I really thought I had seen the last of Enid Blyton (1897-1968) when my youngest gave her precious set of Noddy books and her collection of Famous Five, Malory Towers, St Clare’s etc. series to the local charity shop saying she had outgrown them. So imagine my surprise to see this famous – and controversial children’s author’s name on a recent gift to the Newsam Library: Two Years in the Infant School. Contained in four boxes, this consists of 84 weekly lesson plans introducing very young children to various topics, e.g. home, day and night, the cat and her kittens, the rain, the dog, toys, clocks and watches, etc.. The title page states that the content contained in this collection was “prepared under the supervision of Enid Blyton, N.F.U.”
Blyton is best known for her children’s story books – she was, after all, the most commercially successful British children’s writer of the last century. According to Bob Mullan’s the Enid Blyton Story (1987), she was also the eighth most translated author – her stories have been translated into 126 languages. Blyton was a trained kindergarten teacher (in the Froebel and Montessori methods – hence the letters N.F.U. after her name which stood for the National Froebel Union). She began her career teaching in a junior school and later worked as a private governess. The biographies hardly refer to Blyton’s very active involvement in education during the 1920s and 1930s – she was the Education Editor for the publishing house of George Newnes where her first husband, Hugh Alexander Pollock, worked and that she had a weekly column in Junior “Teachers’ World” (partial holdings in the Newsam Library from 1925-1929 ) for over ten years. In 1926 she edited the three-volume Teacher’s Treasury of which the first two volumes are in our Special Collections (Historical Collections/Teachers Handbooks). This edited work has an introduction by the Institute of Education’s then Principal Sir T. Percy Nunn in which he commends Blyton on the use of Motessorian principles in the development of the teaching materials. This endorsement would certainly have helped Blyton to further establish her credibility within teaching circles.
The Teacher’s Treasury was quickly followed by Modern Teaching (1928) of which the Library has copies for both Infant and Junior School Teaching and Modern Teaching: Practical Suggestions for Junior and Senior schools, all of which were endorsed by the profession.
Two Years in the Infant School is organized by topic with each allocated a number of sections with associated tasks and materials that the teacher can use and adapt. These include games, stories, songs (with the musical notation), poems (some by Blyton), drawings, games and suggested activities. In Blyton’s words, “the teacher has, in this work, a complete library of stories, a never-failing store of poems and songs, and a magnificent gallery of artistic and accurate pictures, besides a workable and most original scheme for the Two Years in the Infant School.” According to Blyton, the work followed suggestions of the Board of Education of the day.
Particularly fascinating in the research on Blyton as an educationalist is the influence she had, and the accusations leveled against her work. For example, there is the well documented row between Blyton and the BBC from the 1930s to 1950s (see the correspondence between Blyton and the BBC) and of the library bans of her books in the 1950s and again in the 1980s because of the racist and/or sexist content in her writings (and also because children were drawn to the Blyton books at the expense of broadening their experience of reading other literature).
It is well known that Blyton had an ongoing battle with the BBC as her books were not considered to be of a calibre suited for the children’s programmes despite the fact that she received many letters of thanks from children all over the Commonwealth. I can certainly vouch for her popularity in East Africa for I have memories of bookmobiles which had the latest Blyton books for sale (at least that is how it appeared to me for there were no book shops or libraries on our high street!), driven by missionaries, arriving at my primary school. At the time, my regret was simply that the bigger kids always managed to buy out my favourite series (Famous Five) before I had a chance to get to them.
But I have digressed! Given that little has been written about Blyton as an educationalist, perhaps these long-standing critical concerns need to be re-visited. And perhaps it is time for a re-evaluation of her influence on junior school teaching from the 1920s to the 1960s. Certainly, the Teacher’s Handbooks in the Library’s Special Collections, of which these volumes form a part, are available to researchers for study. Additionally, the following selection of weblinks point to other useful information resources.
BBC Archives (Correspondence between Enid Blyton and the BBC)
Enid Blyton Collection (The archive collection at Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books)
Enid Blyton Society (Formed in 1995for collectors and enthusiasts of Enid Blyton)
EnidBlyton.net (North American Fan site)
Blyton in the News (a selection of newspaper articles):
Rudd, Rudd, 2000. Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children’s Literature, [online] Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2000/jul/03/books.race
Hate mail for ‘racist’ Enid Blyton shop owner who started to stock golliwogs, [online] Available at at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1081815/Hate-mail-racist-Enid-Blyton-shop-owner-started-stock-golliwogs.html#ixzz1yDXKD9dQ
Blog posts (selection):
Higham, James, 2009. Why was Enid Blyton so controversial?, [online] Available at http://nourishingobscurity.com/2009/11/15/why-was-enid-blyton-so-controversial/
Williamson, Valarie, 2011. Enid Blyton, educator extraordinaire, [online] Available at http://suite101.com/article/enid-blyton-educator-extraordinary-a351772