Book review

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (1902)

Do you ever imagine what you would do if you were suddenly granted three magic wishes? How would you go about it? Would you plan your requests carefully or would your wishes just come tumbling out? Would you tell the grown-ups? Do you think you would be able to cope if something went unexpectedly wrong?

Well, this is quite an old story about old-fashioned children who go out to play one day in the old gravel pits and come across a sand fairy. At least, they call him a sand fairy. His proper name is a Psammead (pronounced Sammyadd) and he really is quite a find:

The children stood round the hole in a ring, looking at the creature they had found. It was worth looking at. Its eyes were on long horns like a snail's eyes, and it could move them in and out like telescopes; it had ears like a bat's ears, and its tubby body was shaped like a spider's and covered with thick soft fur; its legs and arms were furry too, and it had hands and feet like a monkey's.

Obviously, he isn't very beautiful and nor is he very good-tempered. And although he does obligingly grant the children's wishes, things do always seem to go a bit wrong, until the children begin to suspect that the Psammead himself is deliberately being awkward.

If you want to know exactly what happens and how, for instance, they manage to fight off an attack by Red Indians who are after their scalps, you'll have to read the book. And if you do read the book you'll meet E. Nesbit who talks to you quite a lot as you read along:

Grown-up people find it very difficult to believe really wonderful things, unless they have what they call proof. But children will believe almost anything, and grown-ups know this. That is why they tell you that the earth is round like an orange, when you can see perfectly well that it is flat and lumpy; and why they say that the earth goes round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun as it is, and the earth knows its place, and lies as still as a mouse. Yet I daresay you believe all that about the earth and the sun, and if so you will find it quite easy to believe that before Anthea and Cyril and the others had been a week in the country they had found a fairy.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy this book, the Psammead turns up again in

  • The Story of the Amulet

and E. Nesbit has written plenty of other books, including:

  • The Phoenix and the Carpet

E Nesbit has a rather old-fashioned style. If you like the idea of dreams coming true, and don't mind a modern style, have a look at this one by Peter Carey:

I think you might really enjoy any books by Odo Hirsch:

  • Hazel Green
  • Antonio S and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman
  • Bartlett and the Ice Voyage
  • Bartlett and the City of Flames

John Masefield has written a lovely story and sequel which might interest you:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Five Children and It features in these lists: