Mar 10, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Five On Kirrin Island Again

Five On Kirrin Island Again
By Enid Blyton
Hodder Children's Books, 2009

Anne was trying to do some of her prep in a corner of the common-room when her cousin George came bursting in. 
George was not a boy; she was a girl called Georgina, but because she had always wanted to be a boy she insisted on being called George. So George she was. She wore her curly hair cut short, and her bright blue eyes gleamed angrily now as she came towards Anne.
'Anne! I've just had a letter from home - and what do you think? Father wants to go and live on my island to do some special work - and he wants to build a sort of tower or something in the castle yard!"

Of all the books I read and loved throughout childhood and into my tweens, the Famous Five books were my favourites by far. I loved them more than anything else, escaped into them often, re-read them in my teens, and still have vivid memories of scenes and dialogue in the stories. I yearned for a dog like Timmy, wished I was George and kept watch wistfully for any scent of adventure that might come my way.

It's easy to make fun of them now, and they are rightly criticized for outdated racist and sexist attitudes. There are far superior and cleverer books out there for kids now, as you'd expect when considering books that were written 70 years ago.

But I have a selection of beloved books from my childhood and some newer classics (Harry Potter) that I have put in the kids' bookshelves, and this one has now joined that collection.

When I was nine my parents relocated to the States for my dad's work, and Enid Blyton books weren't available there. So my parents did something wonderful: they bought every book they could get in the Famous Five series for me, and in the Secret Seven series for my sister.

I still remember the awe, excitement and disbelief of suddenly owning a box full of shiny new books in my favourite series - it is one of the best memories of my childhood!

Unfortunately, the books did not make it to my adulthood. Some years later we relocated from the States to New Zealand, and the two dodgy guys packing up for the removalist company took a great interest in the more unusual of our things and stole half the stuff they were supposed to be packing - including two boxes of quaint British children's books.

On a recent visit to a toy shop I bought this book on a whim and have just finished it. I enjoyed it immensely, and the bits I remember so vividly are just as I remembered them. I would have preferred to find the editions I had as a kid, which had colour photos from the 1970s TV series on the front and contemporary illustrations inside (Uncle Quentin had permed hair if I remember correctly).

This edition was published in 2009 but uses the original 1947 illustrations which I hadn't seen before.

In 2010 Hodder announced they would be modernising some of the most outdated language in the books, with words like "jolly" and "queer" being replaced with "very" and "strange". Otherwise the books will remain unchanged, with parents having to navigate the trickier outdated bits with their kids.

This edition predates that, so is all original text, but regardless I was pleasantly surprised by this book; I enjoyed it more than I expected and it wasn't as dire as I anticipated.  One for the children's library, without any qualms.

On a side note, I was interested to know what Uncle Quentin's experiments on the island were all about. I couldn't remember from my childhood, and there were not many clues throughout the story. I was beginning to think we would not find out, but we did towards the end.  Uncle Quentin divulges that his work is "to find a way of replacing all coal, coke and oil - an idea to give the world all the heat and power it wants, and to do away with mines and miners."

That's just what I love about old books - the simultaneous feeling that "the past is a foreign country" and the jolt of recognition when you see people in the past working with what you thought was a "modern" idea.

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  1. I used to love these when I was younger and had a complete set started from hand-me-downs from my older siblings and then completed when I got to them (only one book missing by then!) so there were some from the (late) 60's, 70's and (early) 80's - we had some with the photos on too! Oh, what a lovely memory, maybe one day I'll re-read them but maybe the memory is better :-)

    1. I know what you mean - memories can be better sometimes. A few years ago I tried to re-read one of the Faraway Tree books, and found it dire - had to give up. Pretty cool you read the entire FF series! My parents were unable to get hold of 2 books before we left for the States, so I read all but two.

  2. I loved this series as well and had my mother's editions from the late 1940s to read and re-read. I don't know where they ended up; the kid in the mid-1970s would not have appreciated how valuable they might be in 2012. I did have a few 'new' ones featuring photos from the TV series as well and even in those innocent times I used to snigger at the line, "Oh do buck up, Anne!"

    1. Ha! Yes the language was always funny. I remember "Buck up" as well. And "Oh, rather!", "jolly queer", and "Hi!" instead of "Hey!". And the strange food they ate, like "ham and tongues and boiled eggs and lashings of ginger beer".

  3. interesting....maybe my daughter would like this series...

    1. She probably would. They are very dated but still have enough for kids to relate to I'd say. Though there are probably modern adventure stories that are better, I have to say I don't often see mystery/adventure stories for girls these days. Pity.

  4. I did so love Enid Blyton when I was a little girl. Bobbsey Twins too. So twee!



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