Nesbit is the great-grandma of pretty nearly all the children's fantasy books we love, the first author to write really wittily for kids and without cNesbit is the great-grandma of pretty nearly all the children's fantasy books we love, the first author to write really wittily for kids and without condescending to them, and the originator of the basic structure that carries on through C.S. Lewis and Edward Eager and even in a way Jo Rowling: four children, usually siblings or cousins but sometimes friends, stumble on a magical something that leads them into a series of fantastic adventures and important discoveries (gently conveyed) about the big issues of life. Her books have a lovely period feel, not unlike the opening pages of Alice in Wonderland, tempered by Nesbit's practical sensibility about the real world and her sardonic sense of humor, which makes the books a very enjoyable read for adults as well as great read-alouds.
In this story, written in 1902, the magical something is a Psammead, a grumpy Persian sand fairy that looks something like a large tubby rodent with eyes on the end of stalks. The Psammead is compelled to grant its finders one wish per day, which the children are initially thrilled about, but they soon discover that wishes are chancy things and the Psammead perversely literal in granting them, with often unlooked for and unideal consequences. There are two sequels, THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET, written in 1904 and my personal favorite (I always hear John Gielgud's voice coming out of the Phoenix) and THE STORY OF THE AMULET (1906).
Theatre folks may be interested to know that Nesbit was Noel Coward's favorite writer; there was a copy of THE ENCHANTED CASTLE on his bedside table at Firefly when he died. "Her books," he wrote, "have meant a very great deal to me, not only when I was a little boy of nine and onwards, but right up to the present day. I have re-read them each at least twenty times....She had an economy of phrase, and an unequalled talent for evoking hot summer days in the English countryside." His favorites? FIVE CHILDREN AND IT, THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET, THE HOUSE OF ARDEN, THE ENCHANTED CASTLE, THE WONDERFUL GARDEN, and the Bastable series.
The Brits did a film adaptation in 2004, somewhat different to the book in the way the story gets launched, with Freddie Highmore leading the juvenile cast, and Tara Fitzgerald, Alex Jennings, Zoe Wanamaker and Kenneth Branagh as the adults. In a stroke of total casting genius, the voice of the Psammead is provided by Eddie Izzard....more
Long out of print, but you can almost always find a copy in secondhand bookstores. Clemence Dane was a playwright (A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT) and a contemLong out of print, but you can almost always find a copy in secondhand bookstores. Clemence Dane was a playwright (A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT) and a contemporary of Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan, and she brings an insider's perception to this multigenerational saga of an English acting dynasty through the 18th and 19th centuries. The fun is that the family relationships of the brilliant bickering Broomes roughly parallel those of Henry II Plantagenet, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their famously squabbling offspring, whose name derived from the yellow wildflower called broom. (A sprig of broom, Planta Genista in Latin, appeared on the great seal of Richard I Lionheart.) The book was written in 1931 and certainly shows its age in the writing style, but if you love stories about the theatre and the people who love it and make it, this is a very special read....more
Delightful novelty from the author of The Once and Future King about a lonely little girl on an English country estate who discovers a lost colony ofDelightful novelty from the author of The Once and Future King about a lonely little girl on an English country estate who discovers a lost colony of Lilliputians living on an ornamental island in the lake. There are some gentle, Merlinesque lessons here about the responsibilities of power and the benefits of mutual respect, but they're managed gracefully in the background, and White's light, slightly wry touch with his story is a pleasure to read. The precursor of other charming "tiny people" books like Mary Norton's The Borrowers, Roald Dahl's The Minpins, and Carol Kendall's The Gammage Cup and The Whisper of Glocken....more
A hilarious send-up of the "rural gothic" novels of Hardy, Lawrence and Mary Webb. It's about a very efficient modern young lady, Flora, who goes downA hilarious send-up of the "rural gothic" novels of Hardy, Lawrence and Mary Webb. It's about a very efficient modern young lady, Flora, who goes down into darkest Sussex to meet her hitherto unmet maternal relatives the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm, who turn out to be badly in need of some brisk sorting out. The literary satire is delicious, but the novel also stands solidly on its own and the characters are to die for - from Old Aunt Ada Doom, whose life has been blighted by an unfortunate childhood event, to the fire-breathing Uncle Amos (his extemporaneous sermon to the Church of the Quivering Brethren is unforgettable); from the determinedly diaphanous Elfine to over-sexed Seth. There's even a thinly veiled send-up of Lawrence himself in the character of Mr Meyerburg, a writer who can't look at anything, and I mean anything, in nature without seeing it as a sexual symbol. There was quite a good BBC film of it years ago with the great Alistair Sim as Uncle Amos, and a less good commercial film more recently with Ian McKellen in that role and Rufus Sewell flaring his nostrils magnificently as sullenly smoldering Seth...more