This is the fifth of Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons" tales, although, in fact, it features not a single member of either the Swallows or the Amazons. Nor, indeed, is it set anywhere near the English Lake District. Instead, it describes the Norfolk Broads boating adventures of the two D's (first introduced to the reader in the previous book, "Winter Holiday").
The tale is set in the children's Easter holidays, just a few months after the events of the preceding book. In it, Dick and Dorothea are anxious to learn the rudiments of sailing so that they can take a more active part in the fun when they next meet up with the Swallows and Amazons. Dick is also keen to do some bird watching. It is almost inevitable, therefore, that soon after arriving in Norfolk, they find therefore themselves tangled in up in (and helping out with) the troubles of the Coot Club - a group of local (boat-mad) children dedicated to the protection of the Broads' unique bird population.
Ransome loved the Norfolk Broads with a passion that possibly even exceeded his love of the Lake District. In this book, he paints a portrait of Norfolk, its waterways and the people who live on or by them, making plain his love for this unique environment and its way of life. The story centres on his concerns over their continuing destruction through ever-increasing tourism (and the increasingly thoughtless actions of its visitors), a major problem even 65 years ago. (It is far worse now, of course!) Unlike his Lake District stories, this one uses the real names of the places that feature in it and revels in describing them. Indeed, the book reads almost like a guidebook at times, although you barely notice this, for it is never anything less that engaging in its content. As always, Ransome combines both narrative and instructive content with consummate ease, tempered here with an excitement to the events that unfold. He weaves a tale that is as enthralling and captivating as ever, that will appeal to lovers of good tales whatever their age. The author's own pen-and-ink drawings are as charming as ever, too.
This is one of the few Swallows and Amazons books that can be read earlier in the sequence than it appears (if you really must) without major detriment to either itself or the earlier stories (except, perhaps "Winter Holiday"). You do need to have read it before most of the ones that follow it, however, as the events described here feature heavily in later ones.