When Enid Blyton Proved Lots of Fun*

As this is posted, it would have been Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday. As you’ll know, Blyton was one of the most prolific and successful writer of children’s stories of her time. If you grew up reading the Famous Five series, or the Five Find-Outer series, or the Secret Seven series, you’ll know that she created a number of memorable characters and adventures. And generations of children began a lifelong love of books and of crime fiction because of her writing. Blyton certainly wasn’t the first to create young protagonists, or series of books written for children. But she drew in millions of young people, and her books are still very popular.

Many people have been critical of Blyton’s work, pointing out sexism and xenophobia in her stories. That criticism has, of course, been levelled at several other authors of her time, and it’s hard to separate an author from the era in which she or he writes. That said, though, it’s hard to deny Blyton’s influence on children’s fiction.

Today’s children’s mystery fiction is as diverse and varied as its adult counterpart. And it features a wide range of young protagonists. For instance, David Adler has created several series for young people. One is the Cam Jansen series. These books feature Jennifer ‘Cam’ Jansen, so-called because of her photographic memory. A Grade Five student, she and her best friend, Eric, solve mysteries with the help of her ability to remember what she’s seen. Another Adler series features Cam as a younger child. Adler has written several other series for young readers as well.

Bill Galvan and Chad Denton have created a comic series called the Scrapyard Detectives. This series features a group of five young sleuths who meet regularly at a local scrapyard. Each of them has a different background, and brings a different sort of expertise to the team. Robert (whose father owns the scrapyard) is the ‘idea person;’ Jinn Lee has a knack for putting together pieces of a mystery puzzle; Lisan does background research; and so on. One purpose of the series is to promote multiculturalism. But there are also mysteries to be solved. And, speaking personally (I’ve used these in some work I’ve done), the focus is at least as much on the mysteries as it is on messages to be sent. And that works well for young readers, who don’t want to be preached to any more than most adults want it.

Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series features the fourteen-year-old younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. The series is a pastiche series, so there are plenty of ‘crossover characters’ from the original Arthur Conan Doyle series. But at the same time, this series’ focus is Enola and the cases that she solves. It’s intended for the middle grades, and it’s an interesting ‘bridge’ to the original Holmes stories.

Writing as Lewis B. Montgomery, Mara Rockliff has created a children’s mystery series featuring Milo and his friend Jasmyne ‘Jazz,’ who are detectives in training. They’ve sent away for a Super Sleuth kit from expert detective Dash Marlowe, who gives them long-distance advice on sleuthing. This series is aimed at beginning readers from ages 7-11, and includes ‘asides’ to the reader to help young people learn deduction, logical thinking, and some academic skills, too.

There’s also Fireside Books’ Leaders and Legacies series. These stories feature Canada’s prime ministers as young sleuths, so readers get to solve mysteries along with the protagonists. They also learn a bit about the history of the country, and about the prime ministers themselves.

Of course, not all mystery books for children are in series, as many of Blyton’s were. There are plenty of standalone mysteries out there. And they’re available for even the youngest readers. For example, there’s Herbert Yee Wong’s Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper, and James and Kimberly Dean’s Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes. Both of those (and plenty more) are picture books, so that young people can be drawn into the mystery, even if they’re just starting to read.

What about little ones who aren’t quite ready to read yet? There are great resources out there for them, too. For example, you may not know this, but crime writer D.S. Nelson is an expert children’s storyteller. You can visit her website right here and get to know her work. She’s also created a series of fun and engaging mini-mysteries featuring Hugo the detective dog. You can watch them right here. Storytelling can be a very effective way to introduce children to stories and, later, books. Add in a mystery, and you can hook a child on crime fiction for life. Crime writers everywhere will thank you for that.

Did you grow up with Enid Blyton? If you did, what are your Blyton memories? If you didn’t, what are your first memories of cracking fictional cases?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Undertones’ What’s With Terry?


