Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Reading Enid Blyton with children

Enid Blyton was born in South London and educated on the outskirts of Bromley, Kent. As most people are aware she was a prolific children's author. Children over many years have loved her books although whether her own two girls had a happy home life is debated.

We have Enid Blyton books dating from my husband's and my childhood as well as books that our older children have bought or been given. Enid Blyton wrote several different types of children's books from mystery, books about life at boarding school, books with a magical theme, retellings of older stories, some books about family life and books about nature. There is a full list on the Enid Blyton Society site. I haven't read anything like all of them!

I read Enid Blyton as a child, so did my husband.  Our older children cut their teeth as independent readers on these books. Now, I'm reading the books aloud to a child who hasn't quite got to reading them alone. Rereading them as an adult is proving interesting.

The major benefit of reading Enid Blyton is that her books are easy for early readers and increase confidence and speed. One of the reasons why Enid Blyton books were banned from libraries at one point was their rather restricted vocabulary. The plus side of this is that they are easy for young readers. Once a child has had a little practice, he or she can finish a Famous Five or Secret Seven book in a day. I'm quite grateful for this help with the transition to being a competent reader both for myself and my children.

Reading the books aloud has lead to more discussions and a child who can recognise Enid Blyton favourite phrases and occupations in the books. Food is certainly a recurring preoccupation and descriptions of yet more food lead to the comment, That is so Enid Blyton.

Childhood is portrayed as happy even when quite scary things happen. Scary adventures they often occur in the context of a jolly (and that is an Enid Blyton word) camping holiday.

I probably shouldn't admit to this but I find myself wanting to know what happened next, even though, I know the adventure will end safely and happily.

Some children have become stuck on Enid Blyton and wanted to read nothing else. That hasn't been a problem for us; the children have naturally gone onto other books after six months to a year of enthusiastic Enid Blyton following.

All isn't plain sailing though. 

Another recurring theme is that the baddie looks bad or has a scar or ugly face. We've had several discussions around the Lord looking on the heart and outward appearance not being an indicator of the heart. The children can be quite cruel to those who aren't quite like them. Some of the descriptions in the school stories can only be described as bullying. Gussy in Circus of Adventure had quite  a difficult time for his propensity to cry and his long hair. Cultural differences and a particularly stressful time probably accounted for both.

Adults don't get away without stricture. Robert Kent's mother in Six Bad Boys certainly didn't behave well and didn't arrange proper care for her son but no one seemed to consider whether the fact that she had recently been bereaved had anything to do with this. Whereas the neighbours, the Mackenzies are portrayed as happy and almost unable to do wrong.

There are a few phrases that annoy me: lucky probably being the chief of these.

Adventures always end well. An exception would be Six bad boys which ends well for the major character but less cheerfully for some of the more minor characters. This means that these books are usually suitable reading for fairly young children and even the ending of Six bad boys is more salutary than scary. Still, most of these adventures shouldn't have ended quite so well: some of the exploits are frankly dangerous. Five go off to camp is typical: the children explore old railworkings which are used by a dangerous gang. Again, a subject for discussion.

No, I'm not planning to stop my children reading Enid Blyton. I'm not keen on the magic books and we have generally avoided these but we will plan to continue to read and discuss the others. Hopefully, the younger children will soon be whizzing through Famous Five on their way to reading more demanding literature.

This is linked to Saturday Review of Books.


  1. I've kept my guys away from Enid Blyton, because of the fact that I was one of those children who got hooked. My mum weaned me off them at age 13(!) and onto Judy Bloom. They have read a couple, but my general policy is to have the children read from a wide variety of authors to prevent the same thing happening to them. I've seen the list and believe I have read most if not all of her book, many, many times over, and therefore missed out on the huge variety of books available.
    I guess, as always, everything in moderation!

    1. Wow, the list is enormous!
      I'm sure that a variety is wise. There is so much more out there. I think that we went onto the Malcolm Saville and Monica Edwards books which are similar but are a bit more advanced reading-as far as I remember! Both had the advantage of being set in identifiable areas which lead to looking at maps and a lasting interest in Rye and Shropshire!

  2. That author was mentioned as a British Children's Author -- I think I would like to have the children exposed to Enid Blyton.

    1. Once you are living here, you will find her books everywhere. They can be picked up cheaply second hand providing you aren't looking for a first edition or rare book-and in libraries.

  3. Oh, Enid Blyton! What lovely stories she writes, especially the Adventure series: Castle of Adventure, etc. All of my children have had Enid Blyton stages (so have I, once as a child and then again as an adult when I was seriously ill and too tired to read adult books), and I'm happy with that. I do not like the sibling rivalry that occurs too often in some of the series, though, so I do minimize access to those.