The Amelia Jane books might well have been the first Blyton ones I read, or had read to me. As I’ve mentioned before I had Dean editions of the first two books, but now I have a 1947 ninth impression of Naughty Amelia Jane. I actually bought this at the 2012 Enid Blyton day, as I (with my slight disdain of Deans) wanted an earlier edition. Inside it says £10, but I happen to remember I found it in a ‘bargain box’ where all books were £2.50, so I was very pleased.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Amelia Jane books, the title character is a doll. She was actually based on a real doll, owned by Blyton’s elder daughter Gillian. Blyton would tell Gillian tales of all the things her doll got up to when left alone in the nursery, and that’s where the books came from. They were all originally published in various Sunny Stories magazines before being collected into a book.
Naughty Amelia Jane is the first book in the series, and it introduces us to the naughty doll, explaining she is home-made and lacks the inbuilt manners of shop-bought toys.
NAUGHTY AMELIA JANE
The first story, also called Naughty Amelia Jane, gives us an idea of just how bad her behaviour can be from pushing toys into the goldfish bowl to pouring milk down their necks. This is probably the story I remember best as Amelia Jane runs amok with a pair scissors, chopping up everything in sight. The curtains, the hearth rug, Nurse’s handkerchief, the carpet and worst of all – the pink rabbit’s tail! The toys are at a loss on how to stop her, she is bigger and stronger than they are. Luckily the brownies who live in the tree outside come to their rescue, magicking the scissors away from her so the toys can push her into a cupboard.
She begs to be let out and promises to be better behaved in the future, but the toys don’t believe her. She is only let out when the brownies need rescued as she can fly the toy plane out of the nursery window and frighten off the goblins, proving she can do good as well as bad.
AMELIA JANE GETS A SHOCK
Her good behaviour doesn’t last long, though, and in Amelia Jane Gets a Shock she’s back to her old ways, playing nasty tricks on the toys. Her main misbehaviour this time is soaking everyone with a soda-syphon, forcing the toys to come up with a way to stop her. They come up with a great idea – polishing the bottom of her shoes so they are so slippery she falls over every time she runs after them with a sharp pin. The toys are too nice, though, and when she cries they tell her to take the shoes off and even bandage her bumped head. Again she promises to be good in the future but can we really believe her?
AMELIA JANE AT THE SEA
Apparently not, as the next story opens with her threatening to throw sand over everyone and pour seawater down the golly’s neck. And indeed she does do both of those things. After she pushes the teddy bear into a rock pool she decides to wade out to a rock in the sea for a little rest. Unfortunately for her she falls asleep and the tide comes in, leaving her stranded. The toys have all gone home with the children too, so there’s no-one to hear her cries of distress. When the toys do realise what’s happened they immediately set out with a toy boat to rescue her. After that, she is a very well behaved doll for the rest of the holiday.
AMELIA JANE AND THE COWBOY DOLL
When she returns home, though, she goes back to her old ways. A cowboy doll comes to stay in the nursery for a while in Amelia Jane and the Cowboy Doll, and he’s a very wild sort of toy. Amelia Jane encourages him to lasso the other toys, and then gets him to teach her how to lasso as well much to the horror of the rest of the toys. She gets a bit of comeuppance when she accidentally lassos the tigers and bears, getting scratched in the process. That makes her behave for a little while, but when she sees some sweets on the mantle she tries to lasso them, and instead pulls a goldfish bowl of tadpoles down onto herself and the cowboy doll. She’s quite subdued after that nasty experience, even though it’s all her own fault!
AMELIA JANE AND THE PLASTICINE
After being good for a very long time – so long the golden-haired doll thought she was ill – Amelia Jane finds a box of plasticine in the cupboard. She’s very good at making things with it and secretly makes the teddy bear a long tail which at first he is very proud of. She then frightens him by turning it into a snake, and makes herself out to be a hero by ‘rescuing it for him’. Later, she throws a party and invites all the toys. But the chairs are all made of plasticine and so collapse as soon as they’re sat on, throwing the unfortunate toys to the floor. To get their own back, they fashion some black plasticine beetles to frighten her with, putting her off mischief for a little while.
STOP IT, AMELIA JANE!
