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The Water Babies

3.35 of 5 stars 3.35  ·  rating details  ·  4,216 ratings  ·  274 reviews
The story follows Tom in his land-life as a climbing boy for a chimney-sweep and in his after-life as a water-baby, where he gains redemption from selfishness as well as from drudgery. On to his fantasy Kingsley grafts a series of digressions and comic asides, through which he comments on a range of contemporary issues.
Paperback, 214 pages
Published December 5th 1994 by Wordsworth Editions (first published 1863)
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I have no idea what edition I read as a child, but I do know that I harbor huge nostalgia about the book's weird adventures and pen and ink illustrations. Every time I see the title at a used book sale, I reflect on my childhood.

Now as an adult, having read Goodreads reviews, I wonder what I would think of it. The implied tone of bigotry and morialist snake oil makes me pause about my rating.

For now it gets my best. When I re-read it, I will likely be angry and ashamed!

ETA: What I believe was de
I know this book is pretty controversial, but I enjoyed it in spite of that. As accepted during that time in history, there is definitely some prejudice against other races and nationalities, especially the Irish. The Englishman rules and all others are inferior. But, I just took this as British pride... of course, and Englishman would think his nationality is the best, back in the day. Also, if you aren't Christian, then you are a heathen. No news here, either. However, I was amazed at Kingsley ...more
Mike Horne
Wow, that was bad! In college I went through a Charles Kingsley phase (Westward Ho, Hypatia, Alton Locke). I remember reading this and thinking it was good. Probably the most wrong opinion I have ever held. The tone is so smarmy, you just want to slap the author (who is rabidly anti-irish). Here is probably the best quote of the book-which gives you a taste--

"Now you may fancy that Tom was quite good, when he had everything that he could want or wish: but you would be very much mistaken. Being q
Feb 09, 2012 Cheryl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cheryl by: Debra and Almeta
I liked this quite a bit better than I expected to. There were plenty of clever bits. Nowadays it's unlikely children will get much out of it, unless an adult reads aloud to them, and they share information about the allusions. For example, I needed to do research to find that the "wise man" who wrote the poem with the line "trailing clouds of glory" was William Wordsworth.

But here's a sample - make of this what you will:
".... And that is the story of the Mayor of Plymouth, which has two advanta
Humphrey Carpenter's "Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature" sounds like something I ought to have read. The period it describes runs from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, placing The Water-Babies right near its start and certainly an influence on everything from "Alice In Wonderland", a few years later, to "Peter Pan". It is also one of those children's books which contains "much that is unintelligible to children", as one reviewer put it; Kingsley was an Ang ...more
Adam Floridia
In this book, the reader gets to accompany young Tom on a fantastic journey. As the journey progresses, the book gets worse.

First fifty pages or so: 4-5 stars. I'm enjoying this for what it is--a fairy tale ostensibly for children. There's a little chimney sweep, the aforementioned Tom, who works for a cruel master. He encounters a beautiful--and clean--young lady but due to a misunderstanding is chased off her property.

Next fifty or so pages: 3 stars. Okay, so this has taken an odd turn and see
This is a book that I tried to read many times as a child but could never get through the first chapter. Seeing it on the shelf while visiting my parents I was determined to give it another shot. Although I got through it, to be honest it really wasn't worth it.

Tom is a young chimney sweep who, through a series of improbable events, becomes a water-baby and goes thorough all sorts of adventures, all of which have morals to teach, before becoming a creature of the land again, as a grown man. It i
Last line: "But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence: and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true."

THE WATER BABIES by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, a Victorian era children's novel first published in book form in England in 1863, achieved a level of popularity for decades in its day that spurred me as an adult to read it a hundred and fifty years later.

Although it occupied a familiar place in British ch
Why must you torture the children, Charles?

When I read that Charles Kingsley and Charles Darwin had been friends, I was so disappointed. Why? Why didn't dear Mr. D pull aside Mr. K and gently offer a sort of "I say old boy! This is bananas!" You know. Like they do. Or should have.

