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Five Children and It

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(1902)

I love this book. We studied it for a Sophomore English paper this year, and it was the first time I have read it. A heart-warming tale about an imaginary creature called the Psammead - a cross between a spider and a monkey, who has the power to grant wishes - however, with a twist. If you wish for something, you certainly get it, but it is not at all what you expected. The wishes the children get are corruptible - for example, when they wish their brother was bigger than the baker's boy, a bully, he grows to be eleven feet tall. However, all the Psammead says is, "It would do him good to be the wrong size for a bit." The children almost invariably end up in some sort of trouble with authority figures as a result of their wish - for example, when Martha scolds them, "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I thought you couldn't last through the day without getting up to some doggery!" or even, in one chapter, the grown-up Lamb, "Since you seem all to be as mad as the whole worshipful company of hatters, I suppose I had better take you home. But you're not to suppose I shall pass this over." By giving the adults, including the Lamb, authority over the children, she is relating to her audience by reminding them of their own ordinary lives, and reminding them that the children in this book, too, must be answerable to the consequences of their actions.


The five children, named Cyril, Robert, Anthea, Jane and Hilary (nicknamed Lamb), are loosely based around the author's own children. Nesbit sends them on many misadventures throughout the book, and relates closely to her child readers the whole time, "I feel that I could go on and make this a very interesting story about all the ordinary things that the children did - just the kind of things you do yourself, you know - and you would believe every word of it; and when I told about the children's being tiresome, as you are sometimes, your aunts would perhaps write in the margin, 'How true!' or 'How like life!'" By suggesting that the children's grown-up relatives are boring, and cannot see the point of the fun things children do, she is suggesting she is not like most grown-ups, and is writing a story that the children will be able to relate to, and find intersting. The Psammead corrupts their wishes, not just for the sake of having fun, but because they wish selfishly, "Why can't you wish for something to eat or drink, or good manners?" Because they always wish selfishly and never think about the consequences of their actions, he always makes sure to teach them a lesson. For example, when Anthea wishes to be as beautiful as the day, none of the servants recognise them and they are shut out of the house. They are also taken to the police station when they are caught with pockets full of what is presumed to be stolen gold. However, when their selfish wishing impacts on their family, they have to begin to wish for things other than for themselves. "First, I wish Lady Chittenham may find she's never lost her jewels." In this way, they realise that family is far more important than having wealth, beauty or fun.--Submitted by Marion Wilson.


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