Enid Blyton, praise and criticism part 4: The World of Children’s Books

I brought this one (and all the other praise and criticism books) home from the staff library at my work. I just quickly skimmed the index to see if Enid Blyton was mentioned. She’s in this one four times but I fear it won’t be much of a blog as each mention is very brief.

The World of Children’s Books

The full title of this book is An Introduction to the World of Children’s Books, a bit of a mouthful and rather too long for a blog title.

Margaret Marshall the writing, publishing and selling of children’s books and analyses the various kinds – fiction and non fiction, textual and pictorial. Trends in the children’s book world, past and present, are described, and the criteria for selection of a particular book discussed.

It looks quite serious and in-depth despite the bright and cartoony cover, I hope I understand more of it than I have some others!


What does it say about Enid Blyton?

First, there are only around 20 authors listed in the index, many of which have only one page reference. However, I notice on skim reading that many other authors are name checked, if only when their book is given as an example of a genre.

Blyton features four times, no other author has more than that in the index. Maurice Sendak is the only other who equals her four.

Girls’ school stories are vast in quantity, ranging from the archetypal Angela Brazil books to the fifty-six titles in the Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer, and the numerous titles in the Abbey School series by Elsie Oxenham. Enid Blyton’s school stories were popular from their beginning in the 1940s and remains so today in three series, The Naughtiest Girl, the St Clare’s and the Malory Towers books.

It’s interesting that none of the other authors in that paragraph feature in the index, and I wonder what the criteria was for selecting index-worthy names. I actually recognise few of the chosen ones, yet I know of Brazil, Brent-Dyer and Oxenham.

Anyway, it’s not a very informative bit about Blyton but at least it’s not negative. Though shortly after this the book says of boarding school books in general:

Many of the plots are repetitive, the characters stereotyped, the slang outdated; there is little to do with real-life boarding school practice in the educational sense and almost no explicit boy/girl relationships; but the sometimes exotic settings, the evident privilege in the boarding school clientele and the basic relationships depicted in the schoolgirl or schoolboy world, continue to hold interest, particularly for girls.

I suppose when you have hundreds upon hundreds of boarding school books you would struggle not to see the same plots appearing, but don’t they say that there are only seven real stories (overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth) out there and everything else is a variation upon on of them? As for no real-life boarding school education, nobody reads a book determined to witness a full geography or maths lesson. I’m also intrigued as to whether explicit means clearly stated or sexual. I assume the former, but the lack of romance or dating isn’t surely limited to boarding school books? A lot of children’s books stick to platonic friendships, or family groups.

The next mention of Blyton is in the bit about Adventure books.

There are many such books for children and many that make from the ingredients an easily absorbed story in which the reader races along with the action. This is the appeal of the phenomenal Enid Blyton books, dozens of which are adventure stories concerning the Famous Five and the Secret Seven in books like Five on a Treasure Island, The Island of Adventure, Castle of Adventure and so on. Her books have been best-sellers since the 1940s and are read by children all over the world, despite the very English characters and settings.

I appreciate that there’s no negativity again, in the idea of the books racing along. Though I’m not sure what phenomenal here refers to. Is it Enid Blyton herself, or her books? Usually it is the word of choice to describe her vast output. I have to laugh when I see the examples given, though, where the Famous Five and Secret Seven suddenly inhabit the world of the Adventure Series.

Illustrations are up next for Blyton;

Some of the classic story books whether opular or esoteric are remembered for the way in which the illustrations complement and extend the story as in Shepard’s pictures for Winnie the Pooh…; the illustrations for Richmal Compton’s William books and those for Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books.

Shame Eileen Soper doesn’t get name-checked here. I would certainly not call Enid Blyton’s books esoteric, so that means that they must be classic! It’s a crying shame that she almost never gets that label despite so many of her contemporaries being lauded as classic.

And lastly Enid Blyton is mentioned because Sheila Ray’s The Blyton Phenomenon is listed as a bibliographical aid to children’s literature.

What isn’t said

Very little is said about any author or books, there just isn’t room. No biographical information appears, and little beyond a few words about any one book at a time.

There are several mentions of racism and sexism  in the book, thankfully none in conjunction with Enid Blyton.

A trend which is being strongly pursued by some people is the attempt to exclude, delete or ban from children’s books, references to what are considered to be sexist, racist, politically unfavourable, or religious themes, comments or characters.

This is more or less branded as a disturbing development especially the notion that books should be weeded for offensive material, or developing a code whereby these sorts of things are managed.

This I very much agree with.

So on the whole, the book casts Blyton in a positive light – though perhaps that’s just because it doesn’t say much negative about any author in particular.


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1 Response to Enid Blyton, praise and criticism part 4: The World of Children’s Books

  1. Ading Sote says:

    Please oh please can you write more about the adventures of St Andrews because I am dying to know more.


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