Filed under Bill Galvan, Chad Denton, D.S. Nelson, David Adler, Enid Blyton, Herbert Yee Wong, James Dean, Kimberly Dean, Lewis B. Montgomery, Mara Rockliff, Nancy Springer

31 responses to “When Enid Blyton Proved Lots of Fun*

  1. I loved the Famous Five and Secret Seven books as a child. I got only 10c a week pocket money in the 1970s (small, even back then), but I learnt that if I saved it for five weeks, I could buy a Famous Five paperback and still have enough for an ice-cream!

    It’s interesting the way the books have been re-edited over the years, and I don’t think I approve of that. For example, I have two copies of the first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Island (originally published in 1942). One is copyrighted 1965 (printed 1970), and Chapter 3 is titled, ‘A queer story—and a new friend’. The other is copyrighted 2001, and Chapter 3 is titled, ‘A peculiar story—and a new friend’! There are lots of other small edits throughout the book. I think a book should remain as its author wrote it, or at least as it was edited at the time—otherwise it’s like trying to rewrite history.

    I still love reading crime series. At the moment, my favourites are the Molly Murphy Mysteries (set in New York from around 1901) and the Her Royal Spyness series (set in Europe in the 1930s) by Rhys Bowen.

    • Oh, those are good series, Caron, in my opinion. If you haven’t read Bowen’s Evan Evans series, I also recommend that one. There’s something about a series, isn’t there?

      As to editing, I tend to agree with you. Yes, some of those books have words, phrases and so on that are considered offensive today, or at the very least ‘wrong.’ And I admit to being fairly sensitive to the sexism in some older books. But I think those books should be as they were written. As you say, to do otherwise re-writes history, and I’m not sure I like that.

      ps. My allowance was pretty small, too. You had to be very careful with so little money, if that makes sense.

      • It does! I certainly learnt how hard it was to save—but how worthwhile in the end! I will definitely check out the Evan Evans series. I particularly like the way Bowen takes the reader to the scene, even though it might be 100 years ago. I feel like I’m walking along that cobbled street, hearing the clop-clop of horse-driven cabs, sitting in that restaurant or drafty tenement building.

        • I couldn’t agree more, Caron. Bowen has a real talent for evoking place, time and atmosphere, whether it’s New York at the turn of the 20th Century, contemporary Wales, or someplace else. I can see why you like her work as much as you do. And as for saving? It certainly does teach a person how to set priorities and make the most of what there is. And I think that’s a worthwhile lesson.

  2. I too grew up on Blyton. Mostly borrowed from our local library (back in the days when they weren’t funded by government here and were run by various church and women’s groups – there was a monthly fee and my mum always paid the family rate even when times were tough financially). I loved the Famous Five in particular and I’m sure reading them sparked my life-long interest in crime fiction.

    I’m sure she expressed and even believed things that are no longer considered acceptable..but so did Shakespeare. It is a difficult issue to address sensibly and I’m not always consistent about it myself – I give some authors a certain amount of latitude (e.g. Christie who could be pretty anti-semitic at times) and with others I just can’t see past the bigotry in their writing or storytelling.

    • I have to admit to a bit of inconsistency, myself, Bernadette, when it comes to those ‘isms.’ In general, I dislike them. I notice them right away, and they pull me out of a story. But there are a few authors (Christie being one of them) who get a pass from me. And I do have this feeling that what the author wrote is what the author wrote, and that’s what ought to be read. It’s definitely a messy issue, and I admit I don’t have the answer.

      I do know, though, that Blyton was responsible for millions of young people taking to reading, and to reading crime fiction. Those memories you have of following the Famous Five’s adventures are, I’m sure, priceless. And that’s worth a lot, whatever Blyton may have believed. I give your mum credit, too, for putting literacy and libraries ahead of perhaps some other things, so that you’d always have books.

