Five on a Hike Together
Enid Blyton
Knight Books, 1951

This is number ten in the Famous Five series. It can be read and enjoyed without having read the other books, but I'd recommend reading them in order if you can. I would also recommend that knowing something about the Famous Five and Enid Blyton before you start, as the book contains some classism and sexism that are somewhat inappropriate by today's standards -- but nothing out of the ordinary for the series, nor uncommon for the era.

The Five get an unexpected half-term break, and decide to go on a ramble. A serious one -- four days of hiking through the countryside, watching for rabbits and deer, and only stopping at small villages at night and possibly for tea and maybe also for lunch.

Okay, you know the drill; they stumble on strange happenings (A jailbreak! A mysterious nighttime rendezvous!); they are sucked into the strange happenings, and through no fault of their own are forced to take matters into their own hands; they solve the mystery and are hailed, rightfully, as heroes. This book is perhaps a bit unusual in that the five get split up, Timmy gets hurt, and the five bicker a bit more than they usually do, but really, this is the Famous Five; you know what to expect, and that's what you get.

This book was (and still is) one of my favorite Famous Five adventures, because the plot hinges not on a secret tunnel or ruined castle, but on a simple but clever trick that was basically something that any kid could engineer; after nine books of reading about really cool things that, honestly, most people have no hope of ever experiencing, this was a pretty cool story to come across as a young kid. But also, Annie is hidden in a secret room and the group camps out in the cellars of a ruined mansion, so there's plenty of classic Famous Five exploration.

There's also a slight change in tone from the earlier books; by this point in the series Blyton is finally getting used to the idea that girls are people too, and Anne is allowed to be smart, and George is allowed to be half-way sensible when the world is a jerk about the whole feminism thing. The boys, of course, are still the natural leaders, make all the decisions, and do the dangerous work. But hey, it's 1951. There is an impressive page-and-a-half rant on the proper role of boys and girls in the social order, which must have stuck out like a sore thumb even 60 years ago, if only because it was so long-winded. Overall, an eventful book.

Obviously, you should start reading the Famous Five at the beginning (Five on a Treasure Island). And the first book is easily the most sexist, although things don't improve much later on... But anyway, if you are already reading and enjoying the series, there is nothing here that is going to spoil the mood. But if you are wending your way somewhat randomly through the series (as Americans reading 50s British kids lit are often forced to do), this is a good book to seek out. Especially if you are getting sick of Annie being treated like a fourth-class citizen.

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