Why my kids don’t read Enid Blyton
If you are anything like me and loved reading books as a child, your favorite author would surely have been Enid Blyton. With a mind-boggling range from Mr. Meddle to Noddy, the Magic Faraway Tree series to the Famous Five, Enid Blyton captivated our minds and filled our bookshelves.
Growing up in a world where cell phones and the internet did not exist, and the television channels numbered less than 10, our window to the outside world was mainly through the books we read.
It was no surprise then that when I had kids old enough to start reading “chapter books” as my 8-year-old daughter called them, the first thing I did was think of all my old favorites. I thought I would start my daughter off on Noddy (which I loved) and the Magic Faraway Tree, gradually introduce the Famous Five and add on classics like Black Beauty, Little Women, etc. along the way.
Eager and excited with the anticipation of the joys reading Enid Blyton would bring, I started by picking up a few titles on one of my visits to India and brought them back with me to Hong Kong. It was so thrilling just seeing these books again, all bright and new sitting as patiently on my daughter’s bookshelf as I was for her to start reading them.
Well, read she did, but not the books I had so carefully selected for her. You see, children today are required by their schools to put in a certain amount of reading time on a daily basis, so my daughter brought home a variety of books by authors I didn’t recognize each week. To be fair, she did try reading a few of the Enid Blyton’s I had got her but didn’t enjoy them much. I, of course, reacted with the right amount of drama and heartache, requesting her to give it more time in the hope that maybe if she read more of them, she would enjoy and even learn to appreciate them.
This went on until my daughter recommended that I try reading one of the books she had brought home from school, “The War that Saved my Life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It was to be an eye-opener for me and I enjoyed the book so much that I requested her to borrow the sequel, “The War I Finally Won” for me to read. Recently I read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, also recommended by her. Just to put things in perspective, “The War that Saved my Life” and its sequel are about the life of a disabled 10-year-old girl and her brother during World War II, “Wonder” is about a boy with a rare facial abnormality, and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is about the Holocaust during World War II.
After reading stories like these, I soon realized the reason my daughter was not picking up any of the books I had bought for her. Our childhood reads were mainly fairytales and fictitious stories about boarding schools and magical lands, in a time when we didn’t have much access to what was happening in the world outside. So, we spent a lot of our time creating our world the way we wanted it to be. We dreamt of being investigators knee deep in mysteries and going off on secret adventures.
We learned our British manners, our socks pulled up to our knees, and we created the English countryside the magic tree and all in our very backyards. With the variety of books Enid Blyton wrote and the sheer number of them, we honestly didn’t have much need for many other authors. She made buying birthday presents easy in a time when stores didn’t have gift cards.
Even though many children’s books today have similar themes, the difference I feel is that for our generation the magic felt too real. Children today are better aware of what the “real” world comprises of, and even if they don’t fully understand the issues affecting them, they are conscious of them. Their world may have dragons and magical creatures, but their minds are more grounded in reality. They might have Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and all the while dressing up and playing make-believe each Halloween, there’s still more clarity in their minds about reality versus fantasy. The access they have to the internet and news from around the world ensures that. Even the magical characters in the books today are savvier with their inconceivable powers. Now there are books highlighting different themes like diversity, racism, and feminism aimed for 8 to 10-year-olds. With no shortage of authors from Rachel Renee Russell (Dork Diaries), Sophie Cleverly (Scarlet and Ivy), David Walliams (Mr. Stinks, Gangster Granny etc), Jacqueline Wilson (Queenie, Double Act) and so many others, kids’ bookshelves are no longer dominated by just a select few.
When I asked about their reading choices, my daughter and some of her friends had the simplest of answers. They find Enid Blyton too childish (trust me, you cannot imagine how that breaks my heart!). They prefer books that portray how kids are today, books that are more “real”, where the stories are relatable (the words realistic fiction were used). What I can find solace in is that at least my kids are passionate about reading, and in many ways, I should thank them for expanding my literary horizons as well.