If you are a young boy, or know any, you know that you do not wake up on a Saturday morning with no intentions for the day. This is especially true if you are like Henry and have been concocting schemes to go where no one else has been. You don’t know what you will find there, or even where you are going, but you do know that it will be exciting.
Adventure always is.
When Henry announces to his parents that he is headed out on an expedition, his confidence knows no bounds. He reassures them that he will be fine – does he not have his explorers kit carefully packed with all the essential equipment, including a flag made of his father’s old shirt? Besides, Angus, his dog, is accompanying him on today’s exploration; there is no need to worry. And so, with a confident wave of the hand, he is off, intent on finding uncharted seas.
Thus opens Mark Taylor’s charming picture book Henry the Castaway (Graham Booth, illustrator). Right away he discovers an empty canoe, albeit without paddles, and they cast off to drift down the river. Your young readers will be holding their breath as Henry navigates the seas and will not be the least surprised when an island looms ahead for exploration. Even when the canoe capsizes and is accidentally set adrift, he coolly comments to Angus, “We will have to use our wits to survive.” It goes without saying that there will be dangers: possible crocodiles, threats of yellow fever, storms, and need for shelter. But Angus (and your young reader) need not fear, because this experienced explorer has left a trail and is certain of eventual rescue.
Meanwhile, being marooned gives opportunity to search for treasure.
The book itself is a treasure, and if it is a hit, the delicious prospect of accompanying Henry on other adventures in Henry the Explorer, Henry Explores the Jungle, and Henry Explores the Mountain have also been reprinted and await discovery by the young explorers in your life.
There is something forever intriguing about the uncharted seas, the prospect of distant unknown islands that charms young spirits, verified by the enduring tales of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and the Swiss Family Robinson. If you have exhausted your supply of such tales, perhaps your older readers or the entire family will also find the Swallows and Amazons series to be absorbing too. Arthur Ransome’s beloved lake district of England is the backdrop for many
chapter books about the Walker children, alias The Swallows.
In the first of the series, Swallows and Amazons, these highly imaginative and competent children are granted special permission from their Navy career father to sail the small sailboat in the boathouse of the lakeside farm where they are spending their summer holiday, to have the adventure of their lives. With tents, “pemmican” and other food stuffs, a barometer, compass, and ship’s log stowed in the boat, they set sail for the island they have glimpsed in the distance. It is theirs to claim and explore, theirs to chart and name, and theirs to set up a camp for the base operations for action-packed days of investigating the unknown surrounding rivers and bays and encounters with various local characters (“natives”). Naturally, there is danger and intrigue, the discovery of pirate activity in the region, and maritime battles on the high seas with the arrival of the Amazons, “pirates” who raid their camp and declare “war.” Oh, and hidden treasure is most certainly a reward.
I’m not actually sure who enjoys the ensuing intrigues and calamities found in these books more in our house, the parents or the children, but we are so thankful many of these books have been republished in paperback and that another generation, one not quite so familiar with freedom and adventure as Ransome’s children were, may know the thrill of independence and adventure still. As the children grow up throughout the series, the adventures grow along with them. Probably
one of my children’s favorites is We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, when the more experienced crew is put to a true test of life and death in the North Sea.
Whether with Henry the Castaway or Swallows and Amazons, the stories in these books will feed the craving for voyage and adventure deep within us all, because in our hearts, we were all are made to be explorers.