Quentin Blake: Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

This month we are very honoured that Sir Quentin Blake has recommended our Book of the Month. He has chosen E.Nesbit’s classic children’s book Five Children and It. Here’s what he said:

“Somehow or other I failed to read the celebrated children’s books like Alice or Wind in the Willows until I was no longer a child, though I think I enjoyed them no less for that. It was the same with the books of E. Nesbit, though I was very much older before I settled down to read her works. When as part of my two-year venture as the first Children’s Laureate I put together a book (Laureate’s Party) about fifty favourite children’s books I included Five Children and It, and in 2008 I was invited both to draw the Psammead and write an introduction to the Puffin Classics edition. ”

“E. Nesbit belongs with those writers of children’s books (you will easily think of others) who are successful because of their skills as storytellers.  Indeed, she was one of the first.  She speaks to the reader, and it’s almost as though you can hear her voice.  She doesn’t mind making observations that could only come from an adult, but she respects her readers, and she is not bossy.   I suspect that the main purpose of many books written in the nineteenth century was to improve their young readers; with E. Nesbit, by contrast, you feel that she was eager to tell you something interesting and entertaining.

 “The idea of people making wishes, and how they may go wrong or turn out not to be what was expected, isn’t a new one – it comes in folk tales and fairy tales.  But when our storyteller had to supply a fairy to grant the wishes, she had the brilliant idea of inventing the Psammead (with its authentic-sounding Greek name), who is almost the opposite of what you would expect of a benevolent fairy.  He’s bizarre in appearance, really very like a temperamental and difficult adult; the children have to learn how to humour him and there’s a sort of special zest in the wishes being granted grudgingly.

“Once given the opportunity of wishes, E.Nesbit is very good at imagining remarkable things that might happen.  Suppose … suppose we were as beautiful as the day; suppose we had wings; suppose our brother was huge; suppose …. And, I can’t help noticing that what I find additionally attractive is that, for instance, when they go back in time to some not-very-well-specified earlier period, it’s in terms of the books they  have read.  It’s almost as though they were imagining it all themselves.”


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