I recently read an article about literary destinations for children, which made me wonder what book first awakened the traveller in me. I’ve always wanted to explore the world, ever since I was a little girl, and I think that thirst for foreign countries and exotic destinations was inspired by (would you believe it?) Enid Blyton. I don’t remember when my parents first gave me The Pole Star Family to read, but I could not have been much older than seven or eight years. I remember thinking that the children in this book went on the most glorious adventure, and I desperately wanted to follow in their footsteps.
Rereading this book as an adult was an interesting (though brief!) experience. First published in 1950, it definitely is a product of its time – a time long before anyone needed to be politically correct, or think too much about gender stereotypes, or even worry about child labour. It is also quintessentially British and Christian and does its best to casually instill the values of its author into the minds of its young readers.
That said, I still enjoyed it a lot, even though the adventure didn’t seem quite so grand this time. The three children, their parents and their grandmother go on a cruise to visit Lisbon, Seville, Madeira, the Canary Isles and Casablanca. They are overawed by cathedrals, flying fish, songbirds and smelly bazaars. In the end, they learn that no matter where you might travel, home will always be best.
Even now, all these years later, this book still managed to get me excited. I hated my one experience on a cruise ship, but I couldn’t help but feel excited right along with Belinda, Mike and Ann as they studied their atlas to see where they would be going, or as they stood on board the deck of the grand old steamer watching Southampton fade into the distance, or the novelty of sleeping in a cabin under sea level. Although the children only get the briefest of glimpses of each of their destinations, the value of travel becomes quite clear when Mike exclaims on the homeward journey: “I feel I know a bit of real geography at last!”
Travel, whether long-term or in short holiday bursts, is, in my opinion, the best learning experience you can give yourself and your children. The next best is to share a book with them that will inspire that wanderlust and broaden their horizons. This book did that for me, and will hopefully do the same for my son one day too.