Enduring Blyton

12th May 2006 at 01:00
21st-century readers are still excited by the antics of the Secret Seven, says Tracy McMenamin

Hooe's News is a community magazine researched and produced by Years 3 and above at Hooe Primary School in Plymouth. My role at the club, run after school each Thursday, is to supervise, help organise research trips, assist with the page layout and other tasks.

After a year of publishing Hooe's News we were delighted to be offered the opportunity to produce an entire edition of School's Herald, a supplement which is published in our local newspaper, The Evening Herald.

One of our ideas was to review a book due for release around the publication date of School's Herald.

Having already made contact with Hodder Children's Books for an issue of our own magazine, I decided to approach them again to see if they had any suitable books coming up for release.

We found that Hodder were to re-publish Enid Blyton's Secret Seven series with glossy new covers featuring cartoons of the Seven, and the added attraction of Top Trump cards and badges. We were delighted to receive a full set of 15 proofs.

Having read the Secret Seven books and other Blyton classics such as The Famous Five, The Wishing Chair and the Mystery books in my younger days, I was interested to see if today's children would embrace Enid Blyton as I had. Granted, the Top Trump cards and badges will make the books more attractive to today's generation, but still I wondered if Peter, Janet, Pam, Jack, Colin, Barbara, George and faithful dog Scamper (aka the Seven) could draw these 21st-century readers into their world.

All our pupil journalists are avid readers and when not gaming with Nintendo or Sony, and often with a mobile phone in one hand, they are all to be found deep in the pages of a book.

Recent favourites are Spook's Apprentice (Joseph Delaney), Silverfin (Charlie Higson) and Dragon Rider (Cornelia Funke). All of which contain a good dollop of horror, gore and suspense.

When not indulging in blood and guts, comic books such as the Captain Underpants series (Dav Pilkey) provide slapstick fun, and they enjoy the Barf-O-Rama series' (Pat Pollari) attempts to persuade the reader to empty stomach contents at least once per page.

So how does the "jolly hockey sticks" writing of Blyton capture the imagination of today's children? One of the young journalists gave the first of the Secret Seven books a "10 out of 10". And every child who read them, nearly everyone in the club, thought they were brilliant. Blyton can evidently compete with modern-day authors, but how and why?

Blyton wrote the Secret Seven series between the years 1949 and 1963.

Clothes rationing was only just coming to an end when the Secret Seven began solving mysteries. Huge changes in culture and attitude had taken place in society, and yet there is a timeless quality to Blyton's writing.

Perhaps, the answer to her continued popularity is hidden in this never-changing world she creates in each book, the capsules in which her characters live unhindered by the modern world.

Children, like adults, need a little breathing space from our hectic, technological, aggressive world. Blyton provides escapism. One young journalist says: "Don't think they won't have what you want because they have - action, mystery, horror and many more great qualities to acknowledge!" Yet there is not one mention of blood and guts in any of the 15 books. Another says: "Her books could keep even the most bored minds excited and that's saying something."

Understanding the perfect recipe for success in children's literature is big business. J K Rowling's Harry Potter is estimated to account for half of publisher Bloomsbury's business. Yet Rowling had famously been rejected by numerous publishing houses before finding Bloomsbury.

Maybe a "ripping good yarn" is enough for any child born in to any age. It seems the mystery of children's reading choices may be too great for even the Secret Seven to solve.

* The Secret Seven Books are pound;3.99 each

Tracy McMenamin runs a magazine club at Hooe Primary School as a parent volunteer

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