A recent survey conducted by ITV3, a UK-based entertainment channel, that polled people between the ages of 16 and 34 has listed the Top 10 children’s authors (see box). Take a closer look at the ranking.
What might seem perplexing to our generation (assuming many of you reading this are closer to 40—from either side) is the entry at No. 10. She is an author most of us would probably have cycled miles to borrow (or, on the rare occasion, buy) and read)—Enid Blyton.
Blyton’s was a name that conjured hours of traipsing around the English countryside, sometimes in caravans, with ginger beer and scones and mysteries falling into the collective laps of millions of children who couldn’t stop themselves from turning the pages.
Famous Five, Secret Seven, The Naughtiest Girl in School, St Clare’s, Malory Towers and Five Find-outers were staple a diet—more than science and geography. But like all good things that have to come to an end, Blyton seems to have lost favour with her readers—at least in the UK. The J.K. Rowling of her time has yielded ground. Or has she?
“I loved Enid Blyton,” says Nitika Khaitan. Before you jump the gun and say, “There, what did I tell you”, Nitika is 13 and has grown out of Blyton. “My favourite used to be the Mystery series with Fatty, Bets, Larry, Pip and the comical constable, Mr Goon,” she says. She remembers The Mystery of the Strange Bundle in which Fatty (Frederick Trotteville) learns ventriloquism and teases Bets.
Nearly 40 years ago, Blyton left behind storybooks for various ages that have been lapped up with glee by generations. Right from Noddy to the Famous Five, Blyton has delighted millions. It seemed unthinkable that the charm would fade.
Eleven-year-old Sanchi Gupta, who studies in Delhi Public School RK Puram, New Delhi, is a diehard Blyton fan. “I have read the entire set starting from The Adventures of the Wishing Chair,” she says. She likes Blyton and finds her books very interesting because they are not about real life. Though she has graduated to the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Nancy Drew mysteries and Rowling, she still catches up on the odd Blyton adventure.
The only Blyton that 10-year-old Shaurya Chawla, of Amity International School, New Delhi, found interesting was Five on a Treasure Island. His picks are Rowling, Christopher Paolini, the Hardy Boys and Dahl who, even 17 years after his death, is still the darling of young readers. “Not too interesting,” is how he dismisses Blyton.
What the child reads invariably depends on the parents’ choice too. A mother who has grown up on particular authors will try and introduce her child to those writers first. Joshua Anthony, 12, who is in Shri Ram School, and his 7-year-old sister, Justine, read a lot. In fact, for the Anthony family, reading is a family affair. “But,” says Geeta Anthony, their mother, “I don’t buy Enid Blytons for them. If they get it from the library and read, I am okay with it.” She prefers them to read the classics. Joshua, on his part, likes reading Rowling, Dahl, Eoin Colfer and Ernest Hemingway. Justine is a keen Glitter Girls fan.
Aparajito Sen and Iman Sengupta, both nine, don’t put Blyton in their top choices. Aparajito finds Ruskin Bond, Roald Dahl and Satyajit Ray’s Feluda stories more exciting. “The Enid Blyton books are boring,” he declares. He liked the Mystery of the Vanishing Prince and books such as the Talking Shoes when he was younger. Iman has read Five Have Plenty of Fun and Five Have a Mystery to Solve, but he likes Dahl, Asterix and Tintin better.
Is Blyton history, then? Will the child of 2020 even know there was a series of adventure novels called the Famous Five? The jury is out on that one. Nobody is disputing the findings of the ITV3 survey, but a BBC poll in 2004 (1,000 adults were asked what their favourite children’s book was when they were growing up) had voted the Famous Five series as their top favourite, followed by The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Treasure Island. Fourth on that list was the Secret Seven series.
Dahl, almost everyone would agree, is top-drawer stuff. So are many of the others in this current list. Dr Seuss is still going strong, as are Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis. For all that, it is sad to see Blyton at the bottom of the heap. As a character in her novel would have said: “Blow! I can’t believe this happened.”
There is some consolation. Julian, Dick, George, Anne and a descendant of Timmy, the dog, reunite to crack a top mystery. The difference: They are middle-aged now, and it is a television drama series. And here is a little something to cheer Blyton lovers: The Famous Five series has never been out of print.
Note: I still read an Enid Blyton when I can get hold of one. Just for old times’ sake.
THE HIT LIST
The Top 10 children’s authors, according to an ITV3 poll
1 Roald Dahl
2 C.S. Lewis
3 J.M. Barrie
4 J.K. Rowling
5 Anthony Horowitz
6 Jacqueline Wilson
7 Dr Seuss
8 Philip Pullman
9 Francesca Simon
10 Enid Blyton
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