Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Hands off FAMOUS FIVE! The constant push to silence Enid Blyton's legacy

There are some things which are sacred to me, and one of them is Enid Blyton's books, particularly Famous Five series. I wasn't good at sport. I wasn't interested in girly things. I loved being outdoors but I dearly loved reading above all else.

Unfortunately there are people in this world who persist in denigrating Blyton's work, focussing on the contextual issues, such as her use of the term 'golliwogs' and other racist references along with the sexist attitudes. But being focussed on the PC issues of books begun in 1942 is pointless, because Enid Blyton was a woman of her time. These characters reflect kids of their time. Doesn't mean they are perfect or right in every way. The PC brigade can't go back and fix everything they don't like. I am Anglo-Celtic and this was my culture, for better or worse. Doesn't mean that Julian, Anne, George and Dick didn't fight for what they thought was right in their world. And that's what's important to me.

These books are inhabited by characters whom I found entertaining, inspiring, and real to my experience as a child growing up in the 1970's. Timmy - what a dog! I loved him and his relationship with George as her best friend. OK, so Anne was a bit whiney and annoying sometimes. So was my sister, so what the hey. In her defence, Anne was often genuinely afraid, as are lots of kids, but she was also loyal, brave in her own way when it counted, organised, sensitive to others and so on. 

When George blundered in, Anne stood back and observed, picking up on things George missed. George was a tomboy, like me. She wasn't scared of anything. I lived through her. Julian was a born leader, but he had his moments where he could be quite pompous, however he took his job a eldest seriously. He felt the burden of leadership, the responsibility of keeping them all safe. And sometimes that makes you less likeable. Dick was always Robin to Julian's Batman, but that's how it is in families. Dick had his moments to shine too. We all find our own niche. And the Famous Five were like siblings to me.

The inspiration for the illustrations of these characters came from the four children belonging to Blyton's illustrator, Mary Gernat. 
read here

So, what did I learn from Famous Five?

Famous Five taught me a lot - mostly not to be afraid of hurling myself into new experiences, having faith in myself, and for a child who moved around a lot, (11 schools in 12 years, 3 different countries) this was a life changing lesson that has stood in good stead throughout my adult life too:
  • Life is tough sometimes - get in there and cope with it. 
  • When life is good - stop and notice, appreciate and love those around you. 
  • When adults do things which you know are wrong, find a way to tell them or someone else. 
  • When wrongs are done to others, get in there and fight for them. 
  • When mysteries lie waiting, seek them out bravely. 
  • Whether your family is perfect or not, love and appreciate them.
  • Get outside as much as possible
  • Enjoy good, comforting food that is home made
If you're going to look at these stories through the lens of 2017 of course you will be somewhat disappointed and find things you disagree with. But Blyton never apologised for her strong moral lessons in these books. Nor should she. The alternative in 2017 is that your kids get their values from TV, movies of dubious moral message, sexually explicit and violent video games, and don't get me started on the perils of social media.... None of that is contained. It's too open slather and kids can end up wandering down some very dark paths if you're not there to supervise. Click bait traps are deliberately set for them on the net. Is this what you want for your kids?

The war. There is no doubt to me that most kids nowdays have little concept of what living during war time is actually like. In WWII Britain was under constant threat of invasion, besieged. As a nation they had to pull together, make-do, use ingenuity, keep their young children safe, sacrifice their young men and women to the cause. This is why the film adaptations of Famous Five have been so popular and redone so many times.

So HANDS OFF Famous Five! Let them be a moral beacon or just an entertaining series of childhood adventures. They are simple stories kids love, even today. Adults reading them may struggle to grasp the appeal, but that's because it's a kids' world. That was Blyton's genius - to understand what kids wanted to read about.

And what are the values therein?

Be loyal. Be brave. Be assertive. Be kind. And above all - enjoy lashings of good food!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Angry, sad boys - How can mums help their sons? Dr Kevin Leman's book is a winner

The gender gap
So, your little boy was born and he was the cutest little man in your universe. He grew strong, he pushed through the boundaries of walking and talking. Now you have a mini-man in your house, but you seem to clash some times. Does he respect you? Is he going to respect other women? Are you running around doing things for him all the time but want him to be independent? Does he seem lazy? Unrepentant? Too impulsive? Easily angered? Too sensitive? Argumentative? Depressed?

Where does all this anger come from?
Just yesterday was my first day back with some of my students after being away for two months on long service leave. It seems they missed me. One boy in particular refused to work with the replacement teacher, which is lovely for my ego, but meant he went backwards in his confidence. He suffers badly from high expectations of himself and just shuts down when he doesn't think he can do something. This affects his home life (his parents have tried everything but sometimes he just refuses to cooperate) and school, (he struggles with friendships. He's difficult to be around). He dragged his feet inside the room, didn't make eye contact. I got the monosyllabic answers and plenty of 'I don't knows.'

He was angry and he was depressed.

Lots of people only see the anger. They don't see the acute sadness in boys that lies underneath. Boys strive to be what their biological imperative drives them to be - strong. Brave. Independent. Clever. When a boy feels like a failure he's not angry at the world, he's angry at himself.

The importance of Dads and Mums in a boy's life
Most of us reason that a father is the most important figure in a young by's life, especially from the age of 5 or 6, as they start to think about themselves as men of the future and wonder how they should behave and think. Of course, boys need their dad. Its absolutely crucial. And if Dad isn't around a good, reliable male role model who is there a lot of the time. Someone to bond with.

But what about mums?

An excellent book that will help you!
Dr Kevin Leman, one of my absolute all-time favourite authors has written a book specifically for mums, because you know what? Mums play a crucial role in how their sons turn out. What you do and say affects the kind of man your son will be. What kind of man, husband, partner do you want your son to be for the future woman in his life? Well, you want him to be kind, practical, respectful and loving of her. You want him to be confident as he strides out into the world. You want him to take good care of his own health, and so on. How you interact with him, what you expect, what you teach him is vital to his success.

So I urge you to get your hands on this book. You won't be disappointed. Kevin gives you the straight facts and with so much love and humour. What a Difference a Mom Makes