Tuesday, 28 August 2012

M's review - Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

I’m kicking myself (metaphorically of course) for not having bought a copy of Swallows and Amazons for Little M a few years ago. I should probably have read it myself when I was about nine. Basically, it’s a story that would be a dream-come-true for most kids (and quite a few adults too): take a boat on a big lake, sail over to a little island and camp there all week. Without any grown-ups.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Based on the environs of Coniston and Windermere lakes in England’s Lake District, four children are on their summer holiday and get permission from thier parents to take their sailing boat, Swallow, out and camp on a little island for their last week. The story goes into a lot of detail about the ins-and-outs of undertaking this expedition, particularly from a child’s point of view. For anyone interested in sailing or planning their own little outdoor expedition, I reckon this book might give you a fair few pointers.

And then some adventures and wars begin between them, some Amazon pirates, and another pirate with a real parrot. There is also treasure (for fans of Treasure Island or The Famous Five).

Titty was the most endearing character for me. She really, really yearns to be Robinson Crusoe.  She is also the character that we learn most about. That might have a little something to do with the fact that Titty was based on someone for whom Arthur Ransome wrote the book (as the Backstory in this edition informs us).

While Swallows and Amazons was originally published in 1930, it still has relevance for today's readers. The best thing for me about it (apart from the story) is that it inspires you to make your own seriously good fun. You don’t have to have your own boat or an island that you can camp on. What the Swallows and Amazons (and some of the adults) showed was that they could make their own fun by adding their own layer of make-believe to their holiday activities. So John becomes Captain John, Susan becomes Mate Susan, Titty is Able Seaman and Roger is Ship’s Boy. All the adults in the story become Natives. The non-alcoholic drink of ginger beer and lemonade becomes potent pirates’ grog!

This is a very chunky book and its size took me by surprise (I’m sure most copies of Swallows and Amazons that I’ve seen have been much slimmer but that might also be why I’ve never bought it because that meant the text was tiny). The text size in this new edition is very friendly so the book isn’t as long as it looks. I think Swallows and Amazons would be especially wonderful to read aloud with a younger child.

I didn’t read this book quickly but some readers might well do that. Instead, little bits of the story kept making me want to go and make a tent, or get on a boat, or make a map or chart, or travel to another part of the world and collect stickers on my case. Or make some grog.

And I really wanted to be a Swallow or an Amazon.  Really, really. So I saved the last few pages to join in properly. I finished the book on our very last day of our summer holiday in the Lake District. That way, I didn’t feel so left out. I’d tell you I had a pirate’s flag too (but that would be a lie).

Publication details:
Vintage, August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publishers

You can win a copy of Swallows and Amazons (or any of the other titles in the new Vintage Children's Classics range) over here.


  1. I've always wanted to read this, so maybe it is time to do it, it sounds so good.

    1. The best thing about it for me, was that apart from one aspect of the plot, the rest of it almost wasn't fiction. Which just means that anyone can have just as much fun as they did! :-)

  2. I've never read this book, but I have it to read with the boys soonish. :)

    1. I think it's a delightful one to read with younger children. It makes you all want to go off and have all sorts of your own kinds of adventures.


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