Swallows and Amazons (Godine Storyteller)

by Arthur Ransome

Paperback, 1994



Call number

PB Ran

Call number

PB Ran

Local notes

PB Ran


David R Godine (1994), 351 pages


The crew of the Swallow spend an adventurous summer on an English lake.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

351 p.; 5.54 inches


087923573X / 9780879235734



Media reviews

It is easily imaginable that "Swallows and Amazons" attained its special quality of happiness in its author's mind when, as correspondent to the London Daily News and the Manchester Guardian, he was living through the tragedies of the Front or exploring the chaos of revolutionary Russia. For here is everything that the Front was not and that Russia is not - peace, innocence, family life at its loveliest, laughter and security.

The story is plotted so slightly that the American boy, weaned on "westerns," may turn up his nose at such a low-pitched tale. It will be his loss. Four children go camping on an island in one of the English lakes. Two rival campers - girls, at that - appear, and joyfully agree on war.

But Mr. Ransome has marshalled many aides. First, a reality of scene. As in Defoe, no detail is too insignificant to gloss over, yet the itemizing never grows wearisome, and a store of handy things to know about sailing is secreted in the pages. Second, a reality of characters. They are born alive and do not have to be described.

"Swallows and Amazons" will gain by being read aloud. The child who hears will live gaily, whether on Wild Cat Island or in Octopus Lagoon, while the parent who reads will remember idyllic hours. For this book is both silvery present and golden retrospect. ...

User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Like a fresh breeze, reading this delightful children's novel - first published in 1930 - had an invigorating effect, making me feel young and carefree again, with all of the summer holidays stretching before me - endless days of pleasure reading and outdoor fun to enjoy, and no wishes (so I imagined) save my own to consult. The story of the four Walker children - on holiday with their mother in the Lake District - their adventures sailing the Swallow and camping on Wild Cat Island, their friendship (and maritime rivalry) with those daring Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, and their eventual reconciliation with the piratical Captain Flint, unfolds at a leisurely pace. Despite the lack of rush - or perhaps, because of it? - I found Ransome's narrative absolutely absorbing, feeling almost as if I were sinking into another world, as I read it.

There were many things I enjoyed about Swallows and Amazons, from the attention Ransome gives to the details of sailing, which I didn't always really understand (having only been sailing once in my life, and that many years ago), but which added to the sense of this being a "real" adventure, to the mutual trust shown by the Swallows and their mother. I liked how the imaginative play - all the adults being "natives," Nancy and Peggy's Uncle Jim being a pirate - was seamlessly worked in with more practical concerns, like how to lay a fire correctly, or set up tents so they wouldn't collapse. The frequent use of the term "native," and the colonial mindset it represents, were a little problematic for me, but I didn't find its use vicious, and Ransom was writing, after all, in a time when Britain was still an empire.

Finally, although there were some traditional gender ideas here - Susan being the "little mother" who must cook and wash up after everyone - I really appreciated the fact that both boys and girls had important roles to play, in the adventuring. I loved Captain Nancy, and suspect that if I had read this as a girl, I would have identified most with her, although Titty's capture of the Amazon might have tempted me in her direction as well! Overall, this was just a charming story, and I came away from it with a desire to read the entire series.
… (more)
LibraryThing member PippaKay
I read it again this year. I am now comfortably over 60 and spend my time reading and writing about the children's stories of my youth in the 1950s. I know all 12 Ransome books very well and I know the locations in the Lake District that form the basis for each of the stories set there. Wild Cat Island is based on two islands - one is on Coniston with the secret harbour and the landing place - the other is on Windermere where Titty and Roger find the treasure that has been stolen on the small island that is really Cormorant Island. You can visit these places.
The other books in the series offer their own pleasures and bring a certain degree of character development that adds to their value. 'Pigeon Post' is probably my favourite but he certainly loses the appeal with 'Peter Duck' and 'Missee Lee' where improbable fantasy enters the mixture.
… (more)
LibraryThing member SandDune
Written in 1930 this is the story of the adventures of a family of children while on holiday in the Lake District, sailing and camping alone on an uninhabited island in the Lake District. They're given permission to go by their father's telegram 'Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won't drown' which I don't think would pass muster with health and safety today. It's one of those idyllic summers of childhood, where the weather is hot every day and the only bad weather is a storm dramatic enough to be interesting, totally unlike the normal cold damp British summer.

This was a book that I remembered enjoying from my own childhood - I have a vague memory of wanting my mother to make tents in the same way as the mother in the book so I could go camping in the garden. It does stand up to the test of time reasonably well - the girls as well as the boys play an active role - but I think that to enjoy it fully at least a passing interest in boats is needed. Especially in the first couple of chapters it does introduce a lot of nautical jargon. I did have an interest in boats as a child and went sailing occaisonally, but I'm sure I wouldn't have had a clue about sentences like 'Is there a cleat under the thwart where the mast is stepped' - and I still don't.