I started listening to a librivox recording while I was painting the room that is to become my new office-library. I had read about this author and had seen the title and knew, vaguely, that Mr. K was writing at about t
David Gregg
Summary: The audiobook narration is truly one of the finest that can be found -- really superb. The book itself is particularly good, and educational, though some caveats must be made.

The Book: Just absolutely delightful! Keenly imaginative, clever, and funny. Interwoven naturally with charming little lessons (which don't feel like lessons) about wildlife, biology, even geology and meteorology. Really very excellent morals throughout the whole tale. Keep Wikipedia and Google near at hand in orde
"The Water Babies" is a novel by Reverend Charles Kingsley written in 1862–63 as a serial for Macmillan's Magazine. It was first published in its entirety in 1863. I never heard of the book or the author until it showed up on a list of classics a few years ago, so when I came across it in a used book store, I bought it. I knew nothing about it when I started reading, there was nothing on the back cover, no introduction, so I just opened the book and started reading. The first lines of the book t ...more
Jun 14, 2009 Alanna rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one
Had this book been more than 150 pages (in my copy), I would not have finished it. But since it was so short, I saw it through to the end.
I completely dislike the book in every way. The narrator/storyteller seemed to be a bit full of himself to be honest! I got the impression that he thought none of the characters were as wise and as knowledgeable as he. And I believe every character was called stupid or ugly at some point. Some were called both.

It was an easy read, but the story seemed to be a
Miss Sweet
When I first got my hands on this book, I was shocked at the length and small type - 330 pages with some illustrations dropped in here and there. I definitely didn't expect a children's book from 1863 to be that long. But, then again, I can't be certain if that's normal for that time period.

Basically, The Water Babies is a fairy tale about a young chimney sweep by the name of Tom, who drowns in a river (though the book avoids saying Tom died), and becomes a Water Baby. And once Tom becomes a Wat
written 1862-1863.

Reading this once was enough. Future self, if you ever forget what reading it was like and consider giving it another go? Don't.

A young chimney sweep, who is mistreated by his master accidentally frightens a young girl in the house they are working in. He runs off, fearing he'll be in trouble, and ends up drowning.

I enjoyed it up until this point. It was apparently meant to be a lesson on, amongst other things, child labor and the treatment of the boy by his master would be a
D.M. Dutcher
Wow, this is horrible.

Tom, a chimney-sweep under the drunk, foul-tempered Mr. Grimes, one day goes with him to do a job at the local lord's manor. He by mistake enters the room of a young girl, who is startled by his soot-covered appearance, and raises a fuss. Everyone chases him, and he flees only to die ("changed by a fairy") and be transformed into a water-baby. He then has to become a real man again.

It's just a mess of a book. Apparently, daughters of rich people are naturally perfect and be
I read an abridged version of this as a child and loved it. After the recent coverage of the full book on BBC radio 4, I decided to read it. I enjoyed reading this again, and was intrigued to see the various metaphors Kingsley uses, which would have gone over my head as a child. There is a strong religious and moral undertone, which can feel like you are being preached to. It is also particularly politically incorrect with many negative references to other cultures (particularly the Irish). Howe ...more
The Water-Babies first appeared in book form in May 1863, exactly a century-and-a-half ago. Though I was probably aware of it when younger, I must have read it for myself pretty much a half-century ago in one of those cheap Dent’s children’s classics editions. A decade later I was re-reading it and taking notes, spurred on by the challenge Kingsley issues in his dedication:
Come read me my riddle, each good little man:
If you cannot read it, no grown-up folk can.

Of course, The Water-Babies was wr
It's like a terrible 19th-century version of The Phantom Tollbooth. Smarmy, racist, didactic, and everything that was crappy about Victorian attitudes, all rolled up into one boring, overlong waste of time.

Feel offended that goodreads recommended this to me. I deserve better.
This is one of thoose books that as a child, i loved. I can`t quite remember why, but there was something magical about it that sparked the interest of little me.
However i re-read it a few weeks ago and it was so diffrent from what i remember. The book was packed full hiden hate towards the child labour of the time AND i mean theres just something sad about the book all together. When reading it, its hard to forget that the boy is dead throughout the story.

