Home > Uncategorized > Swallows, Amazons, and deep thoughts

Swallows, Amazons, and deep thoughts

In my quest to find a book or series that captures the timelessness of Pooh, Wind in the Willows, or Frog and Toad, and yet has females in it, I have found Swallows and Amazons.

This is a series that totally passed me by in my childhood. I’m only about two chapters into the first book, but my research indicates it’s a good bet. In 1920-something, a British family with five children spends the summer in the Lake District. The children have a small dinghy called The Swallow and they have adventures, camp out on an island, meet two other children in a boat called The Amazon, and generally indulge in a bucolic idyll that seems typical of British literature for children from that era between the wars. There’s A LOT of ship talk: gunwales and transoms and whatnot.

The four children are Captain John, Mate Susan, Abel Seaman Titty (I swear to god), and Boat’s Boy Peter. The Amazons are two girls. (There’s a baby, Fat Vicky, but she doesn’t do anything.) Yay for parity of the genders!

And, here’s the thing. As far as I can tell (and this is just from two chapters, mind you, and some online research). The kids essentially spend the whole summer camping on the island. The island is only a few hundred yards off shore but their mother lets them just go! They spend the nights out there, and don’t check in for days at a time.

This is astounding to me. As is much of early children’s literature. These kids run around completely unsupervised.

I wish I could do that with The Child.

Not now, naturally. She’s three. But I would love to have a safe space — some land, a stream, some trees — for her to spend her time exploring. When I was a girl, I’d pack a “rucksack” (really, a cheap plastic backpack) with “provisions” (a PB sandwich and a bunch of Oreos) and I would go to the park and spend hours with a book.

These days, my sister in law makes her 13 year old son call her when he gets to the neighbor’s house, three doors down. I’ve had moms all but call me negligent because I allow The Child to run ahead of me on the sidewalk.

Part of it is living in the city. Even if it’s not dangerous, there’s an appearance of danger so letting your child out without supervision is considered bad. But (according to my country mouse counterparts) in the ‘burbs and the country, it’s just as bad. There are scheduled playdates and the woods are considered unsafe. No one just opens the door, says “be back by quarter past seven” and lets an eight year old run into the woods.

I really wish I had enough money to rent or buy some undeveloped hunk of land up in Maine and spend the whole summer there. Is that the ultimate dream?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. elcynae
    March 2, 2009 at 4:24 am

    Random thought: Have you tried George Macdonald? The Princess and the Goblin is what I just thought of, but in general I like his stuff. Not at all like Milne really, they’re much more like fairy tales, but I like the girls much better than your usual fairytale. I haven’t actually read them since I was a kid though, so I may be missing something. Some people on amazon think I was missing blatant religious symbolism.

    Also E. Nesbit, Five Children and It, and The Phoenix and the Carpet are less like Milne and more like The Chronicles of Narnia. Except without the Christian stuff, I think.

    I’ve never heard of Swallows and Amazons though, I’ll have to check it out.

  2. C'tina
    March 3, 2009 at 2:14 am
  3. March 5, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    teh paper bag princess, one of many books by canadian Robert Munsch. he writes really funny books, many with female leads. my favorites are ‘paper bag princess’ [princess elizabeth, same as my oldest!] who dumps the prince after she rescues him, ‘good families don’t’ and ‘purple green and yellow’
    these are geared to 4 to 9 year olds, but even my 3 yo could see the humor in them.
    i also loved the anne of green gable books, little house on the prarie and the limberlost books by gene straton porter. STRONG female lead!
    the betsy-tacy books are inspiring. i didn’t realize until i was an adult that the betsy-tacy books and the heaven to besty series were about the same girls. sometimes i’m dense.
    my friend, aj robinson, writes middle school SF with strong female leads, inspired by his teenage daughter.
    as a child i remember wandering the streets all day by myself, walking to my aunts, to the park to the library [each about a mile away] in brooklyn, new york. now, i won’t let my 8 yo go down the street without visual surveillance.

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