Friday, 16 November 2012

Five Children and It (E Nesbit)

--The blurb--
"When Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and their baby brother go digging in the gravel pit, the last thing they expect to find is a Psammead – an ancient Sand-fairy! Having a Sand-fairy for a pet means having one wish granted each day. But the children don't realize all the trouble wishes can cause . . ."

--The review--
With books more easily available than ever before, and a lack of exposure to the classics in school, it can be argued that young people are reading children's classics less and less. However, rereading Five Children And It as an adult reveals plenty of reasons to keep children reading the golden oldies.

This is not to say that there are not aspects of these stories that adults of today may find questionable. The fact of Five Children and It being written in 1902 means that it contains some spurious reasoning, and the class bias of its author at this point in time seems to reflect a dying breed, with not many children in twenty-first century Britain being able to identify with the protagonists' social class or living situation. However, plenty of children's books today also have a class bias, with Jacqueline Wilson being perhaps the most notorious.

Nonetheless, the curiosity shared by almost all children will never date, and the sense of delight in these tales is instant (in spite of the nicknames given to the children that may seem silly to adults: 'Pussy' for Jane? Really?). Nesbit is drily humorous and packs the stories with creative imaginings of how fossils came to be, combining this with moralism as she points out the pitfalls of getting what we want. Teaching children that actions have consequences can be no bad thing, and Nesbit mixes entertainment and didacticism perfectly. While occasionally too rambling, the chapters are ultimately short, strong and readable, enabling them to be read as separate stories or part of a cohesive whole.

With the stories being 110 years old this year, parents and teachers could be forgiven for feeling that these at times less-than-politically-correct narratives are not relevant to today's children. However, they at the very least paint a picture of an age gone by - and at their best, do not fail to capture the mind with their magic.

other works by E Nesbit
The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899)
The Wouldbegoods (1901)
The New Treasure Seekers (1904)
The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904)
The Story of the Amulet (1906)
The Railway Children (1906)
The Enchanted Castle (1907)
The House of Arden (1908)
Harding's Luck (1909)
The Magic Castle (1910)
The Wonderful Garden (1911)
Wet Magic (1913)

*Nesbit also published 11 novels for adults (1885-1922), as well as several short story and poetry collections for children and adults.

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