Wishing is much harder than it seems
When I was 11 my grandfather gave me an old copy of E. Nesbit’s The Complete History of the Bastable Family. The book had been awarded to my Grandfather as a child at school, and had a small plaque in the front, with his name, and the date of the award
On the next page is a note, bequeathing the book to me.
As a child as enjoyed reading, and I particularly loved this book – perhaps in part because of the sentimental value it holds for me ― my grandfather was an enormous part of my life ― however I neglected to explore any more of E Nesbit’s work, until now.
Five Children and It ― E. Nesbit
Reading Five Children and It served as a trip back into my childhood more than anything else, so I shall keep this fairly short.
Written in 1902 Five Children and It tells the story of five children, who stumble upon a ‘Psammead’ [pronounced sammyad] or ‘Sand Fairy’ living in a quarry out the back of their new home in the country. The Psammead is a grouchy and cantankerous creature, able to grant the children one wish per day. When one of the children wishes to be ‘as beautiful as the day’ the children find themselves transformed, and are simultaneously overcome with joy at the prospect of all their wishes coming true.
However, as the story draws on the children find that having wishes is really a lot more trouble than it is worth. When wishing for money the children find themselves unexpectedly arrested, the power of flight leaves them stranded in the tower of a locked church, they are forced to defend their family from the attracts of savage Indians, and experience living in castle under siege.
Given the trouble they have experienced at the hands of the ‘wretched’ psammead, the children decide that they want no further wishes, and call upon the psammead to rectify the problems they’ve caused, on the condition that he never grants them another wish ever again. Relieved, the psammead confesses that granting wishes is both painful, and exhausting, and is overcome by emotion at the idea of being left to rest. The poor creature, suddenly portrayed in a much more flattering light, grants the final wish, before crawling into the sand to sleep.
A children’s book is always best when it has a little moral to go with it. In this case of course, the moral is that wishes can not really make you happy. The children already had a lot to be thankful for, and by using the psammead’s wishes they only served to make their own, and the psammead’s lives more difficult.
I think this is a really fantastic children’s book. Looking back on Nesbit’s writing I can really appreciate exactly for whom the book was written. The examples and expressions used in Nesbit’s work serve to appeal to a child’s senses, granted they are the children of her day more than anyone. However, I feel the language is able to transcend time barriers and still relate to children today. If we were to remove all the technology from the lives of children now, wouldn’t they still be able to appreciate a good game of Cowboys and Indians?
Overall I think ‘Five Children and It’ an adorable little story, written about children, for children. This is exactly the kind of story I would imagine a child listening to while sat on their grandfather’s knee.