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The Water Babies

3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  4,614 ratings  ·  298 reviews
Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes ...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
I literally drop kicked this book into a bin.
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
Beautifully written morality tale. The adventures of young Tom the chimney sweep is a classic written in the 1860s. This is fast paced and filled with one memorable scene after another.
"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
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
Such a sweet fairy tale. I have owned it for years and never read it. While Reading Mother Carey's Chickens I now know why they reference Water Babies several times, she was inspired by Mother Carey and her "chickens" in this book! While the other book isn't a fairy tale, it is very sweet indeed. So glad I read it. It would make a good read aloud. There is much for children to learn from as all good fairy tales do.
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
This was not for me. Yes, I understand the importance of the book at time, how it was a satire on Darwin’s classic and the fact that it predates Alice in Wonderland did impress me when I compared their publication dates. But it just got on my nerves after about chapter three and from then on right until the end where, confronted with the most ridiculous last line in the history of literature, my patience gave way entirely.

So what irritated me? Well, the awful patronising tone of Kingsley the nar
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.
Tory Wagner
I remember reading this book when I was about 11 and my impression was a wonderful fairy tale about a boy who falls in a stream and becomes a "water baby". We used to play a game that I apparently made up that consisted of leaping over sidewalk squares the had a W on them (which I later discovered was a designation by the Water Dept.) so you wouldn't fall in and become a water baby! In this second reading, it is obvious that Kingsley was writing a satirical novel that poked fun at various politi ...more
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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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“The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see.” 67 likes
“Did not learned men, too, hold, till within the last twenty-five years, that a flying dragon was an impossible monster? And do we not now know that there are hundreds of them found fossil up and down the world? People call them Pterodactyles: but that is only because they are ashamed to call them flying dragons, after denying so long that flying dragons could exist.” 12 likes
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