Rereading: AUGUST ADVENTURE by M. E. Atkinson

Illustrations and map by Harold Jones

This is the first of a series of fourteen books about the Lockett family: Oliver, Jane, and Bill, and their holiday adventures. It was written in the early 1930s, and reflects an England between two world wars. Automobiles and telephones are present, as are buses and trains, but the countryside the children travel through in their horse-drawn caravan is rural and bucolic, with some dangers and threats, but also many kind strangers willing to offer help when needed.

The three Locketts have parents who are away in India (their father is stationed there in the government), and are raised collectively by several aunts and uncles. One of the aunts is the author, who helps them tell their stories, acting as the transcriber of their accounts (or so it’s set up). As this summer adventure begins, all the aunts and uncles are going away on holidays in Europe or on cruises except for one, Aunt Lavinia, who is an artist. She agrees to take them, and they are sent to her by train, but when they arrive, the aunt is missing, and a man they don’t know is staying in her cottage. Also there’s a beautifully painted and stocked caravan (imagine a gypsy one) with a horse to pull it, and the man sends them off in the caravan to join their aunt in a town some distance away. Two more children are soon added, Anna and her little brother Robin, also related to Aunt Lavinia, and sent off by their sick grandmother to join the holiday party.

The children aren’t sure they believe the man in the cottage, but the lure of traveling in the caravan and camping along the way is too strong to resist. They decide to send telegrams to the post office where their aunt is said to be each day until they hear from her what to do next, but they never do hear from her. A few adults give them trouble about traveling alone, but Anna is tall for her age, and with her hair done right can just pass as an adult. Anna is also experienced with horses, and takes charge of Pegasus, their cart horse.

And plenty of fun and exciting adventures they have, including making friends with two wealthy children and staying in their mansion, getting caught in a heath fire, being deluged by a strong storm, taking refuge in a haunted house, and rescuing a small dog from bullies trying to drown it, then having to battle them and their friends. Always the mystery of the missing aunt is ahead of them, and as they run out of cash, things look bleak. Can they make it through?

These British holiday adventure books are not as well written as the Arthur Ransome ones beginning with “Swallows and Amazons,” but they are still a pleasure to read, and great fun. I also like the line drawings of artist Harold Jones. Recommended.

August Adventure by M E Atkinson

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