Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book Review: The Five Children and It

Title: The Five Children and It
Author: E. Nesbit
Release Date: 1902
Genre: children's literature, fantasy, adventure, family
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 4+ (good read aloud)

While on holiday in their country house, five siblings decide to go exploring the gravel pit (going to it by the safe route). There, they find It. It is a Psammead (say: Sammy-add), or a Sand-Fairy. The Sand-Fairy is crabby and old and looks sort of like a furry monkey with snail eyes. If It's appearance is not enough for you, perhaps the fact that It can grant wishes will catch your interest. Yes, It can give you anything you desire, but whatever you wish is, it will turn to stone (or disappear) at sunset.
The kids try all sorts of things. They try for fun, they try for good things for their mother, and a lot of the time their tendency to say "I wish such-and-such" in everyday speech gets them things they never really wanted.
And what if you accidentally wish that everyone wanted your little baby brother? Or to live in a besieged castle? What then?

Word of Warning
There is very little here to warn about, which is why it makes such a good read aloud book for the family. I will say that even when things appear to be dangerous and the children in the book are worried, the reader never has that moment of panic and "are they going to make it this time?!" that other books can supply. It's not urgent, not scary, and more of a fun romp that offers instead the question of, "how will they wiggle out of this one?"
  • The kids are normal siblings. They clearly love each other, but they don't always get along.
  • There is a rather disrespectful representation of Native Americans. Not inappropriate, but rude. The same can be said for a band of gypsies.
  • Speaking of rudeness, while the children never swear, they are not above tossing out an insulting comment now and then to each other.
  • Kidnapping.
  • The kids are not always big fans of having to bring their baby brother with them.
  • It has been proposed that the representation of girls and boys in this book is lopsided and slightly sexist. I honestly see it more as little children just being little children, but it does merit at least mentioning.
  • The narrator is different from our usual American children's literature. This can be challenging for the readers to handle sometimes.
  • The children never learn their lesson. It feels like they just might, but then they don't, and they wake up in the morning and repeat the whole ordeal all over again.

My Thoughts
 It's fun. It's British. It's cute. It's a romp.
There are no obvious lessons or morals (though some are debated). This is not a preaching book. It's really just a fun adventure with British children as they enjoy their summer home. This is a fast read, and one you probably do not want to miss out on, especially if you have the opportunity to read it aloud to a younger audience.

Fun Facts
  • E. Nesbit was a rather controversial figure and would be considered so even now, let alone during her own life time. She preferred to write adult fiction, but her children's fiction sold better. Strangely enough, she wasn't a big fan of children.
  • The book was published as a serial novel in The Strand. This might be why it feels so episodic, to the point where you could reorder the chapters and have very little difficulty understanding the story.
  • Over the years, this book has been offered numerous sequels from many different authors. It was a huge hit in England and has shaped many aspects of children's fiction for a very long time. C. S. Lewis writes about how she influenced his Narnia series. There are also many film adaptions.
  • Since its publication in 1902, it has never been out of print.
  • Nesbit also wrote the children's classics The Railway Children and The Treasure Seekers.

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