This is what is meant by 'summer reading' around here.
It had gotten to be midsummer, and no one had read any Gulps and Amazons as they are sometimes affectionately called in our house. I thought it was a bit odd to not have everyone off on sailing adventures as is their summer tradition.
But then Josiah got them out, flying through the stack of twelve familiar stories in about a week's time, and of course everyone else followed him aboard ship.
First published in the 1930's, this beloved series of books tells the adventures of four siblings and the acquaintances they make while spending their summer holidays camping and sailing together. From the very first moment we encounter seven-year-old Roger, tacking up the lawn to greet his dear mother, we are drawn into the story and born away on a breeze to a quiet lake in the English countryside. For Mother truly does have a telegram from Father in her hand bearing the charming message:
BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN
Which of course means, yes, the adventure is on and permission is granted for all to embark on the holiday of their lives. Alone. On an island. Hurrah for daddy! indeed. Mother, the darling, most well-loved native of all, assists with preparations - Ship's Articles, provisions, maps and gear are purveyed. She's even finished making the tents! "You'll want a kettle first and foremost," said Mrs. Jackson, the farmer's wife, who was lending the things. (I like that woman.) Soon all is ready and John, Susan, Titty and Roger are transformed into the Swallows: Captain, Mate, Able-seaman and Ship's Boy - finest crew of the finest fourteen foot dinghy in all of children's literature. The ensuing tales are full of adventure of the most delightful sort. Swimming before breakfast, sighting cormorants, rowing over to the farm for milk, and plenty of use of that dear kettle - what a life! But it's not all buttered eggs and tea of course - there are pirates and battles and mysteries and Amazons to meet, oh my!
These books are beloved treasures in our family, telling stories of the kind of life that is quite out of reach for most of today's young readers. But that's what books are for, of course, to take you to far away places in the delicious pages and leave you neither a duffer nor drowned. In our family living books are the books that get lived, and it's been a delight to watch my children live these dear books over and over throughout the years.
Having no English lake at hand Jonathan set his sails on a more commonplace vessel - the scooter. You can see the fruit of his creative labors in this vintage picture from 2004:
He couldn't see where he was going and could only sail downhill, but the effect was priceless.
When I got my sewing machine last year I had two very gallant boys who carried it upstairs and unpacked it and set it all up for me - just so I could make them semaphore flags!
But that was only the beginning. Jonathan set out to make an entire set of signal flags, which now grace his room in all of their nautical glory:
Lacking a mast, the ever resourceful Josiah rigged up a pulley system so they could fly the flags from the corner of the house.
They also sent up a signal light to use at night, with a can to cover it and thereby use Morse code.
One year Josiah made a terrific little highly detailed craft out of popsicle sticks. It had a proper sail and was quite sea (creek) worthy.
And on it goes. If you've never sailed aboard The Swallow I highly recommend you take a journey soon. Don't worry that summer's ending, after all there's Winter Holiday! At the moment I have two girls on board sofa ships, wearing apron life jackets and punt poling with their vacuum cleaner tubes for dear life, giggling and shouting about the dangers sighted starboard. My Mary Rose is taking her maiden voyage with these books this year and it's been delightful watching her encounter these family classics for the first time. She has taken to answering my every word with Aye aye, Sir! I love it.
Here are a bunch of links to augment your reading adventures:
Free Paper Boat Models - These are really cool yachts, but there is also a little dinghy at the bottom of the page. I made the dinghy one year to stick on Jonathan's birthday cake along with mini nautical flags spelling his name.
See Pictures of Coniston, the lake area where Arthur Ransome spent his holidays as a child and the inspiration for the books.
All aboard and three cheers for the stay-at-homes! (Singing Spanish Ladies is optional.)