My rating: 4 of 5 stars
E Nesbit was one of those authors who wrote big, thrilling, seditious, moving books that pushed at the boundaries of what defined the genre of children’s literature of her day. And I’d argue, quite happily, that that’s pretty much what Jacqueline Wilson does today. The stylistic parallels of both authors are inescapable.
But for Wilson to write a contemporary spin on Five Children and It? That was a lot for me to think about. I love Five Children and It; I love the darkness, and the family dynamics and the way that sometimes, getting what you wish for may not be what you want. And, to be frank, I didn’t really have high hopes for Four Children and It. If I had anything, I had doubts that it could – well – work.
Four Children and It works. It works really well.
Whilst there’s the obvious plot, kids find Psammead, Psammead grants wishes, wishes aren’t quite what they expect, bla bla yadda yadda, life lessons learnt and that; Four Children and It has a whole whole new level to it.
That level is this: this book is a tribute, a tribute to reading, to literature and to the golden age of children’s literature. In a way it feels like it is closer to Wilson than anything else of hers that I’ve ever read. Four Children and It is rooted in Wilson’s obvious love of children’s literature, of Anthea, Cyril and the lamb, of their siblings one-book-removed of Roberta, Phyllis and Peter, of Mary Lennox, of Meg and Jo and Beth and Amy, of Sara Crewe and of Pauline, Petrova and Posy.
And it’s lovely. It’s genuinely very, very lovely. Each page is full of a sort of palpable pleasure that is impossible to resist.
Four Children and It feels like something quite special. It’s a re-interpretation, a re-imagination of a very lovely text that keeps the source text intact. It’s far too easy to rewrite a story with the noble intention of introducing it to a new audience and through the act of that rewriting suck every inch of pleasure from it. Wilson doesn’t do that. Her writing is so happy throughout that you can’t help but get on board.