THE book that fired my imagination as a child was Swallows and Amazons, the first in Arthur Ransome’s series of adventures set in the Lake District.
Children from two families are let loose in sailing dinghies for a summer of piracy, freedom and fun all washed down with lashings of ginger beer.
About the same time, I discovered libraries and thousands of hard-backed volumes of mystery and thrills on endless shelves. I was hooked.
Swallows and Amazons is an acknowledged classic and yet, a Worcester University survey says, only 9% of today’s children have read it. Only 6% have read Anne of Green Gables. Wind In The Willow and Winnie The Pooh both rate 30%.
The researchers, and academics, reacted with shock at the results. But why? Why would today’s children be attracted to old fashioned fiction simply because grown ups say it’s classic?
My eldest grandson Lorcan is seven and has been reading for a year. He devours fantasy adventure books. But I doubt if he would be excited by upper middle class children from 1930 called Roger and Titty messing about in boats.
And as long as he is reading, I don’t care. He has the bug for books; already he is an addict. He goes to bed with a book and becomes lost in his own imagination, for reading is a far more satisfying experience than one dimensional TV.
I still have my copy of Swallows and Amazons. It’s a 1948 edition and I rather think I forgot to return it to the school library. In the interest of research, I began to read it again after decades of neglect. Once again, it caught the imagination. It is wonderfully written and I am appreciating this classic afresh – as an adult. Maybe one day my grandson will, too.