And Then I Read: CHALLENGE TO ADVENTURE

There’s very little information available about Mary Evelyn Atkinson, author of more than twenty children’s novels, published from the 1930s through the 1950s. I bought one of her books many years ago, but didn’t realize there were lots more until relatively recently, in the 1990s, when I began to see she was a series book writer. Her longest and best-known series is about the Lockett family, and falls easily into the category of “family adventures,” usually taking place on a holiday or when the family of two boys and a girl is not at school. THIS website identifies fourteen Lockett books, as well as five in the “Fricka” series, which involve horses and riding, and there’s at least one other non-series book that I have. While I wouldn’t call them classics, they make for enjoyable reading. I would place them below the quality level of Arthur Ransome’s books, but above Enid Blyton, for instance.

Jane, Oliver and Bill seem to lead a good life, and one quite prone to adventure. Their parents are conveniently off in some faraway land, and they live with several aunts and uncles, one set when at school, several others when not. The conceit of the series is that the children are real, and their adventures are written up for them by one of the aunts who is a newspaper reporter and the de facto author of the series. This particular book, which is the sixth in the series, is prompted by some other kids who don’t believe the Locketts really have the adventures in the books, and that they’re all made up. A challenge is set up by three children of the Grenfell family in a sort of adventure competition. Each group of kids will set out on their bikes along an agreed course, staying with friends and family along the way, to see if any adventures happen, and to whom. Each group will bring along a friend of the other group to act as a witness and referee to the rules of the competition.

Kind of an elaborate setup, but the book is still good fun, and there are some exciting moments for the Lockett family, including a race through a stormy night to prevent a child from swallowing poison, a lion escaped from a circus, and a burglary attempt thwarted. Because of the competition concept, a lot of talk and worry revolves around what the other team is doing, and whether certain things “count” according to the rules, which gets somewhat tiresome, but overall it’s an enjoyable book. I still have two Lockett books to find, and I look forward to that.

Unfortunately, Atkinson’s books are long out of print, and many were never published in the US, so finding them anywhere other than online is difficult. The England she writes about is somewhat idealized and idyllic, and little mention is made of World War Two, going on when this one was published. I bet children of the time welcomed books like this as a respite from all the real news.

Recommended if you can find it, but I’d start with any of the earlier Lockett books: Mystery Manor, The Compass Points North, Smuggler’s Gap, Going Gangster or Crusoe Island. The later ones I’ve read are also good. This one just makes more sense if you’ve already read some of the others.

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