June Wrap Up – and some thoughts on the current controversy about the children’s books of Enid Blyton

For June I blogged about books which were about the weather or had weather related words in their titles. To my surprise the majority seem to have been about sun and dryness. Most of them have been crime novels. I will almost certainly find one or two more by the end of this year and if I do I will blog about them too. In the meantime you might also like to read my synopsis of The Perfect Storm which I read last year and which would also fit well into this theme – you can find that review here and I do recommend the book which I found absolutely gripping.

For July I am going to read books about houses and homes or which feature home related words in the title – I’ve only a got a few on my list at this point but I find that they tend to increase as the month goes on anyway and I can always add new titles to the themes of previous months as well.

Recently there has been some talk on social media and in the press about the children’s books of Enid Blyton. I touched on what I felt about her books and what they meant to me when I discussed the Famous Five series in January – you can find my thoughts here. Discussion in the last few weeks has centred on how racist the books are and how some people want to have that generally recognised. Others, especially those who loved them as children, feel that they should be remembered as books of their time and that the author should not be condemned because culture and society have changed.

This is all part of the general cultural discussion which we are having in this country about recognising complicity in slavery, acknowledging historic and current racism in Britain, and the issue about public commemorations of people who we now consider to be problematical in street names and statues. I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough to talk about a lot of that but what I do know is this – when I was reading these books the author was very recently dead and even as a child I knew that there were problems with them. The author was writing about children my age and the most recent books I read were less than ten years old but they seemed like they came from a different world. For me the problem was the classism and the unrelentingly middle classed children who went to boarding school, had servants and told adults of a lower class what to do. I was horrified in some of the books about how the police man was displayed as stupid and how the children made fun of him while running the criminals to ground themselves. These children didn’t resemble me or anyone else I knew.

I also had issues with the fact that the girls so often did the homemaking and the boys launched themselves into danger. George in the Famous Five books is a girl who has adventures but she has to dress up as a boy to do that. The unfairness of that attitude was real in the world around me in the 1970s but the books reinforced what were becoming outdated views at the time rather than challenging them.

I appreciate that adults may have fond memories of how much they enjoyed reading these books as children. I do too. But we have to leave them in the past and today’s children should read books which don’t have those really out of date attitudes and associated racism, sexism and classism – let them make their own memories.

I would point out that Enid Blyton’s children’s books are not the only ones where there are problems but we tend no longer to read the others and they have slipped out of our collective memory. For example I was astonished to discover the appalling attitude to people with disabilities which I found in The What Katy Did books by Susan Coolidge and Jo’s Boys by Louisa M Alcott on recent rereading – they had both been childhood favourites of mine. I would also mention that I have discovered many attitudes I find considerably out of date in recent rereading of the adult novels of Agatha Christie, John Buchan and Margery Allingham. With the number of books being published all the time we can acknowledge the role that these books had in our past reading life but we can turn away and find plenty of new material to concentrate on which doesn’t have the same issues.

There are many, many new and interesting books of all types out there – keep reading…