Breaking free with books
Published on: 11 Hydref 2013 Author: Anne Cassidy
For Children's Book Week, author Anne Cassidy writes about the wonderful freedom of Enid Blyton's adventures.
When I was child I was a fussy eater and a fussy reader. I was as suspicious of books as I was of food. Then I found Enid Blyton and read and read and read (sadly I never found a food I liked as much).
I was sucked into that world and it was those very books that made me a reader.
Why? Because in those stories the children were free of the adults in their lives and although I had a wonderfully happy childhood that freedom, that chance to be in charge of myself, was something I desired. The characters in the Blyton books went off camping and got involved in mysteries and caught bad people and put the world to rights. They were a group of firm friends and looked out for each other. They set up camp and cooked for themselves. (They cooked food for themselves!) They were fearless.
I was an only child, much cossetted. We lived in a block of flats and I wasn't allowed to go out of the main play area of these flats. All my friends went wherever they liked, stayed out all day if they wanted. So I spent a lot of time on my own. I read about freedom, adventure and danger in the Blyton books. I fantasised about being one of those children. I made up stories in my own head about further adventures. I used these stories to drive my imagination. I took what I wanted from these books and moved on. They opened a door for me and I look back with fondness at them.
As an adult (and a teacher) I was well aware of the controversy about the Blyton books and yet I had loved them. As a child, all their race, class and gender stereotypes were made invisible to me by the stories. That was, of course, why adults were (and are) so concerned at the effect such attitudes can have on young minds. But the attitudes of books don't automatically become the attitudes of the reader – there are other, more powerful influences on our values.
Young people find their own way into reading. The key thing is that they should be allowed to read what they want to read without raising the opprobrium of adults. Children will self-select. When they've had enough adventures from Blyton they'll find something else to read.
I read widely now. I also eat much better than I did as a child.