My Whit’s End Book Club–Book Review–Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows And Amazons

It is mid-January.

January is the time to snuggle in.  Hearty stews with crusty bread spread with salty butter.  Down comforters.  And a good read-aloud book.  We just finished a children’s classic called, “Swallows and Amazons.”  I picked it up at a book fair when I saw that the price printed on the cover was in pounds not dollars.  “It’s gotta be good if it’s British” was my reasoning for purchasing the book. 

The front cover says. . .

“This book is about sailing, fishing, swimming, camping, and piratical exploits on an uncharted lake (which bears a certain resemblance to Windermere in the Lake District).  It makes the sweet freshness of the early mornings on Wild Cat Island, the long sunshiny days of adventures, and the satisfactory evenings of plotting round the camp fire seem so real that, as one critic has said ‘you don’t realize it is written at all, the adventures seem to occur to oneself’.”

If you want a hurried plot, intense action, or fingernail biting suspense, this is not the book for you and your kiddos.  It is more like the slow cooking stew on the back burner.  It cooks away slowly filling the house with homey and earthy smells–not exotic spices.  The book is languid about getting anybody anywhere, but isn’t that the point of childhood? 

My kiddos loved it.  Every chapter.  All the Playmobile figures soon became all the characters of the story.  Blocks became the different islands and each day our exploits from the book were acted out with Playmobile.










Our copy had maps, which we colored.  We also underline words we didn’t know.  Of course, you can’t be true pirates without a ballad or two.  I’ve included some mentioned in “Swallows and Amazons” for you to sing.  So get out your good, salty-dog, hoarse, voice and join in.

Here are a few helpful references.

Keats:  from Wikipedia. 

File:John Keats by William Hilton.jpg

John Keats (play /ˈkts/; 31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.[1]

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

 Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
 And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
 Round many western islands have I been
 Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
 Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
 That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne; 
 Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
 Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
 Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
 When a new planet swims into his ken;
 Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
 He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
 Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
 Silent, upon a peak in Darien

definition of “duffers” – from Bing Dictionary. 

1.  noun.  unintelligent person: somebody regarded as a slow learner or not competent at something ( informal dated insult )

Love it. Love it. Love it.

Here is the reference to the poem at the beginning of Chapter 2.  From Absolute Lyrics

The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies-O! – Alison Moyet

Three gypsies stood at the castle gate. They sang so high, they sang so low.
The lady sate in her chamber late. Her heart it melted away as snow.

They sang so sweet, they sang so shrill. That fast her tears began to flow
And she lay down her silken gown, her golden rings and all her show.

She took it off her high-heeled shoes, a-made of Spanish leather-O
She would in the street in her bare, bare feet, all out in the wind and weather-O.

Saddle to me my milk white steed and go and fetch me my pony-O
That I may ride and seek my bride who’s gone with the wraggle taggle gypsies-O!

He rode high and he rode low, he rode through woods and copses too
Until he came to an open field and there he espied his a-lady-O.

?What makes you leave your house and land, your golden treasures for to go?
What makes you leave your new wedded lord, to follow the wraggle taggle gypsies-O??

?What care I for my house and land? What care I for my treasures-O?
What care I for my new wedded lord? I’m off with the wraggle taggle gypsies-O!?

?Last night you slept on a goose-feathered bed, with the sheet turned down so bravely-O.
Tonight you sleep in a cold open field along with the wraggle taggle gypsies-O!?

?What care I for the goose-feathered bed with the sheet turned down so bravely-O?
Tonight I shall sleep in a cold open field along with the wraggle taggle gypsies-O!?

Reference is made to the song “Away to Rio”.  Here is the Kingston Trio with an excellent rendition.

But for a really salty-dog sea song, listen to these “sailors” from the Isle of Wight sing “Blow the Man Down”.

I couldn’t find the songs “The Whale” or “Amsterdam”, so I would appreciate any clues or links.

I did find this video of “dancing the hornpipe” though.  Enjoy.

Mansfield poem at Chapter 27:  From Famous Poet and Poems. com

Ballad of John Silver by John Masefield

We were schooner-rigged and rakish,
with a long and lissome hull,
And we flew the pretty colours of the crossbones and the skull;
We’d a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
And we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.
We’d a long brass gun amidships, like a well-conducted ship,
We had each a brace of pistols and a cutlass at the hip;
It’s a point which tells against us, and a fact to be deplored,
But we chased the goodly merchant-men and laid their ships aboard.
Then the dead men fouled the scuppers and the wounded filled the chains,
And the paint-work all was spatter dashed with other peoples brains,
She was boarded, she was looted, she was scuttled till she sank.
And the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.
O! then it was (while standing by the taffrail on the poop)
We could hear the drowning folk lament the absent chicken coop;
Then, having washed the blood away, we’d little else to do
Than to dance a quiet hornpipe as the old salts taught us to.
O! the fiddle on the fo’c’sle, and the slapping naked soles,
And the genial “Down the middle, Jake, and curtsey when she rolls!”
With the silver seas around us and the pale moon overhead,
And the look-out not a-looking and his pipe-bowl glowing red.
Ah! the pig-tailed, quidding pirates and the pretty pranks we played,
All have since been put a stop to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and the merry crews are laid away to rest,
A little south the sunset in the islands of the Blest.
Let me close with



P.S. Of course, you can buy a copy by clicking on the blue link.  It will take you to  Swallows And Amazons

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6 Responses to My Whit’s End Book Club–Book Review–Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

  1. Bel McCoy says:

    Those 3 “swabbies” sure can dance!!!


  2. Rosie H says:

    I love that your kids acted it out with Playmobil! I tried to act it out for real when I was little, but my brother wouldn’t play and two wasn’t really enough anyway. Apparently my aunts and their friends acted it out when they were little.

    Just one point – Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies isn’t by Alison Moyet; it’s a traditional ballad.


    • whitsendmom says:

      Thanks so much for that info. I wish I could hear the ballad recited. It has a rhythm and rollick to it that I would love to hear. Just out of curiosity, I suddenly had many, many, many hits on this post–especially in the U.K. Is there a reason? Did school start early, and this is a required book? Is it Arthur Ransome Day? Are they making a movie? Just curious as to why on one day the U.K and South Africa visited this site so many time.


      • Pam says:

        The reason for so much activity is your Swallows & Amazons blog was mentioned on Girlown – a mailing list which discusses old children’s literature. So many GOers logged on to your blog to see what you said and listen to the songs, etc.


      • whitsendmom says:

        Thanks so much for letting me know, and WELCOME to everyone!


  3. Tig Thomas says:

    Lovely to read this – Arthur Ransome was far and away my favourite children’s writer, and someone whose books still inform my life, even though I’ve read them almost smooth. I very much enjoyed your writing on S&A, with all the fascinating links. I would urge you to keep going with the series: it’s one of the few where each book is as glorious as the one before. Winter Holiday, Peter Duck, We Didn’t mean to Go to Sea, The Picts and the Martyrs – it’s so hard to pick a favourite when each one has its own shades and tones and each one is so rounded and complete in its own adventure. My children play imaginative games with Playmobil too – endlessly creating miniature worlds; it’s always been one of our best imaginative world facilitators. By the way, if you feel like discovering the forum mentioned, it’s girlsown, not girlown.


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