One thing that the book does really well is to explore the imaginative life of children, taking the everyday world around them and turning it into something much more exciting and exotic. And the appeal for the children of having their very own island really rings true - perhaps another reason why the book appeals to me as I've had a fascination for islands ever since childhood.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Having recently dabbled in nostalgia and re-read Arthur Ransome’s ‘Winter Holiday’ and ‘Pigeon Post’ I suppose it was almost inevitable that I would find myself embarking on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ for the first time in some forty years. And why not! From the opening scene, with Roger ‘tacking’ up the field to check with his mother whether he would be allowed to join the rest of the Walker children camping on Wild Cat Island, through to the close, and the imminent return to the real world of school and city life, the book is totally delightful.

Of course, life is very different now from when Arthur Ransome wrote this classic story, and Mrs Walker would find herself castigated, and probably even prosecuted, for neglect if she were to allow her four children, aged presumably between seven and eleven, to going camping and sailing, wholly unaccompanied; the children themselves would probably be taken into care. The only vague concession to health and safety is Mrs Walker’s ruling that Roger is not allowed to carry or use matches. The book was first published in 1930, and was probably already eulogising a Corinthian past largely of Ransome’s own imagining.

Ransome’s own imagining is pretty powerful though. He succeeds in creating six child characters, all of whom have clearly contrasting personalities, and he captures their perspective of the world with great clarity. He also pulls off the harder trick of writing adults who meld into the children’s world seamlessly. At the risk of sinking into technicality, he is also a master of metafiction. The children themselves all have marvellous imaginations, recasting the Cumbrian lake into a new world waiting to be explored, reassigning all the local features with names drawn from maritime history. Perhaps he overendows the children in this way – given their ages, it seems amazing that they have heard of half the places or books that they talk about so readily. This, however, could not matter less, and it merely adds to the reader’s sense of complete immersion in the fantasy world that Ransome has created.

Most importantly, though, it is simply a rattling good story that resonates with the joy of unfettered imagination.
… (more)
LibraryThing member pouleroulante
having adventures independent of adults, this was quite groundbreaking at the time. Ripping yarns with no moralising.

I adore this series and totally identified with the children, learnt semaphore, made maps, went exploring etc etc, hence Cumbria is the landscape of my childhood. Had I actually lived in Cumbria I'd have gone feral and quite possibly fallen into an old copper mine.

