I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, but this was before parallel importing of books in New Zealand, when books were still super-duper expensive. Few kids owned many and school libraries were quite small. I was lucky to grow up in a household full of books, though these comprised almost entirely of:
1. Little Golden Books
2. Read-It-Yourself books from Ladybird
3. My mother’s childhood books, and for some reason, a number which had belonged to her cousin. These were mostly Famous Five novels, along with a few from Blyton’s Malory Towers series and a few similarly bound ‘girls’ novels’ by Elsie J. Oxenham.
Here is a picture of Elsie J. Oxenham. It was taken in 1910.
I never was impressed by Oxenham’s books, which have dated in the most conspicuously terrible way you can imagine. I’ve since passed them on, and perhaps a collector found them at the second hand store. Enid Blyton’s books, however, are harder to get rid of, not because they haven’t dated. Enid Blyton’s books are terrible in ways that are well-known and well-documented by many other modern readers:
When it comes to Blyton’s notorious characterisations of travellers and gypsies [Cullingford says they are] ‘so absurdly innocent that they are beside the point’, a worrying observations both in light of the fact that, around the same time as Blyton was writing, over 200,000 gypsies were either being killed or had recently been killed in the Nazi death camps, and in light of the fact that Blyton is still promoted in school and very widely read by children.
– Understanding Children’s Literature, edited by Peter Hunt
The reason I’m having trouble giving my Enid Blyton collection away is because the stories are still compelling, and because I have such fond memories of Enid Blyton stories as a child. Again, I’m not alone in this:
500 Million Readers Can’t Be Wrong from Children’s Books Articles
The Enduring Appeal Of Enid Blyton from The Guardian
If there’s any dilemma at all in the first world problem of owning too many books, it is this:
- Do I want my daughter to read Enid Blyton, over and over again, like I did?
- Did I love the stories of Enid Blyton mainly because I wasn’t exposed to much else?
- Is there enough time during childhood for the average reader to get through all of the old classics as well as all the best new ones?
- What does it mean to be a well-read child these days, when there is so much out there?
- Wouldn’t I prefer my daughter read modern classics over and over, for example the Harry Potter series, which is neither racist nor sexist (at least, if it is, we can’t see it yet)?
- Do I donate these Enid Blytons to the second-hand store, or do I keep them here, taking up space on a shelf?
- If I give them away, will I feel the hole they have left? After all, those are my childhood memories right there!
- If I keep them on the shelf and my daughter finds them, will I be slightly irritated that she’s not reading better stuff, which I have bought for her with good money?
- If my daughter reads them, is this an unexpectedly wonderful lesson in 20th Century inequalities, as it was for me?
- Is there a danger in sheltering young people from the sexism of earlier eras that they forget things can swing just as quickly back the other way?
What have you done with your childhood books? Do you encourage your children to read those over newer ones? Do you think children should read older books alongside modern publications for a rounded view of recent history?