Enid Blyton has had many critics. In fairness, she has remained exceptionally popular with children since the 1930s. I can say I have done nothing to contribute to the popularity.
As a teacher, I waged a relentless war against her books. In Britain, some schools and libraries banned her books. I removed all of her books from the Bayfield school library during a staff meeting during where they all wound up in the rubbish bin. It wasn’t a universally popular move but it was irreversible.
One of my favourite pupils, Liz, returned a Christmas present of an Enid Blyton book to an aunt saying, “Sir, says we’re not allowed to read Enid Blyton.” I think she was nine the time. In some respects, I suspect she’s changed little in the last 50 years.
Her mother recounted the story to me. I must say I was mortified that my crusade had spilled over and possibly spoiled a family Christmas Day. I need not have been. Liz’s mother was immensely amused and rather proud. Had she lived another 50 years, she would have continued to have been proud of the daughter who continued on doing a PhD on the history of midwives in New Zealand and carving out of stellar career. We remain friends to this day. I am exceptionally proud to have played some small part in her education.
Blyton’s response to her critics was that she was uninterested in the views of anyone over the age of 12, claiming that half the attacks on her work were motivated by jealousy and the rest came from “stupid people who don’t know what they’re talking about because they’ve never read any of my books”.
So I have decided to print this review by probably one of the smarter kids in my best-ever class and certainly by far the best reader I have taught. This was around 1968, so Grant was probably about 12 with a reading age of about 16 and an intellect to match.
There had been a general prohibition on Enid Blyton in the classroom so I was surprised when Grant came up to me and said, ” I’ve been reading a lot of Enid Blyton lately and I would like to do a presentation on her.” Surprised is probably not the word, gobsmacked that Grant would read Enid Blyton but I said, “Yes fine.”
So Grant started his presentation with a big pile of Enid Blyton books in front of him, all neatly bookmarked.
“Now,” he said, “I know Sir has told us we’re not allowed to read Enid Blyton but I thought I’d have a look and see what it was about Enid Blyton.” Then Grant started out reading the first chapter of a number of Famous Five and Secret Seven books. The beginning of each book was exactly the same. It was just that the names have been changed.
“You might think this is just a coincidence,” said Grant (He was good with words like “coincidence”). “But let’s look Chapter 5.” It turned out that Chapter 5 in each book was exactly the same except that the names had been changed.
“So let’s look at Chapter 11,” said Grant. Same result, different names. Now, I suspect that the point was probably lost on most of the group of 11 and 12-year-olds in the class, but it certainly it wasn’t lost on Grant.
Blyton would often write 50 books a year, Grant’s presentation demonstrated quite clearly how she was able to do this. She was a charlatan and a 12-year old boy, albeit a fabulously intelligent one, was able to demonstrate why she was.
Children like Enid Blyton because she is easy, because she was predictable. But she is unchallenging and intelligent young readers who are given a chance to read good literature, find her unsatisfying. Most of the books are the same, just the names have been changed. My argument was always that there was so much better material , it was called literature, available for children.
I would read to my class for half an hour every day. Tolkein, C S Lewis, Alan garner, Roald Dahl, E B White, Ursula K. Le Guin and Lloyd Alexander.
Robert Wark wrote to me saying he remembered The Hobbit and he remembered the poetry.
Every Friday, I would march the whole class all the way down Jervois Road to the Leys Institute Public library where everybody was joined up and borrowed two books every week. The headmaster asked me if this wasn’t a bit of a waste of time and I remember thinking at the time that he was a Philistine.
I also joined up with the Country Library Service which allowed me to borrow 30 books at a time to lend to the kids. I never was able to return all 30. I reckoned that the kids who didn’t return them really liked the ones they stole, so that was okay and the parents couldn’t afford books anyhow.
We had oral poetry and singing for half an hour every morning. Every pupil had a poetry book into which they copied a poem or part of a poem every morning. Loretta Crossley has sent me her poetry book from 1965 and I have copied the poems which can be found, along with her illustrations, at 1965 Bayfield Primary School Book of Children’s Verse.
I suspect the singing and poetry used to drive the other teachers mad, all that noise, singing and chanting. But 50 years later, Robert Wark still remembers it and so do I.
So in the long run, I still think that I was justified in saying ” No Enid Blyton, I can do so much better than that for all these kids.”