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The Water-Babies

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  7,027 ratings  ·  467 reviews
The adventures of Tom, a sooty little chimney sweep with a great longing to be clean, who is stolen by fairies and turned into a water baby.
Paperback, Children's Classics, 151 pages
Published 1994 by Parragon (first published 1863)
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Carrie I am currently reading this to my 9 and 7 year olds at bedtime, and it's fine. It's very strange, and I occasionally make remarks on things that I…moreI am currently reading this to my 9 and 7 year olds at bedtime, and it's fine. It's very strange, and I occasionally make remarks on things that I find most odd, but we have enjoyed looking up the sea creatures that are mentioned and we are learning new things. We are about 3/4 the way through the book. It's in a collection of books that we got from a little free library, alongside Black Beauty and the Wind in the Willows- both much better stories, but we have already read those. I would not have chosen this book, but, we are reading it and it's not bad.

I think the idea that the little boy is beaten by his master is offensive, but it's not depicted graphically. I think the idea that Tom drowns and is reincarnated as a water baby is problematic but I just talked to my kids about how that wasn't real. (less)
Cary B The nearest I can get to a translation is -
so sore holding down
Probably meaning, never rising up (in the water) or never getting any better, or…more
The nearest I can get to a translation is -
so sore holding down
Probably meaning, never rising up (in the water) or never getting any better, or improving.(less)
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3.40  · 
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 ·  7,027 ratings  ·  467 reviews

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Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 the Bookdragon
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 h
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
Apr 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Raymond St.
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Adam Floridia
Feb 15, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rebecca McNutt
This book was actually one of the saddest I've ever read. Seemingly a harmless fantasy novel, it carries an underlying allegorical message about the toll that child labour has on kids. I'm surprised it doesn't have a higher overall rating though, because the way the author describes the mystical aquatic world and all its creatures is beautiful and unforgettable.
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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
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
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.
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book when I was in primary school but can't remember much about it. I read it again as I'm working my way through classics I've always wanted to read or read when I was young & want to reread. The Water Babies overall is a magical book about fairies & magic. However it is a bit depressing as there are many deaths & a theme of being punished for what you have done to others. I think for the era it's set in this would probably have been used as a story to teach children to ...more
May 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've listened to this on audible-books some years back. And first heard about it from 1001 books you must read before you die. My good friend loves to read at bed time to his children so I bought him a copy of The Water Babies. After giving the gift of literature thought I'd look up some reviews on goodreads, and was shocked some people thought it offensive! Hope the kiddies don't have nightmares. I liked the first halve of this book it was an interesting concept for being written in 1879.
And I'
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Reading 1001: Water Babies by Charles Kingsley 2 8 Jan 06, 2019 05:40PM  
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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.
“The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see.” 79 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.” 22 likes
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