Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Water Babies” as Want to Read:
The Water Babies
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Water Babies

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  7,972 ratings  ·  544 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, 224 pages
Published December 5th 1994 by Wordsworth Editions (first published 1863)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Water Babies, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Joshua Well, as I am currently in the process of reading this to my children, I would have to say that the longwinded racism of the book is the most offensiv…moreWell, as I am currently in the process of reading this to my children, I would have to say that the longwinded racism of the book is the most offensive, but also the most tiresome part of the book. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.41  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,972 ratings  ·  544 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Water Babies
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Googling around to see if anyone knows who Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are based on (I have often wondered about this), I discover by chance that the author invented the word 'cuddly', which first appeared in The Water-Babies.

Well, there's your useless fact for today.
Sean Barrs
How many people can say that drowning was the best thing that’s ever happened to them?


Life is terrible for Tom. He’s an ordinary boy and he’s in an ordinary situation. Granted, it’s a tough situation but it’s still rather ordinary for the time. His master beats him and overworks him. This is the only life Tom knows; thus, when he grows old he will follow the same path. It’s not his fault; he hasn’t known any different. For him, his master is the embodiment of manliness: it’s what Tom thinks he
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
What a weird little book. I owned a copy of this book as a child and never read it. Now I know why--lots of it is just so much babble to a child. Without the historical notes in this copy of the work, I wouldn’t have had a clue about a lot of the details included in it. I have to wonder who gave it to me way back when, and whether they had ever read it themselves? I certainly wouldn’t hand it to a contemporary child.

I found it interesting that the clergyman author was so easily able to accept Da
Apr 02, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I literally drop kicked this book into a bin.
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
Mike Horne
Jan 12, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Adam Floridia
Feb 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 21, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Raymond St.
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Caritas and Empire; the two do not sit well together in the soul. What can a man do to resolve the debate within? He can tell a story that resolves the conflict; for him, at least.

Kingsley reviewed an advance copy of 'Origin of Species'. The concept provided his key to reconciling contradictions of 19th century morality. Evolution allowed him to declare that a man may preach 'do as you would be done by', and yet happily dismiss the mechanical cruelties of industrial and cultural empire.

He frame
Jan 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nandakishore Varma
Sep 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic
A childhood favourite. I don't know what I'd make of it now.

This was a gift to me by one of my favourite aunts, a highly intellectual lady and an alumnus of the JNU (she is no more, sadly). It gathered dust on my shelf for quite a long time before I picked it up one day and devoured it in a single sitting.

I cannot remember much of the story. The part involving child labour distressed me a lot, even though I wanted to try my hand at chimney-sweeping; also, I loved the part about the water babies
Oct 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens
This took some time to read due to work and other things, however it was a good read.

What I found with this was a need to understand the way of life in the time it was penned. There were a number of times that I stopped to check a comment here and there against a book on victorian politics, way of life etc. which made the book far more readable. One obvious reference is made with regards to the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria.

A book that starts off like a typical dickensian story ends
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
Sophie Crane
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: myths-legends
It brought back childhood memories.Of reading lots of children books.
D.M. Dutcher
Jan 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 21, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Shirley Revill
I read this book many years ago but what is really nice is that my children and grandchildren loved this book too.
There are some beautiful plates in the book that make the book very appealing.
Pure nostalgia. Storytelling at it's best. Recommended.
Jul 23, 2020 rated it liked it
A delightful fairy tale, part nature study, about Tom, a young ten year old boy who works as a chimney sweep. Through some adventures he falls into a stream and turns into a water baby. As a water baby Tom learns how to be a caring, thoughtful young boy and responsible member of society. A children’s classic first published in 1864.
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: childrens, fantasy
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
Sep 11, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: children and Victorianists
Even as a kid I thought this story was pretty heavy on the sanctimonious didacticism, but it still has great imagery. And my version had very pretty illustrations.
Sharah McConville
I loved this Classic when I was young but don't think I actually realised how sad it really was. ...more
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Smitha Murthy
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
How does this book get classified as Children's Literature? The children of Kingsley's time must have been so erudite with a wonderful vocabulary! 'The Water Babies' is a quaint fairy tale, brimming with morals, and a fair bit of adventure. It is also a wonderful ode to Nature. I confess that I had no idea of half the things that Kingsley mentioned - I do not think he intended those in India to be reading this book! The English landscape is far different from my own!

Bear in mind that while you
Mar 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001-books
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
In Victorian London, Tom is the ill-used apprentice to the evil chimney sweep Grimes. All Tom has to look forward to is the fun of throwing bricks at horses' legs, and dreaming of the time when he's grown and it's his turn to get to beat and bully little children. Yay. Then Grimes gets called to clean chimneys at a large country house, and Tom gets lost in the labyrinth of chimneys and ends up in the bedroom of a little girl, who screams in fright. Tom leaps out the window, and is chased over hi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Page count incorrect 4 18 Apr 23, 2020 07:43AM  
Reading 1001: Water Babies by Charles Kingsley 2 9 Jan 06, 2019 05:40PM  
what said the Scotsmen in the part "Moral"? 1 4 Nov 07, 2016 01:05AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
  • Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, #2)
  • The King of the Golden River
  • The Children of the New Forest
  • At the Back of the North Wind
  • Tom Brown's Schooldays
  • Uncle Silas
  • A Sweet Girl Graduate
  • The Arabian Nights
  • Babar and His Children
  • Ozma of Oz (Oz, #3)
  • Peter Pan and Other Plays
  • Eric, or Little by Little
  • Charlotte Sometimes (Aviary Hall, #3)
  • News from Nowhere
  • Watership Down (Watership Down, #1)
  • Please Mrs Butler
See similar books…
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.

Related Articles

Readers have a lot to look forward to this year! Just feast your eyes upon all of these debut books to check out and emerging authors to...
155 likes · 41 comments
“The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see.” 82 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.” 23 likes
More quotes…