Enid Blyton, praise and criticism part 3: The Ultimate First Book Guide

The Ultimate First Book Guide claims to contain over 500 great books for 0-7s. This might be dangerous for me as I will probably see lots of things I will want to read, I really enjoy going back and reading popular children’s books that I missed at the time. I’ve recently discovered The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, The Velveteen Rabbit and several other classics/modern classics.

Anyway, a few Blytons feature in the book so I thought I’d have a look to see which ones.

Three, or is it eight or nine?

There are three entries for Enid Blyton, but all three are series. They are The Magic Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood and Amelia Jane.

There are over 60 different contributors to this book, each recommending a book or books. They are split into three age categories, 0-2, 2-5 and 5-7. All of Blyton’s entries fall into the 5-7 group, which has difficulty ratings for each book. One being the easiest and three being the most challenging. Oh and they are listed alphabetically within the sections (the exception being a few pages with a theme or topic).

Enid Blyton
Some children have more adventure than most. It helps if you have an Enchanted Wood at the bottom of your harden, and friends like Silky the elf, Moon-Face and Saucepan Man, the inhabitants of the Faraway Tree. Every week, at the top of this magic tree, there is a different land to visit – from the irresistible Land of Treats to the Land of Bad Temper. The children sometimes find themselves in trouble, but never any real danger – they always manage to get back in time for tea. The stories may be slightly old-fashioned, but they have a vividness and sense of magic that more sophisticated books can lack. And there are things that will always appeal to children’s imaginations – sweets that turn from hot to cold in your mouth, a cat that can tell fortunes, a Land of Birthdays…
Katie Jennings

Katie Jennings is a children’s editor who works for the publishing house that produces the Ultimate Book Guide. The Faraway Tree books have been rated as a three, so amongst the most challenging of the recommended titles. If you think a book is good enough to be recommended in a widely published book, I wonder why there’s a need for saying they are old-fashioned in a negative way (almost apologising for that, rather than celebrating it). Or for using a backhanded compliment by saying it has things that more sophisticated books don’t, therefore saying it is unsophisticated, ie simple or lacking depth.

Many other books/series recommendations have a box to the side giving other titles, but not for the Faraway Tree. There’s also not a picture, though there’s only pictures for half of the books included.

Enid Blyton
This is a classic collection from the prolific pen of Enid Blyton. Amelia Jane is the naughtiest toy in the toy cupboard. In each chapter, she thinks up a new way to tease and terrify the other toys: she snips off pink rabbit’s tail, scares the toys by pretending to be a cat, and pushes the brown teddy bear into a pool of water. But even though Amelia Jane is the largest of the toys, the others are quite good at teaching her a lesson. Whenever she gets her comeuppance, she promises to be good in future… but her resolution is always short-lived!
There are three collections of Amelia Jane stories to enjoy.
Susan Reuben

Naughty Amelia Jane gets a rating of two, between easy and challenging. I’m surprised as I was exposed to Amelia Jane younger than five, though it was read to me rather than me reading it. From what I can tell, the books rated as a one have more pictures and less text.

Again there’s no list of titles and no picture. It’s interesting that although the book was published in 2008 they have stuck to the original three book series with no acknowledgement of the 2001 book Good Idea, Amelia Jane.

Enid Blyton
Two children wander into an antique shop one day and find an incredible chair that will take them wherever they wish to go. So they keep it on their playroom, and whisk off on adventures whenever they can. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and they frequently meet nasty creatures who try to take the chair and cause all sorts of other trouble. 
This is the first in a series of three books about the wishing chair, which have the trademark Blyton features of rollicking, adventurous storylines and a fast-paced, unchallenging text.
Susan Reuben

Susan Reuben co-owns a company that carries out freelance work for children’s publishers. I was appreciating these two recommendations until the second to last word. I’m trying to tell myself that she means unchallenging in a positive way, telling parents that their child who finds reading hard would find these books manageable. But come on, almost nobody says anything positive about Enid Blyton these days without caveats and backhanded compliments. If you’ve written a deliberately accessible book aimed at poor readers then unchallenging is probably a compliment, for anyone else it’s just another put down along with ‘limited vocabulary’.

