Book review: Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Five Children and It
Five Children and It

This was something of an unexpected delight. Rather shamefully I’d not read any of E. Nesbit’s stories before. One of the penalties (and freedoms) in growing up the bibliophile son of immigrants is that you don’t receive, along with jam sandwiches and jelly, a long list of children’s books your parents had grown up with; I was left free to wander (and wonder) my way round the old Archway library (not the one that now exists, when I was young there was a branch in Giesbach Road and, showing where my infant priorities lay, I still remember the name of the librarian, Miss Chamberlain, all these years later, whereas I’ve forgotten the names of all my teachers from that time), making my own way through the paths and thickets of children’s literature.

So, left to my own devices, I missed much that would have been considered worthy and read much that has since been forgotten (anyone else remember Hugh Walters’ series of SF books beginning with Blast-Off at Woomera?). E. Nesbit was definitely in the worthy category but, rather like Dickens, as a grown-up I realise she was unfairly placed alongside the heavily moralistic Victorian authors. Five Children and It is completely lacking in the heavy prose and point making that I feared; instead, it is delightfully light – in its own way, near as perfect a souffle as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The interplay between the four children, arguing and bickering their way through the story, and the inveterately grumpy Psammead, is wonderfully done, and the mishaps that befall the children after their daily dose of wish fulfillment, courtesy of the grumpy Psammead, are wonderful variations on the them of being careful what you wish for. So, I suppose, there is an underlying moralism to it, but as it’s so lightly wrapped, I swallowed it all down with a broad smile upon my face.


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