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M E Atkinson

Mary Evelyn Atkinson was a prolific children’s writer, most active between the 1930s - 1950s.  She is best known for her Locketts series, which is a camping-and-tramping series featuring the Lockett family.  It ran to 14 titles.  The much shorter  Fricka series can just about be counted a pony series  - it is certainly not as pony-orientated as most.  Horseshoes and Handlebars, probably the easiest to find of her books, is more overtly pony-orientated.


M E Atkinson has not met with unqualified critical approval over the years.  Alison Haymonds, who has written numerous scholarly articles about the pony book genre, says “[she] produced indifferent pony stories, lured, perhaps, by the deceptive simplicity of the genre.”  (International Companion Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature, Pony Books).  M E Atkinson’s stories mostly, as did the majority of books of the time, featured middle class children.  Owen Dudley Edwards (British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War) said:  “Atkinson was openly anti-lower-class” (not it must be said, a trait she was alone in holding at the time.)  Of her Nest of the Scarecrow  he says: “We are invited to sneer at the much more hard working girl, her education, and even her grasp of religious beliefs, while admiring the utterly self-centred groups of privileged factionists dominating the story!”


Her Lockett series obviously does nothing for him: perhaps rather unfairly, he castigates her for ignoring the war:  “[the] slightly smug little Lockitts [qv] cycle their adventure-hungry way through England’s green lanes utterly indifferent either to wartime privations or to skyborne death.” Publishers were not necessarily eager to publish books which mentioned the war: Arthur Ransome said: “The evacuee story won’t do.  My publishers would have a fit. They say:  ‘Steer clear of the war at all costs.’” (quoted by Tig Thomas, A Rational Diet, Folly 53) and authors who may well have been immersed in it themselves, sometimes preferred to write about the world they hoped would exist after the World War. Josephine Pullein-Thompson, who was a telephone engineer during the war, wrote her first solo novel on the roof of the telephone exchange. ... I decided to leave the War out of the book. I was fifteen when it started, and after four years it began to look as though we would win and everything would change... So I tried to place Six Ponies in the future, but really it was set in the England of the 1930s.” (Interview, Jane Badger, 2007)


There is a glimmer of hope on the critical horizon:  in Where Texts and Children Meet, Eve Bearne and Victor Watson, talking of the  “camping and tramping” genre of children’s fiction, do give her a bit more credit:  her Lockett family books “rose above the limitations of the subject matter.”


I have only read two of her books (a Locketts and a Fricka) and must admit I was not gripped by either. In view of Owen Dudley Edward’s spitting loathing, I must try again, and see if  I too can be driven to fury by her; or whether I will find her what I suspect she was aiming at:  a comfortable escapist read.


Finding the books:  Horseshoes and Handlebars, Riders and Raids and Unexpected Adventure are easy to find in their CBC printings; a bit less so in the original.  Castaway Camp is very easy and cheap to find as a paperback: it’s expensive as a hardback.  Hunter’s Moon is reasonably easy to find as a CBC, but pricey as the original printing.  Where There’s a Will is expensive.  The trickiest is The Barnstormers: very difficult to find, and very expensive.


Links and Sources:

Alison Haymonds, Pony Books, in International Companion Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature
Owen Dudley Edwards: British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War
Eve Bearne & Victor Watson: Where Texts and Children Meet

Thanks to Ivan Tammas for help with the photographs.


Castaway Camp

Bodley Head, London, 1951, illus Charlotte Hough

Reprinted by the Children’s Book Club, 1952

Reprinted Dragon pb



Hunter’s Moon

Bodley Head, London, 1952, illus Charlotte Hough

Children’s Book Club, 1953


Many thanks to Lisa Catz for the photograph.


Adrian, Hugo, Sugar and Fricka are home again in Somerset.  Tony Martin comes into it too:  he has been
scared of ponies since he was frightened by one in an accident when he was small.  Despite this, he is
determined to be a good rider.

Unexpected Adventure

Bodley Head, London, 1955, illus Sheila Rose

Children’s Book Club, 1955


Fricka and the Frasers were planning to stay at a falling down old Manor House, but had to stay in the lodge

After the Manor was declared unsafe.  Their hostess is extraordinarily worried about her cats, and it turns out

that she has good cause to be.

Riders and Raids

Bodley Head, London, 1955, illus Sheila Rose

Children’s Book Club, 1956 (right)


The summer holiday is lengthened because of whooping cough.  Hugo is determined to

ride Topsy in the Munster Show, and Fricka is determined a meet will be held at

Comebdene, but first they have to convince the Master there actually are foxes at

Combedene.

Horseshoes and Handlebars

Bodley Head, London, 1958, illus Sheila Rose

Children’s Book Club, 1958, cover art Leslie Wood


Set in the Quantocks - a battle to find out which is best, horses or bicycles?  Three
of the children are for the horse, and two for the bicycle.

The Barnstormers

Bodley Head, London, 1953, illus Charlotte Hough


There is a rival theatrical company to Fricka and her cousins: and they have booked all the village halls,

and chosen the same play. Things work out in the end, after they find a horse and caravan, and get over

the rivalry with the other troupe.

Bibliography - pony books only

Steeple Folly

The Bodley Head, London, 1950


A Locketts family adventure.

Short stories


The Snob

Riding Magazine, October 1940, illus Cavesson


Fricka

Castaway Camp

Hunter’s Moon

The Barnstormers

Unexpected Adventure

Riders and Raids


Lockett


August Adventure

Mystery Manor

The Compass Points North

Smuggler’s Gap

Going Gangster

Crusoe Island

Challenge to Adventure

Monster of Widgeon Weir

Nest of the Scarecrow

Problem Party

Chimney Cottage

The House on the Moor

The Thirteenth Adventure

Steeple Folly