Book Review: Pigeon Post

Pigeon Post is the sixth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

Pigeon Post, unlike its predecessor Coot Club, is set once again in the Lake District. The book unites Dick and Dorothea (the D’s), Nancy and Peggy (the Amazons), and John, Susan, Tigger, and Roger (the Swallows) during the summer holidays. The children are determined to camp on High Topps, on a mission to discover and mine gold. They also, oddly enough, await the arrival of an armadillo named Timothy.

Similarly to Winter Holiday, there were also some genuinely scary and dramatic scenes; High Topps is known for its risk of fires, and exploring caves and mines could lead to all kinds of dangers…

But no spoilers.

Pigeon Post is Ransome’s funniest book yet.

Arthur Ransome’s writing has always been fairly witty but here, humour just exudes from both his narrative style and the characters’ own personalities. My love for Roger has grown even stronger; he is always does something ridiculous or saying something silly, and at one point, he even gets a chapter to himself!

It was enjoyable to see all the children interact together in a large group and bounce off everyone else.

However, I thought it interesting how, throughout the book, I identified most with the children’s mothers  and Susan – the “mother” of the group – to make sure everyone was fed, washed, and in bed at suitable times. This may be a consequence of reading the series for the first time as an adult, rather than a child!

I’m also continually impressed by the cleverness and capabilities of these children. For example, Dick constructs a carrier pigeon postal system, hence the title of the book, which is designed to ring a bell when a carrier pigeon arrives with a letter and he also reads books about metalwork, so that the children can build a blast furnace to attempt to extract their findings.

Nowadays, I know health and safety is incredibly restrictive on what children can and can’t do, but I wonder if modern children are even interested in such outdoorsy, practical tasks. I can’t help but be sceptical and wonder: if there isn’t an app for these things, will today’s youth be interested?

Pigeon Post is my boyfriend’s favourite book of the series. I’m still torn on my decision; I really enjoyed it, and for that reason, it’s definitely one of my firm favourites.

– Judith

 

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Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon

My boyfriend introduced me to How To Train Your Dragon, the animated fantasy film, and I loved it. We then watched the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (creative) and I loved it more. We’ve re-watched them several times. I didn’t even know there were books. So, at his suggestion, I read How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Hmm.

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

How To Train Your Dragon is the first in a series of twelve children’s books about Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief, as he overcomes great obstacles on his journey to become Heroic.

Visually, it’s a nice little book. It has childlike My Image [How To Train Your Dragon Book] handwriting and drawings throughout, so it’s perfect for Cowell’s target audience; the idea is that the book was genuinely  written by Hiccup – hence his illustrations and annotations – and she was just his Old Norse translator. A nice touch.

The descriptions are as vivid and not complicated – as you’d expect in a children’s book, and there are also some witty moments.

The key plot points are clearly identifiable:

  • Hiccup is a below average Viking boy who wants to achieve but struggles under the pressure of being the Chief’s son
  • Snoutlout is Hiccup’s cousin, eager for Hiccup to fail so he can become chief instead
  • Hiccup is concerned about not fulfilling his father’s Viking expectations
  • It is only when Berk is placed in danger, Hiccup’s usefulness and value is recognised

These are (no surprises here) “obvious” for an adult reader, but this the sort of good narrative structure a children’s book should have, so I wanted to point it out.

However, it is very different to the films. An enlightening comment, I know.

The characters are different – without seeing them frequently “onscreen” like you would in a film, I felt forced to rely on a few, infrequent small illustrations and their initial descriptions at the start of the book to remember who they are; it was hard to keep track of the long-winded Viking names.

My Image [How To Train Your Dragon 1]

Another striking difference between the book and the film is that in the film, Berk is an island scared of, and enraged by, dragons because they believe they are violent creatures that need to be destroyed. The community is only persuaded to think otherwise following Hiccup’s discovery of, and his blossoming friendship with, Toothless the Night Fury, one of the most legendary and fearful dragons in existence. However, in the book, Berk is an island that already believes that dragons can be, and should be, domesticated pets. It is only once the Viking boys in training are given the useless handbook How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup must create his own, personalised, methods to tame his dragon Toothless.

 A second significant difference is that in the book, the dragons can talk. This creates a new layer of characterisation because they can communicate thoughts and feelings with each other, and their owners. This means that, instead of the smiling but silent Toothless from the film, he is whiny and always back-chatting. It’s very difficult to see him as the loveable, heart-warming, protective but powerful and incredibly rare Night Fury from the film – the Toothless I love.

I’m so clearly biased – sorry – and I preferred the films to the book. I can see exactly why kids would love this sort of book though: it’s funny, it’s adventurous, it’s easy to read and it’s imaginative.

I won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I now have a flavour of the writing which inspired two films I greatly enjoy.

How To Train Your Dragon 3 is in production and is due to be released in 2019.

– Judith

Book Review: Coot Club

Coot Club is the fifth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

The book is about Dick and Dorothea, who visit the Norfolk Broads during the Easter holidays, keen to learn how to sail. They meet a new group of friends – members of the eponymous Coot Club – and explore the North and South Broads together.

The start of Coot Club was bonkers but fun. Likewise, the ending was funny and enjoyable. However, the parts in between were not as entertaining.

Lots of new characters are introduced – too many, I think – as well as the names of the boats they each sail. This made it incredibly difficult to remember who was who and which boat was which. These new characters didn’t seem to be developed in any detail – excluding Tom, who was suitably independently-minded and witty and William the pug, who was arguably the most characterised of the entire cast.

Furthermore, Port and Starboard, the girl twins with an aptitude for sailing – hence the nicknames – felt like a weaker version of Nancy and Peggy from the previous books.

I think part of my issue with Coot Club was having only just become acclimatised to the “original” characters (John, Susan, Titty, Roger, Nancy, Peggy, Dick and Dorothea) and the original Lake District setting, Ransome introduces new characters, in a new setting, with a new story. And they say people don’t like change…

Given the title, Coot Club not only involves a lot of sailing but bird-watching too – especially of coots.  I liked the variety of birds identified and described by Dick; I’m trying to spot and remember types of British birds myself at the minute and this reinforced some in my memory.

My Photo [Coot Club 2]
‘Coots can be found in large numbers, along numerous waterways up and down the country’. Image via Canal River Trust

Coot Club took me a lot longer to enjoy, and it eventually became a struggle to read. This is such a shame because I’ve enjoyed reading the series so far. Oh well, I can’t have everything.

– Judith