January 16, 2014

Sailing stories for young readers

I GREW UP ON THE Swallows and Amazons series of children’s sailing books. The author, Arthur Ransome, was a very interesting character who wrote on a wide range of subjects. He was a newspaperman, too, a foreign correspondent, at one stage of his career, and Wikipedia has a lot to say about him. But these days he is still best remembered for the books he wrote about the adventures of the Walker kids in their little open sailing dinghy and their frequent rivals, a pair of particularly capable sisters.

When I grow up, I want to write sailing books for kids like Arthur Ransome did, but meanwhile, about 20 years ago (and just for practice) I wrote a book called Danger, Dolphins & Ginger Beer (Atheneum)

I made the protagonist a 12-year-old girl, which was very appealing to my New York agent, Julie Fallowfield. (Actually, she was my wife’s agent, but June allowed me to borrow her). Julie had no trouble selling DD&GB to a children’s imprint of Simon & Schuster, in New York. She also sold it to the German publisher Carlsen, of Hamburg, who translated it into German and called it Segelsommer mit Delphinen (Summer Sail with Dolphins).  You’ll notice that they left out the ginger beer part. I don’t think Germans know about ginger beer. They prefer the real stuff.

Anyway, this exciting, fast-paced story about a family sailing around the world takes place in the British Virgin Islands and it generated hundreds of fan letters from young readers in American schools where it was used as an English text-book. It’s now out of print, I’m sorry to say, but still available on the used-book market. It’s also still available as an audio book from Good Old Boat magazine.

I wrote two follow-ups to DD&GB: So Long, Foxtrot Charlie and Sally Steals an Elephant. They involve the same Sally Grant and her two younger brothers. These books never sold in print form (which is incredible considering how good they are) but  both of them are available as audio books from Good Old Boat magazine. 

All three in this series are splendid books. I have to say this myself, because nobody else is likely to.  What is more certain is that they help fill a large gap in boating books for middle-grade readers.

Today’s Thought

You cannot write for children .  .  . They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.

— Maurice Sendak, Boston Globe, 4 Jan 87


“How do you like your new babysitter, Johnny?”

“I hate her, Mom. If I was bigger I would grab her and bite her on the back of her neck like Dad does.”  

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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