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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

This Victorian children's morality tale is one that I've not heard many other people mention and that is a shame. It is more sophisticated than many elementary school-aged books written now and yet still sweet. Tom, a little chimney-sweep who is smacked about by his master, is cleaning a chimney at a great house when he is mistakenly thought to be a thief. He is terrified and runs off, all the while trailed by the queen of the fairies. After encountering huge obstacles in his path and overcoming them, he faces more mistrust and so wanders off to bathe in the river. He falls in and is transformed into a water-baby. As a water-baby, he has many adventures and learns to be a better boy than he had ever been when on land. This story owes much both to Gulliver's Travels and to The Odyssey. There are many strange creatures who instruct Tom in what is right and good during his quest and he has a loyal girl waiting for him to come home to her during his strangest adventure. The language would probably be a bit tough for elementary school readers today, either because they didn't understand it or simply because it is quite ornate and descriptive, unlike today's books, but the creativity of the land in which the water-babies live and the creatures that populate it might help children overcome these difficulties. There were pockets of the story that were a bit tedious in their insistence on moral lessons being pointed out in case the reader missed the significance of Tom's experience but this is very much a hallmark of the literature of the time and didn't ultimately detract from the overall loveliness of the story.



i read this when i did a paper on the victorian childhood. can i just say that i would be terrified as a child if i heard this tale?

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