Friday, March 28, 2014

Reread #13 Five Children and It

Five Children and It. E. Nesbit. 1902/2004. Puffin Classics. 240 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

 The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, 'Aren't we nearly there?' And every time they passed a house, which was not very often, they all said, 'Oh, is this it?' But it never was, till they reached the very top of the hill, just past the chalk-quarry and before you come to the gravel-pit. And then there was a white house with a green garden and an orchard beyond, and mother said, 'Here we are!'

I have now read Five Children and It three times. It's a children's book that I love and adore. It is not the fact that it is absolutely perfect, that it is flawless. It was very much written in 1902. There will be situations and/or sentences that reflect the times in which they were written, and not our times. In Five Children and It, I'm referring to the chapter on the children "playing Indian" and warring with a "Red Indian" tribe who wants to scalp them and eat them. But. In spite of its flaws, in spite of the fact that its dated, I really do enjoy spending time with Robert, Cyril, Anthea, Jane, and Lamb.

Four children 'discover' a Sand Fairy (Psammead) one summer day. They learn that he can begrudgingly grant wishes. They have a wish per day, sometimes if they get into BIG trouble, he'll allow an extra wish or two. Do these children get into big trouble with their wishes?! Of course!!! Their wishes always have HORRIBLE consequences. They try and try to be smart and clever about their wishing, but some things can't be helped!

Favorite quotes:
Grown-up people find it very difficult to believe really wonderful things, unless they have what they call proof. But children will believe almost anything, and grown-ups know this. That is why they tell you that the earth is round like an orange, when you can see perfectly well that it is flat and lumpy; and why they say that the earth goes round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun as it is, and the earth knows its place, and lies as still as a mouse. Yet I daresay you believe all that about the earth and the sun, and if so you will find it quite easy to believe that before Anthea and Cyril and the others had been a week in the country they had found a fairy. At least they called it that, because that was what it called itself; and of course it knew best, but it was not at all like any fairy you ever saw or heard of or read about.
Each of the children carried its own spade, and took it in turns to carry the Lamb. He was the baby, and they called him that because “Baa” was the first thing he ever said. They called Anthea “Panther,” which seems silly when you read it, but when you say it it sounds a little like her name.
“You don’t know?” it said. “Well, I knew the world had changed — but — well, really — Do you mean to tell me seriously you don’t know a Psammead when you see one?” “A Sammyadd? That’s Greek to me.” “So it is to everyone,” said the creature sharply. “Well, in plain English, then, a Sand-fairy. Don’t you know a Sand-fairy when you see one?” It looked so grieved and hurt that Jane hastened to say, “Of course I see you are, now. It’s quite plain now one comes to look at you.” “You came to look at me, several sentences ago,” it said crossly, beginning to curl up again in the sand. “Oh — don’t go away again! Do talk some more,” Robert cried. “I didn’t know you were a Sand-fairy, but I knew directly I saw you that you were much the wonderfullest thing I’d ever seen.” The Sand-fairy seemed a shade less disagreeable after this.
It is wonderful how quickly you get used to things, even the most astonishing. Five minutes before, the children had had no more idea than you had that there was such a thing as a Sand-fairy in the world, and now they were talking to it as though they had known it all their lives.
We Sand-fairies used to live on the seashore, and the children used to come with their little flint-spades and flint-pails and make castles for us to live in. That’s thousands of years ago, but I hear that children still build castles on the sand. It’s difficult to break yourself of a habit.
I daresay you have often thought what you would do if you had three wishes given you, and have despised the old man and his wife in the black-pudding story, and felt certain that if you had the chance you could think of three really useful wishes without a moment’s hesitation. These children had often talked this matter over, but, now the chance had suddenly come to them, they could not make up their minds. “Quick,” said the Sand-fairy crossly. No one could think of anything, only Anthea did manage to remember a private wish of her own and Jane’s which they had never told the boys. She knew the boys would not care about it — but still it was better than nothing. “I wish we were all as beautiful as the day,” she said in a great hurry. The children looked at each other, but each could see that the others were not any better-looking than usual. The Psammead pushed out his long eyes, and seemed to be holding its breath and swelling itself out till it was twice as fat and furry as before. Suddenly it let its breath go in a long sigh. “I’m really afraid I can’t manage it,” it said apologetically; “I must be out of practice.” The children were horribly disappointed. “Oh, do try again!” they said. “Well,” said the Sand-fairy, “the fact is, I was keeping back a little strength to give the rest of you your wishes with. If you’ll be contented with one wish a day among the lot of you I daresay I can screw myself up to it. Do you agree to that?” “Yes, oh yes!” said Jane and Anthea. The boys nodded. They did not believe the Sand-fairy could do it. You can always make girls believe things much easier than you can boys.

“Humph!” said the Sand-fairy. (If you read this story aloud, please pronounce “humph” exactly as it is spelt, for that is how he said it.)
And that, my dear children, is the moral of this chapter. I did not mean it to have a moral, but morals are nasty forward beings, and will keep putting in their oars where they are not wanted. And since the moral has crept in, quite against my wishes, you might as well think of it next time you feel piggy yourself and want to get rid of any of your brothers and sisters. I hope this doesn’t often happen, but I daresay it has happened sometimes, even to you!
It was a long day, and it was not till the afternoon that all the children suddenly decided to write letters to their mother.
“Darling Mother, — I hope you are quite well, and I hope Granny is better. The other day we....” Then came a flood of ink, and at the bottom these words in pencil — “It was not me upset the ink, but it took such a time clearing up, so no more as it is post-time. — From your loving daughter “Anthea.”
Robert’s letter had not even been begun. He had been drawing a ship on the blotting paper while he was trying to think of what to say. And of course after the ink was upset he had to help Anthea to clean out her desk, and he promised to make her another secret drawer, better than the other. And she said, “Well, make it now.” So it was post-time and his letter wasn’t done. And the secret drawer wasn’t done either.
Cyril wrote a long letter, very fast, and then went to set a trap for slugs that he had read about in the Home-made Gardener, and when it was post-time the letter could not be found, and it was never found. Perhaps the slugs ate it.
Jane’s letter was the only one that went. She meant to tell her mother all about the Psammead, — in fact they had all meant to do this, — but she spent so long thinking how to spell the word that there was no time to tell the story properly, and it is useless to tell a story unless you do tell it properly, so she had to be contented with this — “My dear Mother Dear, — We are all as good as we can, like you told us to, and the Lamb has a little cold, but Martha says it is nothing, only he upset the gold-fish into himself yesterday morning. When we were up at the sand-pit the other day we went round by the safe way where carts go, and we found a” — Half an hour went by before Jane felt quite sure that they could none of them spell Psammead. And they could not find it in the dictionary either, though they looked. Then Jane hastily finished her letter — “We found a strange thing, but it is nearly post-time, so no more at present from your little girl, “Jane. “P.S. — If you could have a wish come true what would you have?”
Anthea woke at five. She had made herself wake, and I must tell you how it is done, even if it keeps you waiting for the story to go on. You get into bed at night, and lie down quite flat on your little back, with your hands straight down by your sides. Then you say “I must wake up at five” (or six, or seven, or eight, or nine, or whatever the time is that you want), and as you say it you push your chin down on your chest and then whack your head back on the pillow. And you do this as many times as there are ones in the time you want to wake up at. (It is quite an easy sum.) Of course everything depends on your really wanting to get up at five (or six, or seven, or eight, or nine); if you don’t really want to, it’s all of no use. But if you do — well, try it and see. Of course in this, as in doing Latin proses or getting into mischief, practice makes perfect. Anthea was quite perfect.
“I was always generous from a child,” said the Sand-fairy. “I’ve spent the whole of my waking hours in giving. But one thing I won’t give — that’s advice.” “Child,” said the Sand-fairy sleepily, “I can only advise you to think before you speak” — “But I thought you never gave advice.” “That piece doesn’t count,” it said. “You’ll never take it! Besides, it’s not original. It’s in all the copy-books.”

Anthea was late for breakfast. It was Robert who quietly poured a spoonful of molasses down the Lamb’s frock, so that he had to be taken away and washed thoroughly directly after breakfast. And it was of course a very naughty thing to do; yet it served two purposes — it delighted the Lamb, who loved above all things to be completely sticky, and it engaged Martha’s attention so that the others could slip away to the sand-pit without the Lamb.
First review August 2009.
Second review  August 2011
Movie review July 2011
Cover talk July 2011

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


JoanneMarie Faust said...

I have yet to read this book, although it's been on my TBR list forever! I must move it closer to the top. Thanks for sharing your love of it!

Lynn said...

I really must read this - it's a lovely story and you've reread it three times so that tells a tale of it's own!
Lynn :D

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

This is such a lovely book! Not perfect, as you say (though I like to think the "Red Indians" are magical creations based from the children's own skewed concept, which helps a little...) but it's a product of its time in good ways and bad.
I've read the next two books as well, never quite as good but still a lot of fun.