Wasn't as impressed by the improbable Missee Lee, or Peter Duck. LOVED Winter Holiday, Swallowdale, Pigeon Post, Picts and Martyrs...etc etc!
Timeless joy!!
… (more)
LibraryThing member steverj1
I was entirely obsessed with this series when I was in upper elementary school. I found a copy of this book at my dad's cottage and began reading it; now I can understand that obsession. Although this is just a seemingly simple story of kids camping and sailing on summer break in England in 1929, Ransome has a really good time telling the story. His detailed description of sailboats, and sailing them, and the kids' days is wonderful. Most important, though, is the way Ransome is able to make the world of kids' imaginations both completely real and completely fantasy at the same time, as kids imaginary worlds are, and with a wonderful whimsical and respectful humor. A really enjoyable read, and based on my experience, enjoyable for both upper elementary/middle school kids and old guys like me.… (more)
LibraryThing member judyecoughlin
I first read the Arthur Ransome books when I lived in Manila at about the age of 10. My family had also lived in London. The independence of the children in their adventures was greatly appealing, although adults certainly play important roles. My own children didn't like them much--too British, and too old-fashioned. Swallows and Amazons takes place between WWI and WWII in the Lakes District; the 4 children in the story, their baby sister, and their mother are having a holiday while their father is at sea. The wonderful descriptions of sailing, the pictures and diagrams, made me passionately interested in small boats, though even now I've never learned to sail. As an adult, I'm fascinated at the depiction of life in this period. No television--all adventures were strictly home made. In this farm district, milk was picked up daily from a dairy farm, all food was unprocessed and usually cooked over a campfire. All the books take place during various holidays, and the childrens' school lives are very much in the background, except for the "holiday tasks" that they struggle with.… (more)
LibraryThing member Homeschoolbookreview
What did kids do to amuse and entertain themselves before television, video games, computers, and smart phones? They played outside and used their imagination. That’s exactly what Captain John Walker, his sister Mate Susan, their sister Able-seaman Titty, and brother the Boy Roger do. Their father, probably in the Royal Navy, is on a ship at Malta but under orders for Hong-King, so for their summer vacation their mother has rented a cottage on a farm at Holly Howe located next to a huge lake. They also have a baby sister, Vicky, who is taken care of by a nurse. The children have been taught how to sail, and they have use of the farm’s sailboat, the Swallow. While out on the lake, they find an island where they receive permission to camp.
During the course of their adventure, they meet up with the Blacketts, Captain Nancy (real name Ruth) and sister Mate Peggy, who have their own pirate sailboat, the Amazon, along with the girls’ uncle James Taylor who lives on a houseboat near the island and becomes “Captain Flint” to the children. The Swallows and the Amazons declare war on each other with victory going to the side who can take the others’ ship, then together they declare war on Captain Flint. Who will win? How will a burglary at Captain Flint’s houseboat affect their relationship? And what will they do when a huge storm comes up over Wild Cat Island? The book had its beginning long before when as a child author Arthur Mitchell Ransome, with his brother and sisters, spent most of their holidays on a farm at the south end of Coniston and played on the nearby lake, but it was further inspired by a summer in which Ransome taught the children of his friends, the Altounyans, to sail. In fact, three of the Altounyan children's names are adopted directly for the Walker family.
Swallows and Amazons, a paean to children’s make-believe play and exploring their surrounding world, is a very pleasant story that involves the great outdoors, boats, fishing, and camping, with rich characterization, vivid descriptions, wholesome reading, and old-fashioned ideals. It includes a good deal of everyday Lakeland life in the early twentieth century, from the local farmers to charcoal burners working in the woods. Seldom have I ever come to the end of a book and felt sorry that it was over. If you read it and reach the same conclusion, you’re in luck! Ransome wrote eleven more books in the “Swallows and Amazons Forever” series: Swallowdale (1931); Peter Duck (1932); Winter Holiday (1933); Coot Club (1934); Pigeon Post (1936); We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea (1937); Secret Water (1939); The Big Six (1940); Missee Lee (1941); The Picts And The Martyrs: or Not Welcome At All (1943); and Great Northern? (1947). A thirteenth book, Coots in the North, was left incomplete at the time of Ransome's 1967 death and published in an unfinished form in 1988 with some other short works. In subsequent adventures in the series, the children progressively grow older, change their usual roles, and become explorers or miners.
… (more)
LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Lovely as always. Every time I read this book I'm struck by how much freedom these kids are allowed - can you imagine a modern parent allowing a 7-year-old up to a maybe 11- or 12-year-old to go out on the water, sail their own boat, camp on an island that can't easily be reached (half an hour by rowing boat)....? The adventures Titty makes up aren't a patch on the real thing, what they're actually doing. It's wonderful. I read this first when I was about Titty's age, though I always identified with John (as the eldest, and the responsible and capable one). Susan never really appealed to me - she apparently enjoys doing all the camp work and the like, but it would drive me nuts. And Roger was and is too young and silly (rash, thoughtless, adventurous...) to suit me. But between them, and Nancy and Peggy, there's someone to appeal to everyone. You can actually learn at least some of the concepts of sailing and camping from the book, too - there's details of how to lay a fire, what to watch for when sailing before the wind, and so on. And what to do - and not to do - when things go wrong, as well. Good story, that has rewarded multiple rereads in the last 30-some years.… (more)
LibraryThing member Marensr
I discovered SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS as a child of twelve and was thoroughly delighted. I cannot imagine why this classic series has not achieved the same status in the United States. This first volume in the series follows the children of the Swallow family as they summer in the English lake country. The story charts their adventures as they sail, camp, discover nature around them interact with each other and two girls from a houseboat (the Amazons). It is a lovely wistful book that evokes the grandeur of childhood games in nature. In the background of the story is a faint hint of the World War (the Swallows’ father is in the Navy) but the sense that the children are being sheltered from adult concerns but that only heightens the loveliness of their childhood lives.

