Book Review: Secret Water

Secret Water is the eighth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

Secret Water focuses on just the Walker children, as they are “marooned” in Hamford Water, which is an area of tidal salt marshes and low-lying islands. It is the first book where Bridget – formally known as Fat Vicky, the baby in Swallows and Amazons, is old enough to join in on the adventures.

I think Bridget is my new favourite character; everything she said put a smile on my face, and the interactions between her and Roger are so sweet and funny.

In my review of Pigeon Post, the sixth book in the series, I said:

Pigeon Post is Ransome’s funniest book yet.’

However, I no longer think this is the case.

Ransome’s light-hearted narration, paired with the humour of Bridget and Roger is just fantastic. As he is no longer the youngest, Roger tries to model more grownup behaviour for Bridget (and fails). Bridget is teased for her babylike innocence, because she is so new to the Walkers’ games. For example, she is so excitable and keen to be a human sacrifice for the children’s game – even though she has no idea what a sacrifice is!

Secret Water is a new kind of adventure for the Walker children as they are left “marooned” on an island and they are forbidden to sail anywhere by their parents. This is an understandable decision, after the chaos that arose when the children were last left unsupervised in a sailing boat in We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea. I liked this, as it meant the book was  more focused on exploring territory and describing the surrounding scenery, unlike some of the other books, which contain a lot more technical language about sailing that I just don’t understand.

As well as the new setting, another new addition to Secret Water are the new children the Walkers meet and make friends with: Don, Daisy, Dum and Dee. I wasn’t particularly bothered about these new characters, as I think the eight book in a series is quite late to be introducing new characters, and I didn’t think there was anything particularly interesting or exciting about them.

Nonetheless, I still greatly enjoyed Secret Water and it’s definitely one of my favourites in the series.

– Judith

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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

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