Not too long, though, as soon a pop-gun comes to the nursery. Amelia Jane can’t resist firing the cork at the poor toys, until they are at their wit’s end. They come up with a very clever plan, though. They find an old toy gun that doesn’t fire, but when they pretend to shoot her they burst a balloon with an almighty bang. She really believes she has been shot, and promises not to shoot at them again. She even bandages up her “wounds” after!
AMELIA JANE AND THE CHIMNEY
Tiddles the kitten comes to visit the nursery and Amelia Jane tries to keep her all to herself, pushing away any toy who tries to get too close. She is rather silly and dresses Tiddles up in doll’s clothes, trapping her in the nursery. Tiddles is unsurprisingly upset by that and darts up the chimney. In the end Amelia Jane feels guilty and goes to rescue her, getting scratched by her claws in the process. Worse is to come, though, as the chimney sweep arrives and sweeps both Amelia Jane and the kitten right out onto the roof! Tiddles is fine, she climbs down easily but Amelia Jane falls into a holly bush.
AMELIA JANE AND THE SOAP
After behaving for a whole week, Amelia Jane wants to imitate some children she has seen on skates. The title of the story gives us a clue here, it is soap she uses to slither up and down the hallway, tied to her feet with ribbons. She gets carried away though, and is seen by Nanny. It’s dark though, and so Nanny blames the cat and punishes her. The cat then scratches Amelia Jane in retribution.
AMELIA JANE AND THE SNOW
In Amelia Jane and the Snow the toys all wrap up to go out to play. All except Amelia Jane that is, she just goes out in her black shoes and red dress to make lots of snowballs to throw at everyone else. The toys then build a lovely snow-house complete with a window made of ice. A rather chilly Amelia Jane takes over the little house, and foolishly lights a fire inside it. Of course the inevitable happens, the house melts away and soaks her to the skin and she ends up with a nasty cold afterwards!
AMELIA JANE GOES MAD
After being good for ‘simply ages’ Amelia Jane becomes naughtier than ever. She finds a toy watering-can and uses it to water the toys at every opportunity. She then splashes them with water from the sink, soaks a sponge in the goldfish bowl and uses that to dribble water over the toys. The toys decide that if she’s so fond of water she can get soaked herself and go after her with a soda-syphon.
AMELIA JANE AND THE MATCHES
In this final story she gets hold of a box of matches using a string lasso. She strikes a few matches, while the clockwork mouse watches in awe. The rest of the toys know how dangerous matches are so they steer well clear. The toys give Amelia Jane a talking to later, and decide to send her to Coventry. While they’re doing that, the clockwork mouse gets hold of the remaining matches and accidentally burns off his whiskers! He carelessly tosses the match away and sets fire to a book as well. Amelia Jane rushes to the rescue, patting out the fire with a blanket and then throwing water over it. The toys forgive her because of her bravery and tend to her burnt hands.
So there you have it, eleven lovely little stories. They all have the same sorts of message; that being cruel, unkind, careless or selfish has consequences. Amelia Jane always gets her comeuppance, whether it’s at the hands of the toys or because one of her plans goes badly wrong. Despite that the stories don’t feel repeated at all – there’s plenty of variety in the them, Blyton comes up with countless nasty tricks and silly pranks. There’s also plenty of variety in the way things happen, sometimes Amelia Jane is a bit of a bully, other times she’s just plain careless. Sometimes the toys deliberately set out to teach her a lesson and other times she is a victim of her own pranks.
My favourite stories are probably Naughty Amelia Jane, for the sheer naughtiness of the doll, and Amelia Jane and the Plasticine because the story is so inventive.
I actually miss my Dean edition, as I loved the Renee Cloke illustrations. I can picture them now; particularly the one of the toys falling off their plasticine chairs. Sylvia Venus’ illustrations are charming, and perhaps more ‘life like’ but as with so many things, it’s the familiar childhood things that you cherish.
The stories are prefect for younger children as they’re not too long but plenty of exciting and funny things happen in them. They do have strong morals but they’re not preachy at all. Very little time is wasted on explanations either; once you’ve read all the stories you’ll know the toys live in a nursery and belong to two children. You’ll figure out that they are just toys during the day, but when no-ones looking they are free to run around (in fact they play mostly at night when everyone’s in bed!)
There are two more collections of Amelia Jane stories published in Blyton’s lifetime (a third was published in 2001 but I don’t have that), so I will review them in due course!