  3. We had lots of Enid Blyton books at our school library so I read as many of them as I could, plus I could always pick up a few at book sales/garage sales. I’m sure they sparked my lifelong passion for crime fiction (also, for boarding schools, although a friend of mine then went to a British boarding school and told me it was nothing like Malory Towers).
    Another firm favourite was Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kaestner and The Headless Horse by Paul Berna – both featuring a whole gang of children playing on the streets of the big city, so far grittier than the quite country villages of Blyton. Another English childhood favourite were the mysteries of Malcolm Saville, the Lone Pine series I believe they were called – the children were slightly older, more teenagers, so I suppose nowadays they would be called YA books.

    • Isn’t it interesting, Marina Sofia, how the reality of, in this case, a British boarding school, can be so different from what’s portrayed in fiction? I can remember reading about boarding schools, too, and wondering what they were like. As you say, nothing like what’s in the books. Thanks for mentioning Kaestner, Berna and Saville. I admire any author who can inspire young people to read. And it’s nice when a series doesn’t just depict a lovely country setting, as much as I like those settings. There are cities out there, too…

  4. I loved this! Enid Blyton’s books are the beginning of my bibliophilic journey, not to mention my love for mysteries. I feel that one of the things that made her books stand out was how she conveyed so much in so few and so simple words. I remember how my best friend and I would read a few titles repeatedly just for her wonderful descriptions of food! 🙂 Her books are really inspiring – they make a kid feel they can achieve anything…

    • Thanks for the kind words, Regulus98. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And you have a well-taken point about Blyton’s writing style. She conveyed her meaning in ways that allowed young people to understand what she was saying. At the same time, though, she didn’t always stick to simplistic messages. And I see what you mean about empowering children, too. Young protagonists, when they’re well-drawn, inspire young readers (e.g. ‘If ____ can do that, I can, too!’).

  5. Oh yes! I admit to finding them almost unreadable now, but I loved Enid Blyton as a child and she definitely gave me my first taste for crime fiction. Of course, I loved the Famous Five, but I also had a special liking for the Adventure books with Philip, Jack, Dinah and Lucy-Ann. And the Barney Mysteries which somehow you don’t seem to hear about quite so often – I think maybe they were for younger kids. But I loved Barney and Miranda his pet monkey, and I loved the titles of those ones… The Ring’o’Bells Mystery, The Rubadub Mystery, The Ragamuffin Mystery… ah, happy days! 😀

    • You’re by no means the only one with very fond memories of Blyton’s work, FictionFan. And it sounds as though you read several of her series, too. I’m glad you mentioned the titles; they really are appealing, aren’t they? I like the whimsy in them quite a lot. I’m not surprised, either, to hear that Blyton’s work sparked your interest in crime fiction. That’s probably true of a lot of people. And even if you couldn’t enjoy them now, it’s nice to know you had such fun reading as a child. 😀

  6. I have never read any of Blyton’s stories and I don’t even remember reading any mysteries aimed at children. My first memories of mystery stories are books by Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Rex Stout (in my teens). I have noticed a huge amount of children’s and young adult mysteries available now.

    • They really are, Tracy, and to me, that’s heartening. I respect any author who can make reading appealing to young people. And you’ve listed some of the first crime writers I read, too…

  7. kathy d.

    I did not read books by Enid Blyton. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of her until I began reading blogs online about crime fiction. I started out with the Hardy boys and then quickly moved to Nancy Drew, whose books I loved. Got them out of the library or borrowed them.
    And then I started reading Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Perry Mason and Hercule Poirot books. However, I dropped the Christie books when 19 as the bigotry and anti-Semitism offended me. Once I decided that, I did not give her a pass and stopped reading her books.
    On the question of editing out offensive material, especially in books for children and teenagers, I’m for it. It’s a mutlnational, multiethnic world now, and young people shouldn’t be offended by racism, xenophobia or sexism when reading. It could turn them right off to reading, which is what we’re all encouraging.
    Perhaps teachers could introduce examples of older writing and show how current books have changed, reflecting the changes in society, and the Civil Rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ and immigrants’ rights movements.
    The writer Lorrie Moore wrote in New York Times op-ed that it was hard enough to get teenagers to read novels, and that if the 14-year-old African-American youth sitting next to her had to read racist words in a novel, it would turn him off to reading.

