Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: Do kids still read Enid Blyton?

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Enid Blyton created characters like Noddy, Big-Ears, Mr Plod and Tessie Bear. Do her books still appeal to kids?
Photo / File
Enid Blyton created characters like Noddy, Big-Ears, Mr Plod and Tessie Bear. Do her books still appeal to kids? Photo / File

It seems I spent my childhood in a time warp, literarily speaking. At a session of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival last week, Australian children's author Emily Rodda listed the books she loved as a child: Enid Blyton, Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the Little Golden Books...

In the audience, fellow Fiction Addiction blogger Christine and I exchanged a look. With the exception of two Australian classics, the Deltora Quest author (real name Jennifer Rowe) had just described our own childhood libraries - and she's almost twice our age.

I was a child in the late 70s and 80s, but almost all the books that defined my childhood were written in another era - Enid Blyton's heyday was the 1940s to the 1960s, Lucy Maud Montgomery published her first book about Anne-with-an-E in 1908, Peter Pan was published as a novel in 1911, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, and the original Little Golden Books in the 1940s.

I could add to that the Winnie the Pooh books (1920s), Dr Seuss (1937 onwards), Pippi Longstocking (1940s), Pollyanna (1913), Heidi (1880), Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (debuted in the 1930s), Tintin (first published 1929) and Gone With The Wind (1936). I was also mad on centuries-old fairytales, and I avidly read and re-read a series of classics condensed for young children - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, David Copperfield, Around the World in 80 Days...

I'm sure children and teenagers of the last decade will reminisce in years to come about impatiently awaiting the next instalment of Harry Potter, Deltora Quest, Artemis Fowl, The Hunger Games or Twilight; perhaps they'll even recall queueing outside a bookstore at midnight on release day.

I just remember checking the dusty shelves of second-hand bookshops for Famous Five or Folk of the Faraway Tree books. My reading preferences must have been very easy on the family budget.

I do admit, however, to losing a couple of years to Sweet Valley High - big in the 80s (before I was redeemed by 1960s and 70s S.E. Hintons). But, apart from that misdemeanour on my reading record - and Roald Dahl's fabulous The Twits and Revolting Rhymes - few new titles caught my interest. At least, not overseas ones.

Instead I was entranced by Margaret Mahy's supernatural/fantasy novels (The Haunting, The Changeover, The Tricksters) and obsessed by Maurice Gee's The Halfman of O trilogy, The Fire Raiser, and Under the Mountain. And in 1987 came the big one: Alex by Tessa Duder, followed by three sequels. They sang to me. Have we had a better decade in this country for young adult fiction than the 1980s? Do children and teenagers of today read these books? I hope so.

I'm sure children of the noughties and teens won't get to their thirties and struggle to recall what new-release books they were crazy about. There's been an explosion of literature targeting this age group, lead by the likes of J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins.

It's encouraging, then, to see that Enid Blyton is still one of the most popular authors around, selling almost 8 million books in the noughties in the UK alone, making her the 11th bestselling author of the decade, in any genre. (Rowling was, predictably, number one, with 29 million UK sales. Dahl, Dr Seuss and AA Milne were still hanging in there, in the top 100.)

Mahy, too, is still more than holding her own. Not only are many of her 160-odd books still in print, but last year she won the top gong in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards for her picture book The Moon & Farmer McPhee. (This year's big winners, announced on Wednesday, were mostly debut writers.)

The brilliant thing about the current boom of children's and young adult fiction is that it's perfectly acceptable for adults to be seen reading them. The Hunger Games has been a topic of enthusiastic conversation at more than one dinner party I've been to lately, and Kate De Goldi's The 10pm Question has become required reading for Kiwi adults and children alike.

With books like these, who needs to grow up?

What are your favourite books from childhood?

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