Book Review: We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea

‘Nobody had meant to go to sea, but here they were, and an unknown land ahead of them’

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is the seventh novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea focuses on just the Walker children: John, Susan, Titty, and Roger. They are staying at Pin Mill, in south Suffolk, with their mother and youngest sister, Bridget, as they await for the return of their father from overseas. The children befriend Jim Brading, who invites them for a trip aboard his boat, Goblin. Their mother only allows them aboard on the condition that they promise to stay within the estuary and do not go to sea. Evidently, this promise is broken.

I started reading We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea whilst on holiday at Poole Quay, so the descriptions of boats, harbours and foghorns felt quite apt. However, I couldn’t, and didn’t, understand all the technical sailing terms Ransome includes. Even with the little diagrams provided, I just wasn’t interested in the technicalities of sailing a boat.

The title obviously reveals the premise of the book, and one chapter is even called Nothing Can Possibly Happen, which is ironic.

We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is probably one of the scariest books of the Swallows and Amazons series I’ve read. 4 children become stranded at sea, get caught in the middle of a storm, and Ransome describes it in vivid detail. I’d be terrified!

This chaos leads to some new character development, as John has to take on new responsibilities in order to keep everybody safe, and Susan’s confidence as the mother figure shatters due to the fear and guilt of breaking a promise and being lost at sea.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Despite it’s scarier scenes, We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is still fun and has plenty of humour, particularly from Roger. There are also some rather ridiculous plot moments, as the children end up somewhere so bizarre that their mother doesn’t believe them!

Whilst a rather dramatic story, We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is another enjoyable children’s book in Arthur Ransome’s series and all is cheerfully resolved by the ending anyway.

– Judith

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Book Review: The Wizard of Oz

Image via Parabola Magazine.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is a fun children’s book about Dorothy, a young girl swept away to the magical land of Oz by a cyclone. Dorothy meets and befriends the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion and together the group travel to meet Oz, the great wizard, to ask him for help.

Despite seeing the famous film adaptation of The Wizard Of Oz, I’d never actually read the book. Subsequently, it was surprising to see how many adventurous things Dorothy and her friends do that were omitted from the film.

I thought the story itself was fun, and I liked the vivid, colourful descriptions Baum used throughout.

The characters are also good role models for children, as the focus of the book is learning to be kind, brave, generous and loving.

The narrative style was quite short and blunt – Dorothy did this, Dorothy did that – which seemed a little simplistic, although I suppose children are the true target audience, not me.

I quite liked the unofficial film sequel, Return to Oz, which is based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma Of Oz – later stories in Baum’s series, so I may read those at some point.

Whilst I liked The Wizard of Oz as an adult, but I think this series would be enjoyed most by children.

– Judith

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