    • I remember reading Nancy Drew novels, too, Kathy, and I enjoyed them, myself. You make an interesting point about editing in older stories. You’re by no means the only one who feels that way, and it is important to help young people find and choose books to get them reading. Many people feel that the stories should be kept as the author intended them, and there’s something to that. Whatever is done about older literature, it is, I think, important that the teacher understand the messages a story sends, and work with students to explore the issues in the story.

  8. Pingback: Writing Links 8/14/17 – Where Genres Collide

  9. I loved Enid Blyton, and always felt her admitted failings were balanced out by the fact that she brought so many children to reading, just by making it easy and exciting, and by the sheer volume of her books. My own favourites were the Five Find-Outers and Dog, and many’s the crime-solving tip I learned there, and have brought to more adult books! Invisible ink, and keys in locks jump to mind.

    I’m sure a character called Fatty (Frederick Algernon Trottville, and no I didn’t need to look that up) would be seen as fat-shaming now. But it was merely a fact about him, and he was a leader and very smart, never teased or bullied for his size. In fact I can’t think of ANY other books (children’s or adult) where a fat person is the leader and brains of the good guys…. can you?

    • You make a strong point, Moira, about what Blyton brought the world of reading. As you say, certainly she wasn’t perfect as a writer. But so many children learned a love of books and crime fiction through her work. It sounds as though you have both good memories of the stories and some valuable reading skills (especially for a crime fiction fan) – all due to Blyton.

      And that’s such an interesting point about Fatty. I can think of a few protagonists (Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, for two) who are both leaders and heavy. But there aren’t as many as there ought to be, are there?

  10. Col

    I think Blyton was probably the first author I read and a childhood favourite. I don’t recall too much about them to be truthful. I never read them to my children, nor did they read her themselves.

    • You’re not alone, Col. I think she was the first author a lot of young people read. And you don’t need to remember the details in order to remember how much you liked her work.

  11. kathyd

    I have read awful stories about teachers mis-educating children and teenagers about books which include racism. When this issue was discussed in a NY Times op-ed by Lorrie Moore, some of the letters said that many teachers are not equipped to do this.
    I remember reading a story about a teacher who put the only African-American child in a class in the hallway when a book with racism in it was being taught. So how did that child feel? Like a pariah? What did the other children think of this action? That the child was being punished?
    So, perhaps the answer is to have two versions of these “old-thinking” books – one book for children and teenagers and for those of us who don’t want to read that, and another “original” edition. That way people can choose what they read, buy and teach.
    And that school districts can choose.

    • That’s an interesting solution, Kathy. And you’re right that it’s an issue that teachers and families have to face. Part of what I do in my ‘day job’ is help prepare teachers to address issues like this, so it’s interesting to get your views.

  12. kathy d.

    Many teachers-to-be aren’t fortunate enough to have good teachers like you educate them on how to teach.
    But other than my opinion, I think the most important thing is to involve people from African-American, Latino/a, Asian, Native, immigrant, Muslim, Jewish, working-class and LGBTQ communities. That’s who should give input on books that affect them and how they should be taught.
    I know there are books on teaching diversity. I actually have a huge book which was sent to me about that. The main thing is input and involvement.

    • You’re not alone, Kathy, in thinking that underrepresented communities should have a say in how their stories are taught. In fact, there are several cases of schools that have been opened that are based on just that point. And it’s that input that can be very helpful.

  13. kathy d.

    Not only is the input helpful, but it’s fair. Inclusiveness is always necessary and the right thing to do.

  14. Hi Margot, I’m so sorry I missed this post. I’ve been so rubbish at blogging lately. Thank you for the shout out! I really appreciate it. Hope you’re well 🙂

    • Lovely to see you, D.S. 🙂 – And it’s my pleasure to mention the storytelling work you’re doing. I can only imagine how that, plus raising a little one, must be keeping you!

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