Back then, the public library would let patrons check out only four books at a time. During the summer, we'd walk the mile to the library (kids walked alone wherever they wanted in those days), check out our four books apiece, walk home and spend two days reading all of them, and then walk back to get four more.
Of all the books we devoured during those sweet, sultry days of endless reading, we loved none more than we loved the "Adventure" books of British author Enid Blyton: Castle of Adventure, Island of Adventure, Sea of Adventure, Ocean of Adventure, River of Adventure, Circus of Adventure, Valley of Adventure. . . . When we brought home a new Adventure book, we deemed it unfair for one of us to read it before the other one, so we'd sit side by side reading silently out of the same copy of the book; I remember having to wait a second or two until Cheryl was ready to turn the page.
Even as children we thought that certain elements of the books were cheesy. We couldn't help but note that Jack, Philip, Dinah, and LucyAnn had measles more than once (convenient for necessitating a long convalescence during which they could be off having adventures); we snorted with laughter when in The River of Adventure they take a trip on the River of Abencha (yes!); we made fun of Kiki-the-parrot's constant penchant for getting mixed up and squawking "God save the weasel" and "Pop goes the queen."
But how we wanted to go off on those adventures! We tried to pretend that our picnic table bench was the plank by which we could enter into the turret window of the castle of adventure, but it really wasn't the same. We yearned to eat tinned pineapple and carry torches - how disappointed we were when we discovered that the children in the book were merely eating canned pineapple and carrying flashlights.
Only many years later did we notice the sexism and racism of the books. The boys are defined by their passions and interests - Jack is "mad about" birds, Philip is "mad about" animals. The girls are defined by their faults - Dinah has a hot temper, LucyAnn is a fraidycat. The villains are invariably dark-skinned or foreign. Re-released in revised editions in recent years, the racism is considerably toned down, but the sexism is too deeply woven into the stories to eliminate.
But I still named my Shirley Temple doll LucyAnn.
I wanted to be LucyAnn.
And so I read the Adventure books, side by side with my sister, transporting myself from my New Jersey backyard each June, July, and August, to a summer of adventure.