“These stories are all about unsupervised children,” my oldest daughter observed years ago, when we were reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books aloud, one after another, books in which”to offer a rough collective plot summary”some children mess about in boats. “How,” my daughter asked in marveling tones, “did these children get to be so unsupervised?” Autonomy is, after all, the child’s secret dream. To go out alone and live, even if all you do is swim, fish, cook regular meals, and go to bed when it gets dark, is a vision beyond the reach of the average child today.

The very simplicity of this dream”absent the flamboyant magic, vampires, zombies, or killing so common in contemporary children’s fiction, absent the issue-driven personal or family drama with which those books tend to be laden”is the deep magic of the Swallows and Amazons books. The need of children to be world makers is the truth these stories tell.

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