In the introduction of Five Children and It, Quentin Blake emphasizes E. Nesbit’s (or Mrs. Hubert Bland’s) focus on entertaining the child reader instead of bettering or instructing the child reader. Blake says,“I suspect that the main purpose of many books written in the nineteenth century was to improve their young readers; with E. Nesbit, by contrast, you feel that she was eager to tell you something interesting and entertaining” (v). This concept is one we’ve seen some other writers in this class try to adopt as well.
I read the introduction after I finished the novel, and I literally laughed out loud when I came to the sentence above because throughout the entire book, I could only focus on the author’s attempts at concealing her instruction. The entire premise of the book is that a few children siblings have access to any wish they want and are repeatedly punished when their wish is too extravagant or impractical. Then, the next day, they have another chance to make a better thought-out wish. The Psammead, the fairy-like creature the children stumble upon that grants their wishes, outright says, “I can’t think why you don’t wish for something sensible – something to eat or drink, or good manners, or good tempers” (167). If that isn’t explicit direction to the child reader, then I don’t know what would be.
I also saw the same types of little snippets of instruction about how to be a “proper British child” in this book as I did in books like The Water Babies. The narrator proposes in Five Children and It that“…it was quite right that [the baker’s son] should be taught that English boys mustn’t use their feet when they fight, but their fists” (170).
This book just strengthened my opinion that children’s literature is impossible without trying to moralize or instruct the reader (not that I’m trying to give a bad rep to children’s lit authors, I believe the same of adult literature authors).