I remember the time when I first laid hands on a Famous Five by Enid Blyton–I was probably in Class five–and I found them so fabulously entertaining that I couldn’t stop talking about it to anyone who was willing to listen.
I would insist on making my father read the pages/portions which I found particularly interesting while he would beg me to spare him. My mom was given lengthy narrations of the complicated(!) plots while she was busy in the kitchen.
In school much of our one-hour lunch-break was spent discussing the antics of George, Anne, Dick, Julian and Timmy the dog.
When you get started on Famous Five, how long can it be before you discover the School Series by Enid Blyton, given the endless channels available in school for exchanging books ? If I found the Famous Five interesting, I found The School Series (Malory Towers and St. Clare’s) mind-blowing– I was now an official fan of Enid Blyton, and so was my best friend, who also happened to be my neighbour.
The two of us fancied ourselves as the protagonists of Malory Towers or St’ Clare’s. We had serious discussions as to which was a better boarding school and why.(Malory Towers, and I no longer remember why!)) We also had a great time comparing our real-life school teachers to the fictional ones in the series.
Around the same time, I happened to read a collection of spooky stories for young readers in a book called ‘Ghosts of a Hill Station’ by Ruskin Bond. I found it refreshingly different and loved it but didn’t really make an effort to find and read more of him or other authors– I guess I and most of my friends were too caught up with EB !
Eventually, EB’s fall from favour was just as sudden as the rise. By the end of Class six, her books were already being dismissed by the majority of us as kiddish–and who wanted to be caught reading anything remotely kiddish!
Several years after school, while tidying my overflowing bookshelf, I came upon an old famous Five and began to read it. Not surprisingly, I didn’t like it– I couldn’t believe I had once loved the series. The sexism and the hint of patronizing elitism bothered me. On the other hand I continued to read, and love, any Ruskin Bond book that occasionally came my way–and many of them happened to be meant for children. This was more than I could say for Enid Blyton–things certainly have a way of coming full circle!!
It is nothing short of an art to write a book for children in a manner that appeals to grown-up sensitivities too. This fact was brought home to me , yet again, last week while reading Ruskin Bond’s ‘Treasury of Stories for Children’ which my daughter had brought from her school library.
The stories present delightful vignettes of life in British India–the themes are uncomplicated but very absorbing. The freshness of a child’s perspective comes through. Some of the stories appeared to be autobiographical accounts but I wasn’t sure because Bond loves to write even fiction in the first person. I found that I wasn’t wrong when I read his Wikipedia page.
The sights and smells of a childhood spent mostly in the hills are wonderfully evoked. The tone is very matter-of-fact. Bond gives a glowing description of his early childhood spent with his very loving father who instilled in him a love for nature and for books. His father died of malaria when Bond was ten(there is a heart-rending account of his father’s funeral) and he was sent away to a boarding school in Simla, which he hated. Even so, Bond continued to find joy in the company of nature, books and some great friends. Some stories are positively hilarious.
My daughter asked me if the best books for children were those that adults could enjoy too ( she has of late become adept at throwing such bouncers my way). I said not necessarily, although such books were definitely special, because you could enjoy them at any age. In any case, the goodness of any book should not have to be judged by whether your mother likes the book too!