Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Puffin Classics, 2008. ISBN 9780141321615
In this time of making New Year's resolutions, it's worthwhile revisiting this classic from 1902 with its strong message of 'Be careful what you wish for.'
Cyril (Squirrel), Anthea (Panther), Jane (Pussy), Robert and the baby (known as Lamb) move to a new house in the Kent countryside set between a chalk quarry and a gravel pit. As in all such stories, it is not long before their mother and father are out of the picture and the children are left in the care of Martha the maid who has much to do including caring for Lamb, and so the children are left to their own devices for the summer.
Exploring the gravel pit, they discover the Psammead, a sand-fairy of prehistoric times left stranded when the seas retreated. The Psammead's job is to grant wishes, one a day, and so the children take advantage of this. But after a couple of disasters when they wish themselves to be 'as beautiful as the day' and rich beyond dreams they learn that sometimes when wishes come true, they can lead you into a whole lot of trouble . . . Even wishing for wings is not as straightforward as it seems.
This is the original story from the author of The Railway Children and despite its rather pedantic manner and cautionary advice as the author inserts herself into the story, it is nevertheless an engaging read that will capture the imagination of those who are ready for a longer novel set in another time. The fact that this book remains in print and C.S. Lewis has credited Nesbit with influencing his series about Narnia is testament to its popularity and quality. It would also make a useful read-aloud as each chapter is self-contained.
Nesbit wrote two other books about the children - The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet - but it is their reappearance together with the Psammead in a new novel Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders that is revitalising interest in the original. But that is another review for another day. Right now, Miss 8 has been waiting for me to finish this one. She will be delighted I have.