Five Beg For Mercy

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Whenever I try to read a book that I loved as a child to my own children, I’m often met with cries of protest. Never more so than when I force-read Enid Blyton’s Five Go to Smuggler’s Top to them.

‘You’re gonna LOVE it!’ I told them.

‘No we’re not!’ they cried.

But I was certain they’d change their minds once we’d got a few pages in. I was wrong. The moaning – or rather outright begging for mercy – continued for a good five chapters. And perhaps not surprisingly: some of the language was so old-fashioned, I found myself adopting an Enid Blytonesque accent to read it. (Or at least how I imagined she must have sounded when reading out lines such as: “It will be nice to see your mother again, George, she’s an awfully good sort.” )

After chapter 5, my eldest (who was 8 at the time of reading it last year) started to get into it. Victory! But not for long. Towards the end, her interest waned. We made it to the finish line after about three weeks, with my eldest grumbling, ‘Thank God that’s over.’ Since then I’ve avoided forcing my old favourites upon them, although they both love Roald Dahl. (Well, who doesn’t?)

Today, as my eldest is off school with a sore throat, I decided to compare some of her favourite books with some of my childhood favourite books. (Scroll down for our Top Tens.) I also interviewed her to find out why she liked what she did.

Me: Which is your favourite book out of the ones you’ve listed?’

Her: Ottoline Goes to Sea.

Me: Why?

Her: Just is.

Me: But why?

Her: It’s really cool.

Me: And it’s cool because…?

Her: It’s just great.

Me: Would you still love it as much without the illustrations?

Her: No.

Me: I’m just going to make a cup of tea. When I get back, I’m going to extract some real answers out of you, so get thinking!

Me: Right, why do you love Ottoline so much?

Her: Because it came with a pair of bog-goggles that helps you see the hidden things that only Mr Munroe can see.

Me: I see. I think what you really love about Ottoline is the illustrations.

Her: Yes.

Me: So which book on your list is the one you kept thinking about the most after you’d finished reading it?

Her: Esio Trot.

Me: Why?

Her: (She proceeds to give me a long explanation of the story because she read this one to herself and I’ve never read it.)

Me: So why did you keep thinking about it?

Her: I was thinking about the fact that Mr Hoppy lied to get someone to like him.

Me: Was he wrong to do that?

Her: Sort of.

Me: But did he do anyone any harm?

Her: No.

Her: Now ask me why I’ve chosen two David Walliams books.

Me: Why have you chosen two David Walliams books?

Her: He’s my favourite author and some of his books make me laugh and some of them make me sad. I really like Raj who runs the newsagents. He’s really funny and he’s in all the David Walliams books.

Me: And why do you like Mr Stink the best?

Her: Because you wouldn’t know what a tramp’s past was just by looking at them.

Me: Why didn’t you like The Famous Five?

Her: Cos I didn’t understand the language.

Me: But I explained the language as we went along.

Her: It was still boring. I don’t like old-fashioned books. I like new comedy books.

Me: I’m not holding out much hope for The Wind in the Willows then.

Her: Well I might like it.

Me: Good, stay open-minded.

Her: Can I play on your computer now?

Me: No, I’m using it. Thank you for your time. Go and do some reading.

Her: Do I get extra pocket money for helping you write your blogpost?

Me: Only if you pay me next time I help you with your homework.

Ten of my favourite books from when I was a child:

  1. Grinny by Nicholas Fisk
  2. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
  3. Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  5. Stig of the Dump by Clive King
  6. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
  8. Sleeping Beauty (Ladybird version 1965. I loved the illustrations by Eric Winter.)
  9. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  10. Father Christmas goes on Holiday by Raymond Briggs

Ten of my 9-year-old daughter’s favourite books:

  1. Mr Stink by David Walliams
  2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
  3. Ottoline Goes to Sea by Chris Riddell
  4. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
  5. Esio Trot by Roald Dahl
  6. I will not ever Never eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
  7. My Brother’s Famous Hot Cross Bottom by Jeremy Strong
  8. Judy Moody gets Famous by Megan McDonald
  9. Billionaire Boy by David Walliams
  10. Totally Winnie by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
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4 thoughts on “Five Beg For Mercy

  1. I absolutely loved this post, Tasha. Thanks for sharing. Your transcription of the conversation with your daughter was just priceless and so like conversations I used to have with my kids when they were that age! We are now at the grandchildren stage (one three-year-old and one one-year-old) and it has been fascinating to see how they take to books which come from the era of each of the generations involved. “Stig of the Dump” and “The Hungry Caterpillar” feature along with a huge range of other wonderful,books (and some not quite so wonderful, of course).
    I was a child of the fifties (yes, I am that old!) and the books I can remember being absolute favorites were “Wind in the Willows”, “Alice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass)”, “Winnie The Pooh”, and “Just So Stories”. I also remember reading various adventures of the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I was also a great fan of the “Just William” books by Richmal Crompton.
    Oh, joy.

    • Thanks Stuart. It’s always nice to hear someone enjoyed a post. And what a joy it must be to read children’s stories a third time around! (I love the Hungry Caterpillar – it’s such a shame it got so battered my kids when they were little. I might have to buy it again just for me!)

  2. Oh Tash, I have exactly the same problem with George. One of my absolute favourite books as a child was “Gobbolino The Witches Cat” by Ursula Moray Williams and all of the Little Grey Rabbit stories, but George has not been interested at all (even before he could put up much of a fight!) Like your girls, David Walliams is a huge hit, both as books and audio CDs (VERY funny as he usually enlists the help of Matt Lucas who does an excellent Raj!) I agree that the main problem is the language, and also some of the themes – Mr Walliams seems to completely “get” what modern children worry and/or care about. I used to get really stressed and “worried” that George wasn’t reading or was even aware of some of the most wonderful stories from my childhood that I still remember now, but now I realise that he has his own magical list of favourites that in all likelihood his children will hate as well 😉

    • Thanks Jane! It’s a shame they don’t give some books more of a chance but it’s made me think – I wonder which books I rejected to my mum’s dismay? I’ll have to ask her…

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