Famous Five will always be synonym of summer reading to me. There is a very good reason for that. As a child, I had always resisted them, and was always more interested in other series published in the same publisher, which were dominating the market at the time. In fact, I was more of a Carolyn Keene kind of girl, with a bit of Nancy Drew – Alice in French – but mainly the Dana Girls – les soeurs Baxter in French.
But one summer afternoon, I found a copy of one of the Famous Five books, abandoned in the dunes at the beach I spent my summers in. I felt sorry for the book so took it home and read it. I fonud myself reading quite a few after that.
Of course, my experiences of reading Famous Five will be much different to most British people. Enid Blyton is famous in France, but not quite as famous as here, and I would say her most famous creation there is most definitely Noddy.
Famous Five is 70 this year and to celebrate, Hodder have launched five anniversary editions, each with gorgeous new covers designed by five very talented illustrators: Quentin Blake, Helen Oxenbury, Emma Chichester Clark, Chris Riddell and Oliver Jeffers.
In September our book group will be having a Famous Five event, and the children have to choose one of the above to read. Master O. chose The Famous Five Go Off on the Caravan purely on the appeal of its cover, being a massive Chris Riddell fan. So we have started reading it. This is not my first experience of reading Famous Five as an adult, and it certainly is not quite the same experience as reading it as a child, so be aware that your rose-tinted memories and nostalgic thoughts might get quite a battering. However there is something quite timeless about those tales. Apart from the dated turns of phrase and the obvious lack of technology that children nowadays are used to, there is in fact little clue about the time those tales were written. Updating the covers regularly ensures that new, younger readers are attracted to the series. For this reason, in France,as in the UK, Famous Five books have gone through several makeovers over the years.This is the cover of the book as it was when I found it on the beach, and this is it now:
So yes, as parents, we might reservations about Blyton’s talent and about the suitability of some of the stories But children are not stupid and will make their minds up as to what is dated, and won’t let it stop them enjoying the story. Miss R was shocked when George gets told that driving is a “man’s job” early on in the one we are reading and declared this to be quite sexist; I don’t think she will be fooled into thinking, by Blyton or anybody else, that women need to stay at home and do the cooking any time soon. All it needs is a little explanation and input on the part of parents. Regardless of all this, I think young readers will enjoy the difficult situations the friends always seem to find themselves into, because that lot definitely are trouble magnets, and I think children love that. Mine certainly do.
So these new gorgeous covers will be a perfect opportunity to introduce new readers to what is, after all, a British institution. Plus you are helping raising funds so a very worthy project, so what are you waiting for?
If you find yourself in Dorset this summer, the Enid Blyton adventure trail might be of interest of you.