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We’re reading Arthur Ransome’s The Coot Club, continuing our nautical theme. The kids in The Coot Club are boys and girls in a range of ages who sail around small rivers in the Norfolk Broads, having incredibly mild and realistic adventures. Ransome, like E. Nesbit, doesn’t have a lot of annoying gender essentialism — the boys don’t constantly think in the background “girls are like that” or “girls can’t do X”; the kids cooperate and work together, respecting each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
While the Coot Club isn’t the strongest in Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, I started Moomin reading it because it has a conservation theme. The kids band together, not just to learn how to sail, but to observe and protect marsh birds. They also have just gone to live on a houseboat, so I thought Moomin would identify with them even more.
Here are some of the characters:
– Dorothea, who likes to write and imagines everything as if it’s in an adventure novel.
– Dick, her brother, who takes notes on birdwatching, isn’t super strong or physically competent, and has brilliant ideas.
– Tom, an older boy who has his own sailboat, the Titmouse, which he fixes up constantly. He unties a huge obnoxious motorboat to save a coot’s nest, thus becoming an outlaw for the rest of the book.
– Port and Starboard, twin girls about Dick and Dorothea’s age, who are great sailors and quite adventurous.
– The Death and Glories — Joe, Pete, and Bill — who have a boat painted black and dress as pirates. They run the Coot Club’s spy network of kids with bicycles.
Most U.S. kids around Moomin’s age would not have the patience for this slightly out of date book, with its slow-developing plot and action, and where every sentence has either some British English term or some dialect (from the townspeople or the Death and Glories) or a mysterious nautical word. In retrospect, I think it would be better to start with Swallows and Amazons!
I enjoyed re-reading The Coot Club to think about social class and to attempt to identify myself with The Admiral, the older woman who comes off as a bit physically frail and who paints watercolors and feeds chocolate to her pug dog. Like the Admiral, I’m on a boat but not always capable of running it, so need to sit and watch the young people scurry around and put plans into action.
Moomin’s plans now are to photograph pelicans, and to make a map of Redwood Creek and Smith Slough that will be like the Coot Club’s maps of Norwich Broads.