Enid Blyton wrote 21 Famous Five books… I don’t have to look that up, I just ask Helena. We are on book 14, we missed one, and had to get the library to order one because it wasn’t at either of the libraries we belong to. We may not have to read the last one as Helena is reassured by there being a next Famous Five – it being quite logical that if there is another Famous Five then all five characters must make it to the next book. We finish one then are straight on to the next one. Every night there is a bit of argey bargy as I finish the two chapters that I have said I will read due to time constraints..
- but they were short chapters
- you didn’t tell me that we were on another chapter, so we have only read one
- if you don’t read me another chapter I will stay awake until you come to bed
- that wasn’t the end of a chapter, you stopped in the middle of a sentence
- but I was quick (getting ready for bed)
- but it’s not fair to end a chapter like that making you want more… etc
We have written reviews on little slips of paper and stuck them in the books when we return them to the library. She even remembers what I have read at the back of the book we’ve just finished about the next book! Her last review which was about the book we had to get the library to order was something along the lines of – ‘even having waited for the book, even having dreamed about it, it did not disappoint’….. she is going around quoting a comment she made in her review “Richard got them into trouble and Richard got them out” (Five get into trouble should you want some reading).
Off course these are old books and the first thing that hits you is gender.
For Helena George IS a boy and Helena consistently calls George he. Helena has always done this despite “looking like a boy” herself (if you have short hair you are called a boy by strangers even when you wear pink, dresses, hair stuff etc, however only sometimes does she care). Helena can see a difference between her and George’s idea of gender. Reading these books is the first time we have had to discuss gender roles/assumptions as Helena didn’t have many. Helena did go through Playcentre which is, well our Playcentre was, gender irrelevant? …. no-one said “Boys are like blah and Girls are like blah”, there were no princesses and all dress ups were worn by all the kids who liked dressing up, no segregated activities, everyone who was into it did babies, trees, paint, balls, there was no “you look nice” because all the children looked dirty/messy/practical in a various assortment of mix matched old clothes, hand me downs. Not many of the kids watched TV at home, some watched DVDs or selected shows but no TV on in the corner, no DVDs like ‘Barbie and the 12 dancing Princesses’ etc (well to my knowledge). Of course I am also a solo parent so in our house there are only Mum jobs. It wasn’t until we moved (or possibly it was due to the badly written Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls) that Helena felt the need to wear pink and dresses to make her gender obvious? Even then a kid at the home-school group with long hair, a boy as it happens, persisted in calling her a boy until he started using her name. She’s now given that brief dress/pink thing up but has however decided she will choose her own clothes from now on – OK, though I’d prefer it if they got worn more than once. Helena is okay with the concept that she does what she likes and that this is independent of her gender, neither does she appear to assume her friends will be a specific gender or gender pigeon holed and individualises their likes/dislikes. So the book Bedtime stories for Rebel Girls…. Helena had this concept of studying a person a week from it and the first was Coy Mathis, mainly because it is the only picture of a child in the book. It irritated me and I only read the second line “Coy loved dresses, the colour pink and shiny shoes” once and followed it up with a massive rant about the implication of that line and its irrelevance to anything. Helena has no problem with Coy being transgender, Helena has no problem with George being transgender, I wonder if this is what Enid Blyton meant or was she just pointing out with a big pen gender ludicrousness. Helena sees Coy and George as people. Helena doesn’t like dresses, pink and shiny shoes – should she?? It is us who give kids these notions and send them into their little boxes. Why would we think Astrid Lindgren (Bedtime stories for Rebel Girls) didn’t look after the big animals, and who wants their kid to have the idea that their mum may think their sister is prettier and more popular… The Bed Time stories book really labors the point that these women had to work hard because they were women but I suspect lots of these women were working hard on whatever pulled their chain because it pulled their chain and they couldn’t help it and that should be celebrated. Helen Clark acknowledged that parliament is a boys club but said something along the lines that she wanted to become what she became so she just got on with it. Maybe it’s the little inaccuracies/patronising tone in the book that annoys me- Margret Thatcher was disliked for taking milk away from kids, NO NO NO it’s was because of her economic and social policies, pole tax…. should I then be checking the other stories?