Budding anglophile children who love the English details of the Harry Potter books or the Narnia Chronicles should love the depiction of these children. (Although there is no magic in Ransome’s series of books other than the ordinary magic of childhood.) It would also be an excellent choice for children who love nature or are learning to sail. The illustrations are charming and in some of the books the boats are quite detailed.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LibraryLou
This is one of the best series of children's books ever written. I devoured them all as a child, and can reread them over and over agian.
I really wanted to be allowed to camp on my own island, and was always daydreaming about having adventures.
LibraryThing member jedisluzer
I love all of Ransome. Sailing, camping, adventure, pirates... I will read them to my children.
LibraryThing member Booksrme
Read first in Summer of 1944 while ill in bed. Was totally immersed in it.Have never enjoyed any book more.
LibraryThing member xoxabbiexox
a brilliant story about 3 kids that go sailing i loved it and hope you will to if you decided to spend the time to read it some bits i didnt understand and didnt like .
LibraryThing member jbennett
I loved this book as a child and read nearly all the Ransome books as a result. They were some of the first fiction books I read. It's a wonderful childhood that modern children don't have - freedom to explore and make mistakes. The combination of real adventures combined with imagination is wonderful
LibraryThing member J.v.d.A.
The first of a truly great series of "childrens" books (perfectly readable for adults as well).
LibraryThing member Clurb
A sturdy, old-fashioned story about a group of children who spend a holiday adventuring on an island and uncovering the mystery of a shady character they spot on the water one day. This is good, honest, back-to-basics adventure writing and it has stood the test of time wonderfully well.
LibraryThing member jakea
This book is named after two sailboats, Swallow and Amazon. Captain John, Mate Susan, Able Seaman Titty, and Ship's Boy Roger get to stay on an unhabited island. You have to read it for yourself! Because it is the best. Jake, age 9
LibraryThing member debnance
Gee. I've had this on my shelf for over two years! I finally got to it this summer. It started slowly for me. At first I didn't think I would like it. Gradually, as I read more and more, I began to love these kids. Camping on their own deserted island. Cooking their own foods. Fishing. Battling "pirates". Do kids these days still do things like this? I'm especially curious about whether kids would like this book.All I know is that I did. Don't give up on it too soon. It's a book that reminds you of the power of the imagination. I can only hope that kids all over the world are still being Swallows and Amazons.… (more)
LibraryThing member vastard
This was one of my favorite books as a child, and returning to it as an adult has been a true pleasure. Every time I read Swallows and Amazons, I feel a child's excitement for exploration and adventure. The story is compelling and the characters are lovable.
LibraryThing member PLloggerC
This book is full of the kind of good old-fashion fun that I used to have as a kid. The children in this book are left alone a lot to entertain themselves with their friends, thier imagination and a few props here and there. The parents in the story trust their children to go out and have some fun, while expecting that they are mature enough and responisible enough to have some tame, safe adventrues on thier own. The children in this story know how to sail and have sailbots and a lake at their disposal for a summer of fun and adventure. I like the fact that in this story the children actually play with and get along with their siblings.--Something that many people just kind of assume won't happen anymore. I like the fact that these children are seen as capable people.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Four young kids spend a family vacation exploring the local area. This children’s classic was originally published in 1930 and has been cherished by generations of kids ever since.

With their mother’s permission, the children sail their small vessel, the Swallow, to a little island near their summer home. They camp out in tents and make food on a small fire. Every day they visit the local farmer for milk, eggs and bread and their mother visits their camp to check on them.

The kids, John, Susan, Titty (really unfortunate name choice) and Roger fish for their dinner and call everyone who lives in the area “natives.” They search for pirates and buried treasure and learn to conquer their own fears. They meet another group of kids, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, who sail their own little ship, the Amazon. It’s such a wonderful adventure story. I wish I’d read it when I was little, but it was still a delight as an adult.

It’s sad to think about how much things have changed in the decades since this book was published. I can’t imagine any parent letting four of their children move to an island for a couple weeks and fend for themselves. The parents would probably end up in jail for neglect. The freedom to have adventures has been curtailed as crime in creases and trust in our neighbors decreases.

BOTTOM LINE: A sweet story about one family’s summer adventures. It made me long for the childhood days of wild abandon when the only thing on your schedule was imaginative outdoor games and afternoons of exploration.
… (more)
LibraryThing member asnackate
A wonderful book (series of books!) which I somehow missed out on as a child, but discovered, read, and hugely enjoyed last year (at the age of 22!)

The Lake District is a fitting and exciting setting for these stories of children's adventures: genuine sailing, camping and exploring, wonderfully blended with the children's games and stories. Is that really a retired pirate living on the houseboat? Who left the firewood stacked on the island?
One of my favourite things about the book was the way that the characters behave like real children, rather than simply acting in the manner most convenient for plot progression.

Oh, and one more thing - now I really, really want to learn how to sail!
… (more)
LibraryThing member thesmellofbooks
I really enjoyed this one. So different from the YA books of today, most of which are filled with dread and danger and tension. There is drama here, but it is mostly about imagination and play. A great book to unwind with.

At first the action seemed SO SLOW. But a) it picked up and b) I got used to going at less than breakneck speed. Now I look forward to reading the rest.… (more)
LibraryThing member markbstephenson
This started a twelve book series. The first of the series I was able to find was Winter Holiday which I think is better. But they are all good, healthy stories with lots of affectionate character development, vivid but concise nature description, charming humor which occasionally becomes hilarious and real adventure complete with danger, action, well timed climax and triumphant resolution. A real pleasure to read and reread. I found myself reading and now own all 12.… (more)




(505 ratings; 4.2)
Page: 0.8176 seconds