the children’s friend back in Peterswood. They have the usual elements of the books of course but in Tally-ho, Ern plays a pretty active role in the investigations involving his twin cousins Liz and Glad, though it is Bets again who spots the all-important clue. Missing Man has Fatty solving everything, all by himself, the investigations not really leading to anything, and a denouement very different from the usual Findouters plots. Both were entertaining entries in the series, with Tally-ho having the more “interesting” solution of the two, but both with food, disguises and fun, and not too much focus on simply baiting poor Mr Goon! My reviews are below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/findouters-challenge-of-a-poodle-and-a-stolen-painting/
https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/findouters-challenge-where-fatty-meets-his-match-in-a-way/

The last of my four reads this month was Elizebeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters which is quite a different book from her North and South. While the latter deals with social issues (labour–factory owner relations), the former is more about individuals, and personal relationships, family relationships to be more specific―parents and children and amongst the “children” themselves. When a country surgeon Mr Gibson decides to remarry because he is too much away from home to properly look after his growing daughter Molly, the decision changes their lives in many ways. Mrs Kirkpatrick, the widow whom he marries is not the stereotypical stepmother, and in fact looks out for Molly as much as she does for her own daughter, but she is quite self-centred, concerned with her own comforts, social position, and whims. Her daughter Cynthia, the same age as Molly, while very different in character from Molly, turns out to be a good friend to Molly. But where Molly is honest and straightforward and feels things deeply, Cynthia is secretive and superficial in many ways. As the story plays out we see how their upbringing and their relationship with their respective parents, besides their own nature affects the things they do or don’t and the relationships they form. Alongside is the Hamley family, country squires and friends of Mr Gibson and Molly. The old squire is traditional and orthodox, his son and heir Osborne is not the typical country lad preferring his books and writing poetry and has secrets of his own, while the younger son Roger is a man of science, achieving much that his family doesn’t think him capable of. Despite being about family and relationships, themes like class and social mores do also stand out. Despite my rather haphazard reading of this book, I did enjoy it. My review is on goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/213050257?book_show_action=false

After a not very good reading month in March I am hoping April will be better, and I have pretty elaborate plans for it (am keeping my fingers crossed that they work out). The theme I picked is Books and Lawyers (or should that be Lawyers and Books?)―not only Lawyers in books because I want to include some written by lawyers but not necessarily with a law/courtroom theme. There’s actually a whole lot of books that fit this theme that are on my TBR but some of the ones I will try to fit in this month are The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardener, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, Dark Fire, and Revelation, both by C.J. Sansom (from his Matthew Shardlake series), Perishable Goods by Dornford Yates, and Fathers-in-Law by Henry Cecil. This time also I will try harder to get my poetry and non-fiction posts up, perhaps try out another idea that has been in my mind for a while―a post on a favourite author that fits this theme. With the way last month went, this itself seems fairly ambitious but let’s see how things go. If at all there’s time after all of this, some of what’s remaining from Catching-up month will be what I’ll pick up even though it doesn’t actually fit this month’s theme. But before any of this, I will be finishing Bookworm by Lucy Mangan which is a wonderful memoir of the author’s childhood reading which I am enjoying very much. Hope everyone has a great reading month ahead!