Again, no picture, no list of books, and strangely the fact that it says three books means that they are including the 2000 book More Wishing-Chair Stories. Despite the unchallenging text, the books get a rating of two.

What else is there?

Given that Enid Blyton wrote hundreds of books it’s a shame that more of them don’t feature here, but saying that, her other big series are probably aimed at older readers. The Famous Five, Adventure Series, Five-Find Outers, Malory Towers and St Clare’s for example are usually in the 7 or 8-12 age bracket in book shops. Perhaps the Secret Seven or Josie Click and Bun would have been age appropriate, the latter would have been great instead of going for the obvious and already well-known titles. And of course, Noddy!

I will have to look out for The Ultimate Book Guide which has over 700 books for 8-12s, perhaps more Blytons will feature in there.

Roald Dahl is another prolific writer, though not in the same league titles-wise as Blyton, yet he has seven books recommended. Interestingly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn’t there, nor The Witches, or Matilda. Either they thought those would be 8+ as well, or bizarrely rate them not as good as The Magic Finger or The Enormous Crocodile. I love The Twits, and though Esio Trot is good it’s very short and barely a story.

Some personal classics from 0-2 I was happy to see include Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell), Where’s Spot (Eric Hill), The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen), Peepo! and Each Peach Pear Plum – one of Brodie’s favourites – (Janet and Allen Ahlberg), the Hairy Maclary books – also Brodie’s favourites – (Lynley Dodd) and That’s Not My… Series (Fiona Watt).

Related post⇒ Books for Babies, the lead up to Blyton 

I was not impressed with the inclusion of Bing Bunny books, I despise Bing Bunny who is a character on CBeebies. He is whiny, badly behaved and just incredibly annoying!

I spotted Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) – a classic I have yet to read, though I’ve read the book adaptation of the film. Also in there was Goodnight Moon, which didn’t surprise me.

For the 2-5 age group I love the Alfie books  and Dogger (Shirley Hughes), most things by Dr Seuss, more Janet and Allan Ahlberg this time Cops and Robbers and Funnybones, Dr Dog (Babette Cole), The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson), the Large Family books (Jill Murphy), Katie Morag (wonderfully Scottish and by Mairi Hedderwick), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll), Old Bear books (Jane Hissy) and The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Judith Kerr).

Perhaps surprising is The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business (Werner Holzwarth). This one has scatalogical in the description! It’s the story of a mole who has a poo done on his head and he goes around trying to work out whose poo it is. Sort of a ‘you’re not my mother’ type, but with poo. I’ve read it and it’s actually very funny but I’m not used to that sort of stuff being openly recommended. Mind you it was (and possibly still is) on my library’s catalogue homepage, so I shouldn’t be surprised to see it elsewhere. I’ve just discovered there is a Scottish version too, The Tale o the Wee Mowdie that wantit tae ken wha keeched on his heid.

And for the 5-7s, Winnie the Pooh – in the original form I’d say this is the right age group though there’s lots out there for younger readers (A. A. Milne), the Milly-Molly-Mandy books (Joyce Lankester Brisley), The Sheep Pig – aka Babe – Dick King-Smith, Bill’s New Frock – also excellent are The Country Pancake and The Angel of Nitshill Road – (Anne Fine), the Worst Witch books (Jill Murphy), Happy Families (Janet and Allan Ahlberg), My Naughty Little Sister (Dorothy Edwards), Paddington Bear (Michael Bond), and although it barely has any words; Where’s Wally (Martin Handford).

One book I would like to read now is George Speaks by Dick King-Smith, one I’ve never heard of before!


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3 Responses to Enid Blyton, praise and criticism part 3: The Ultimate First Book Guide

  1. chrissie777 says:

    Did you read the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley? I thought they are very charming and timeless (at least the German translation was timeless).


  2. setinthepast says:

    I loved all those Blyton books! I got upset because there weren’t any more Amelia Janes, and drove my dad mad to make up stories about her (poor Dad!!). And I used to pretend that a big armchair we had was a Wishing Chair – I even tied luggage labels or something on it to look like wings. Haven’t read them for years 🙂 .


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