I feel like grabbing and shaking King
I found this title in the "1001 books to read" list and thought it sounded interesting. I had never heard of it. The "1001 books" book says that this is often "mistaken as a children's book" but it is definitely portrayed as one. It is viewed as kind of a precurser to the Alice in Wonderland books that were published 2yrs. later. The first, I guess, of this kind of book where a fairy tale for children (362 pages worth) also makes satirical points on social conditions for adults. Anyway, I enjoye ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I read somewhere, I don't remember when, that chimney sweeps (those who go inside chimneys to clean them, usually small boys) would often die of cancer due to their over-exposure to soot and poor ventilation/dirty air inside chimneys.

The principal protagonist here is a 10-year-old boy, a chimney sweep who is being maltreated by his master. He turns into a baby who lives in water (a water-baby) because of a kind-hearted fairy. He has all sorts of adventures up to the story's happy ending (he even
Well that was a difficult read, perhaps I shouldn't go back and re-read books I loved as a kid...

I've always had a sentimental feel about this book, which I must've read when I was about 12, so I was quite looking forward to reading it again. Sadly, although the general story is quite a lovely one, the story constantly wanders off at a tangent. I must have skimmed a good fifth of the book, just so that I didn't end up completely confused about what was going on with the storyline!

I've given The
Children's books have always been something that I collected for the artwork, or if the story was particularly memorable for me from my childhood. This book was picked up because it is illustrated by Anne Grahame Johnstone. She and her sister illustrated some of my favorite books from when I was little; the gracefulness of the lines and the colors they used have always struck me as superb and something to try for in my own art. So, while the story by Kingsley is wonderful in and of itself, you s ...more
Elizabeth Moffat
The Water Babies is a classic children's story I have never read until now, although I have vague memories of watching the film, which I have to say was a lot better. There are some beautiful moments of poetry and song in this book, but overall I felt it was a little too busy and didn't hold my attention.

Please see my full review at
What a strange book. It is very obviously full of the prejudices and ideas of the full-blown colonial Britain of it's time- so yes, I agree with the 'oh my god really!!!!!' reviews. It definitely reflects it's time, yet it's strangely subversive too.

As a children's book- a very crazy book. It has a strange rambling quality to it. You completely hear the old man's voice telling his tall, tall tales to his young boy audience. Bits of it reminded me of Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree. She'd re
Eleanor Toland
Like much Victorian juvenile fiction, "The Water Babies" is a playful fantasy for young readers which at its heart is largely about dead children.

The main character is Tom, a young chimney sweep who lives an utterly horrible life. He runs away after being falsely accused of theft, then proceeds to drown in a river and wake up in one of the strangest versions of purgatory depicted in fiction. He turns into a "Water Baby", apparently a small child with fins, and must experience a series of tests,
I didn't really like this book, The thing that kept me going was the writing style. The story line was unclear at times because of the narrator going off about random things. I heard that this book was influential in outlawing child-chimney sweeps. . . So that is good. . . I guess.
The book's style was a little confusing and drifted off from the main narrative a few times. Otherwise it was an interesting read. As someone who is of Irish descent, I was somewhat offended by the anti-Irish sentiment in parts of the book, but maybe having the Irish woman being the one to chastise Grimes balanced it out. The story is highly imaginative, and probably could still be widely read if the certain parts could be edited out as to not offend. But then again tampering with something in t ...more
Thank heavens children's books have moved beyond this type of writing. It's full of preaching, prejudice, and just plain stupid stories. Not for anyone.
The blueprint of children's literature.

I can't wait to read this to my children, when I have a family.
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Charles Kingsley was an English clergyman, university professor, historian, and novelist, particularly associated with the West Country and north-east Hampshire.

He was educated at Helston Grammar School before studying at King's College London, and the University of Cambridge. Charles entered Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1838, and graduated in 1842. He chose to pursue a ministry in the church.

More about Charles Kingsley...
The Heroes, or, Greek Fairy Tales for My Children  Westward Ho! or, the Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight, of Burrough Hypatia Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: An Autobiography Hereward, the Last of the English

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