Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Puffin Classics • $4.99 • ISBN 9780141321615
originally published in 1902
One thing I love about e-readers is the ability to have 1000s of books at my fingertips through Project Gutenberg. This has led me to revisit many childhood favorites—most recently the British novelist E. Nesbit, who has influenced writers from C.S. Lewis and Edward Eager to Laurel Snyder and A.S. Byatt.
Nesbit wrote several books, but the trilogy I obsessed over as a child of 7 or so began with Five Children and It. This story of siblings who find a sand fairy (aka "Psammead") who can grant wishes over their summer at the seaside is pure magic. As an older sister, I identified with the responsible Anthea and found the sibling dynamics more than believable. I loved the idea of discovering something magical and was equally fascinated by Nesbit's narrative asides, most memorably this explanation of how Anthea is able to wake up early in the morning in the days before alarm clocks (I tried it as a kid--and it worked):
Anthea awoke 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 to your chest and then bang 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.
And, of course, the tantalizing final lines of the story (pick up The Story of the Amulet, readers!):
They did see it [the Psammaed] again, of course, but not in this story. And it was not in a sand-pit either, but in a very, very, very different place. It was in a -- But I must say no more.
Note: I have not seen the film version and disapprove of the way they made the Psammead look like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas (although I do approve of the choice of Eddie Izzard as his voice!).
What childhood favorite would you like to revisit? What are you reading today?