On playing pretend

As I mentioned in my last post, there are a lot of children’s books about adventures on the high sea. However, there seems to be quite a few books about children pretending to have adventures on the high seas as well. In Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, it is amazing how much detail about sailing, or pirates, or Robinson Crusoe the children knew. The books they read, the plays they saw, perhaps the television shows they watched were painted with tidbits of information that coloured their games with delightful detail.

However, I wonder how much detail a child playing at being sailors, or pirates, or being stranded on a desert island, might put into their games now?

This is not at all a negative comparison between children ‘back then’ (Swallows and Amazons was written in the 1930s) and children now; it is simply an observation, a train of thought I wanted to explore. The books children read now, the shows they watch, the movies they go see – would they have the same knowledge of pirates or sailors as children in the 1930s?

I am a girl, and although girls are absolutely allowed to read stories about pirates and desert islands, I wasn’t really that type of girl, so I don’t know if books produced in my childhood were stories of high seas and adventure. I think the equivalent ‘high adventure books’ published in my childhood (and now… I’m only just out of childhood, really, and still reading like I’m a 12 year old) are more teenage spy books, or action-packed gadgety books. Not that there is anything wrong with that – those books reflect what high adventure is in the modern age – high adventure now comes with a mobile phone rather than a compass.

But children still play pirates, don’t they? Whenever a particular friend of mine came over for a sleepover, the fold out sofa bed would become a raft, and we had been in a shipwreck, and we were the only survivors. But were our games filled with as much nautical colour and detail as the Walker children in Swallows and Amazons? I can’t remember.

After spending two weeks in May with children as part of Kid’s Own Publishing, I can tell you that there were a few pirate books, and nautical books, that the children I was working with wrote and illustrated. But they were a bit … stereotypical. Pirates had eye patches, and walked the plank, and found gold. And talking to the children while they were making their books, there wasn’t the richness of information in their minds as those found in the children writing a book on, say, Minecraft. (Minecraft, which I had never heard of before, is, I discovered, a vastly popular video game. I think that there was at least one book on minecraft in every class I worked with). Like I said before, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, it’s just… different. Children’s books and movies and tv shows and theatre depict different things now. They find colour and detail in different things. But they can be just as creative when playing pretend about these things too.




  1. My five-year-old daughters pretend to be pirates, and their imaginative games are very detailed. If they don’t know what a certain aspect of pirate life would be like, they just make it up. For a long time, they said, “Arr, ladies!” instead of “Arr, matey!” It was cute.

  2. I see kids playing pirates quite a bit, but it’s Johnny Depp instead of Robinson Crusoe. And I don’t think that kids have to use their imaginations so much as kids did before technology started doing the imagining for them. I like it when I see kids running around outside without gadgets in their hands, and sitting in a corner with a real book instead of a gadget.

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