Review Blog

May 10 2013

Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

cover image

Vintage, Random House, 2013. ISBN 9780099582540. pbk., 514pp.
Pigeon Post which won the inaugural Carnegie Medal in 1937 from CILIP, the UK library association, is part of the Swallows and Amazons series written in the early 1930s by Arthur Ransome. Set in England's Lake District it continues the adventures of John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker (Swallows) and their mother and baby sister, as well as Nancy and Peggy Blackett (Amazons) and their uncle Jim, commonly referred to as Captain Flint. 'Swallows' and 'Amazons' refer to the names of the dinghies the children sail around the lake waters, with the Swallows being 'explorers' and the Amazons 'pirates'.
The children are once again on school holidays and this time when they learn of a lost gold seam in the hills above the lake, they decide to look for it because of the lack of success Uncle Jim has had in his prospecting trip in South America. Although their home base is the Blackett's farm at Beckfoot, they move from camp site to camp site using a pigeon to send a message back to Beckfoot each day. During their search it appears they have a rival and when strange things happen after they do discover 'gold', there is an interesting conflict. However, the drought has meant the countryside is tinder dry and a fierce fire changes the direction of the story and interesting things are revealed.
Despite being written about 80 years ago, the Swallows and Amazons series is one that has endured and is considered a classic in the adventure genre. Even though at first it might seem a little old-fashioned within a few pages the reader is absorbed into the story and enjoying a good read while also learning about life for children in another time, a time when pigeons were used because there were no mobile phones.
This re-publication is part of a series of classics being released by Random House for just $9.95, and which deserve a place on the library's shelves because they have proven to be stories which appeal and endure. While they may not appeal to all, I believe that students should be able to have access to them just because they come under that heading of classic children's literature. I could imagine a lot of interest being generated with a display of 'Books your great-grandparents told you about' (because I'm a grandma and they were before my time) and even doing a comparison between the lives of the children in the times of the stories and life now. Asking whether a pigeon might be more reliable than a mobile phone could be the basis of a great debate, and may even lead into an investigation of how pigeons have been used over time, particularly in war time, sparking a new avenue of reading for some.
Barbara Braxton

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