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E. Nesbit: Five Children and It

06 May 2014 · No Comments

I learned about E. Nesbit and Five Children and It from Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, which predisposed me to wonder if the reason I didn’t know Nesbit’s name while I did know the names Baum, Barrie, Lofting, Grahame, etc. was rooted in sexism. (Then again, I did know the names Travers and Norton.) After reading it, I’m a bit less inclined to cry foul — Nesbit’s book is just a little more rooted in its time, place, and class structure than its peers/approximate contemporaries. Although it undercuts several racial/cultural stereotypes it also gives them a lot of airtime, and in unexpurgated form it has some language that’s no longer appropriate in a children’s book. It all adds up to a book that’s less than welcoming to a modern young audience without either some judicious editing or some careful context setting. That’s a shame, because Five Children and It has quite a lot going for it. There’s a quite unusual magical critter, the menace of which is only gradually revealed. This oddly and intriguingly juxtaposes with a series of comic wish-gone-wrong episodes. Nesbit’s voice is drily witty, and she’s quite careful to narrate from the perspective of her young protagonists. (And really, we make a lot of historical allowances for all those other books, too.)

Tags: children's · f-title · fantasy · n-author

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