Nine Books to Get Your Kids Off the Sofa

It’s a dark and stormy night… no, actually, it’s just a dark and miserably wet January afternoon. It’s that time of the year when hardly anybody can be bothered to get off the sofa; the new year’s resolution crowd has already disappeared from the gym. The same is true for our children, who are far too addicted to their electronic gadgets anyway and would do well to spend more time outdoors.

So perhaps this a good time to offer them a good book in exchange for those gadgets; and why not make it a book that will encourage them out of doors? By the time they finish reading, spring will be just round the corner.

Nine Books to Get Your Kids Off the Sofa

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

And all its sequels. I wrote several posts about these books before, one of them only very recently, so I’m not going to repeat myself. For your convenience, here is the link to the earlier Swallows and Amazon’s posts:

In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

The title of this classic story about rowing up the Thames speaks for itself: three men in a boat, not to mention the dog. A week of rowing upriver, camping out, dealing with the weather and each other. When your teen finished laughing, he can go out and take to the oars. Remind him not to forget the tin opener.

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts about my attempt to convince my family to row up the Thames a la Jerome K. Jerome and his friends. You can find out whether I succeeded here:


Two Years Vacation by Jules Verne

A party of school children aged between 8 and 14 and embarked for a school cruise are swept out to sea from Auckland Harbour while the crew is ashore. After being caught up in a storm, they are eventually wrecked on a desert island… This 19th century French adventure classic is a precursor of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, except here all will turn out well.

Jules Verne of course wrote many books that would get anyone of the sofa – one of these days, I’ll dedicate a post all to him.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A sickly and not very likeable little girl is orphaned and sent to live at her widowed uncle’s house. Mostly left to her own devices, she discovers a hidden garden, makes friends with a local boy and meets her invalid cousin. And the more time she spends outdoors in the secret garden, the more her health and her temper improve… Perhaps a bit moralistic, but it is a beautifully written, uplifting story in which the power of nature transforms the lives of two miserable children.

Have you got a garden? Get that child out there this spring to plant something. If you haven’t, let your child take charge of a new flower pot.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

A well-to-do city family’s life suddenly turns upside down: Father is obliged to go away in mysterious circumstances and the rest of the family moves to a small cottage in the countryside. While Mother is busy making ends meet, the children discover the railway and the canal… Their outdoor and village adventures come to a happy end when the mystery of father’s disappearance is cleared up.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The weird and wonderful adventures of Alice, who follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole… this is one of those books of which you don’t really write a brief summary. (Or a long one – even less.) You just read it. 🙂

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Nobody was less outdoorsy, not to say less adventurous!, than the respectable Mr Bilbo Baggins, who lived in a nice, comfortable hole in the ground. Unfortunately, one day the wizard Gandalf turns up, followed by a company of dwarves who are about to set off to steal a dragon’s gold. They desperately need a thief and to his own greatest surprise, off goes Mr Baggins, in capacity of the thief, forgetting even his handkerchief…

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Mr Baggins’s nice comfortable hole reminded me of the lovable Mole who was spring cleaning his own comfortable hole on one sunny day, but got cheesed off and went outside instead. Which child will not relate to his feelings? I’m not a child any more, but give me a nice sunny riverbank any day of the year in preference to cleaning the house. Mole found his way to the river where he met Ratty and the rest, as they say, is history…

A charming story beautifully evoking the English countryside.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Perhaps everybody has read this one already and I’m wasting my breath. But just in case somebody hasn’t… As far as adventures go, this is the original, unbeatable, mother-of-all pirate books. It’s never too late to (re-)read it! 🙂

And the Rest

There are of course other books – many – that would inspire a child/teen to get off the sofa but all good things have to come to an end and this post does too. Maybe I’ll write a sequel at another time. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m happy to recommend or discuss with any of you any other  books that could have been included here – leave a comment below.

In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and its sequel, Swallowdale were two of  my childhood favourites. They hark back to a time when children enjoyed rather more freedom than they do now (although even in those times surely not a lot of them was allowed to camp alone on an island). If you want your children to get outdoors to enjoy fresh air, if you want them to develop their imagination, if you want them to have interest in other things than just owning the latest iPhone… get these books for them and let them expand their horizons.

In terms of age, we’re talking about age ten and about, both boys and girls – because although these books treat adventure (adventure of the kind that’s actually believable), the girl characters are just as strongly drawn as the boys. A cut above Enid Blyton.

Continue reading “In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons”

Messing About in Boats

It was going to be Plutarch today but life intervened in the form of a sunny Easter weekend. Sunny as in summer-like sunny. So yesterday we hired a boat and made a long day of it on the Thames; because there’s nothing better than messing about in boats…

Sometimes even Plutarch can wait.

Quote of the Week:

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing—about—in—boats; messing—”

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

“—about in boats—or with boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?”

(Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows)


Seven Snowy Stories

The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂

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In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Around Lake Coniston

Pirates on Lake Coniston

If this post will have any merit, it won’t be in the quality of the photos, taken from a distance from a moving boat; it will be in the subject.

For fellow admirers of Arthur Ransome‘s Swallows and Amazons, here follows part two of Waterblogged’s tribute to Arthur Ransome and the beauty of the Lake District: today we’re going on a tour around Lake Coniston.

Continue reading “In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Around Lake Coniston”

The Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)

Decorative tiling (azulejos) in the Plaza de España, Seville

Shells and galaxies curl in spirals, stripes run down on the sleek hide of tigers and zebras, waves and sand dunes rise in crescent shape. Some patterns – like the leaves of a palm tree – win you over with their strong, simple lines, others – like crystals and snowflakes – with their intricate geometry. And mankind copies nature: floral motifs proliferate in embroidery, decorative tiles combine into complex matrices, spiral staircases rise towards glass ceilings. The geometry of architecture, natural symmetry, repetition and variation…

The beauty of patterns seduces the eye and the mind.

Continue reading “The Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)”

They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

Continue reading “They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships”

The Hardest Book in the World to Find

There’s a song by the English comedian stroke musician Mitch Benn titled The Hardest Song In The World To Find. Of the song in question there is only one copy left, and that’s stuffed in the wrong sleeve in a second hand record shop on Camden High Street. Although my interest in obscure music records is nil, I can fully sympathise with Mitch Benn’s sentiments because there’s a book that I couldn’t track down, not in thirty years.

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The Little Prince

Today I want to write about a French book; I want to hold up the humanity of a French writer, who fought and died for the freedom of France in 1944, against the mindless hatred of those who committed the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. I want to talk about a book for children that should be read by adults: a book about human nature, of love and friendship and, inevitably – given the author – the Sahara. I want to talk about The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Continue reading “The Little Prince”

From Ransome to Keats to Homer

When I was ten, I read Swallows and Amazons and in the course of that, Arthur Ransome introduced me to English poetry. One of the characters, Titty (I still wonder what sort of a name is that for a girl), was much given to recalling random lines of poetry that they had taught her at school.


The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.


… like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

These lines spoke about adventure and unknown worlds in pulsating rhyme. I’m not surprised that they stuck in Titty’s head; they certainly stuck in mine. Ransome  – and not my literature teachers – made me read Keats; and Keats made me pick up Homer again, many years after I left school.

Continue reading “From Ransome to Keats to Homer”

Ten @ Ten

I got bitten by the list mania bug today and here’s my first list: my top ten books when I was about ten. So here goes, in no particular order:

All right, it’s eleven.