5 out of 5 Stars
A few months ago a friend of mine asked if I had ever heard of the book called “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. Her husband grew up with English parents and this was a favorite of his, and since my husband comes from England, she was thinking we might like it. While we were on our England trip this summer I popped into WH Smith and found it (these books are available online and in bookstores in America if you live here too). What I didn’t realize was this is only the first book in a very large series (there are 12 books in all). I also didn’t realize just how much I was going to enjoy this story.
My husband wasn’t familiar with it but it turns out this is a book many of the school children in England read. The suggested reading age in England is 8 and up, and while it might have been a little intimidating for my 8 year old to read on his own (mainly due to length) he would have loved it to be read to him. There is nothing that is scary or would really cause children concern and the chapters are on the shorter side and each has at least one sketch the author has drawn to show a scene in each chapter. It was really lovely that way.
The story takes place in 1926 (the book was originally published in 1930) and revolves around 4 siblings: John, Susan, Titty and Roger. The children are spending the summer in the Lake District with their mother, baby sister and Nurse. They are given permission by their parents to take their boat “Swallow” to the island just off the shore of the “mainland” to camp on their own. The kids have been taught to sail by their father who is a captain and they take everything very seriously. The kids pack up their ship and set sail for the “Desert Island” in the lake. Their adventure begins there as they build their camp, are given their jobs and responsibilities, and meet various “natives” which are all of the people on the mainland. There is a mysterious man in a houseboat that lives on the lake and nefarious things are afoot there. On top of this, pirates come and say the island is theirs and a war is brewing with the “Amazons”. The Amazons are 2 sisters who sail a boat called the “Amazon” and the war they arrange is simply fun!
The children are completely on their own throughout the entire book. Their mother comes to check on them every so often and she also plays along with the story they are acting out. At times she is a “native” who lives in the foreign lands the children visit and other times she is Man Friday from the Robinson Crusoe books. The children are so brave and kind not only to each other but to others and everyone they come across. They are so imaginative and I just loved reading every word. As a child I would have loved this book and I know my son will love it too. I am looking forward to continuing the adventure with the next book. The girls have as much responsibility and adventure as the boys and some times save the day all on their own.
I understand 2 movies have been made based on this novel. There is a new one (from 2016) that is currently showing on Netflix that looks very good. My friend says there was another movie made in the 1970s that is truer to the book. We will definitely be watching one of these films as soon as my son has finished reading! Here is the trailer and enjoy the book! We highly recommend it!