Woops, sorry this is about the Famous Five…
The second thing that hits me with the Famous Five is the entitled children and the negative attitude to the lower class. Particularly striking in Five Run Away Together and the kids treatment of the child of George’s parents cook. Now I’ve done jobs like that and you aren’t equal and as an adult I can rationalise that, because of the money and I wasn’t class bound, but as a child who wouldn’t be resentful living in your mother’s employer’s house where you were sharing a room with your mother and had to watch the other kids rule over her….. why would you be cheerful to the posh kids? Where was the 5’s empathy? I dislike Julian, his attitude to other people- that they should tell him where they are going and what they are doing! I beg your pardon? His arrogance, his divine right to be followed – to be the boss. His rudeness to others. Then there is the attitude that the travelers are all sullen, surly, dishonest, dirty – just a little racism (www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/333077/new-zealanders-suffering-in-silence-from-racism). What this all means to Helena is my reading is speckled with comments. I’m sure there are many children over the years who know it’s better not to watch TV or have me read certain things to them or they get the ‘running commentary’. I’d like to think I’m modeling critical reading/viewing. It is bothering me today as our ideas of freedom of speech are being challenged by the arrival of some racist, homophobic, and misogynistic speakers from Canada (and the less publicised non arrival of some speakers at the Humanist Conference). I think we are asking the wrong question.. Why do people go to listen to unhappy nasty people? – I assume that it is to confirm what you already believe. I don’t want them to believe that inaccurate poppycock. Is it right then that I hear my words come out of Helena’s mouth – I was talking to someone else about that one line in Coy Mathis and not saying the line so Helena quoted it, accurately, for us – she listened because of my indignance. When I read her the Famous Five am I by highlighting rich entitled behavior with my comments giving her the space to make up her own mind? But I can’t leave the just a little bit of racism, the little bit of entitlement, the little bit of class….
Another thing that disturbs me is the adult neglect, not the freedom given to the kids as that is why we love the books, but that Julian, Dick and Anne who go to boarding school and only go home in the ‘hols’ never spend these ‘hols’ with their parents as their parents are abroad, in the current book they can’t go home because the house is being decorated! really!!! Helena says “but they are happy”.
So there is a lot of out dated lifestyle – horse drawn caravans, hardly any cars, MAIL – daily and everywhere and the kids write mail (I love that). Helena says there are two old days – the old days the book is set in and the old days that they talk about (castles, tunnels etc). Does Helena put Anne’s home making in this old days basket, boarding school? One of the out dated lifestyle features is the freedom the kids have. Camping by themselves for a week on an island, choice, bike touring where they can camp anywhere… taking a horse drawn caravan on holiday and having places to park and feed the horse just like that. NO cellphones. Maybe kids were more competent. Sometimes I read with an overwhelming sense of grief.
The food, no discussion of Famous Five could be complete with out talking about the food. Food is mentioned in almost every chapter, I’m not kidding. Breakfast, dinner, tea, supper…just off the top of our heads we remember- boiled eggs, fruitcakes, ham, sandwiches (egg, ham, tomato, pork, cheese) salads, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, cream, fresh strawberries, raspberries, homemade ice cream, potatoes, crispy potatoes, bacon, plums, pies, jam tarts… Helena says that Enid Blyton says we have to blame Dick who likes food so much that it made it’s way into the book… and of course there is lashings of Ginger beer. We have had to purchase food at the supermarket based on what the 5 eat! Fortunately it’s healthy, seasonal, ever so local (they seem to be able to pop into any farm and purchase home made pies, cakes and fresh eggs, ham etc) and easyish to make. Of course Mr entitled did complain when it wasn’t as nice as usual and didn’t rejoice that the surely farmer still sold him food, he didn’t have to Julian! I can’t see any kid rocking up to a farm to buy lunch these days…
What does Helena like about the Famous Five “I like the adventures they have, they are exciting and full mysteries. They make me want to go with them, picnic lunches (FOOD), going off by themselves (no adults)” ‘Famous Five makes me laugh my head off, especially Timmy”.
What is Helena learning from this obsession….. where to start?
The traditional, but useful character study
Our yet to be finished – our list of bit part characters… our discussions on food, maybe a Famous Five cook book? Setting… We’ve had many discussions on how Enid Blyton ends a chapter, what you can write to make people want to read more. Themes of the books… History. Helena has always enjoyed knowing the age of the kids – maybe a time line. But mostly it’s just the little bits of incidental learning: A Patrin
It’s taken a while to write this and we are now on 15. Only 6? to go… and after that we may take a break from a series, though someone thinks Secret 7 maybe the way to go.