N is for Nesbit

This great cover captures the tone of
Nesbit's book. I am disgusted by children's
lit covers that imply "these books are
about kids; therefore they must be so
silly" like the current covers for the
Melendy series.
E. Nesbit was one of the most-read authors of my childhood. My family owned nearly all her children's books of which the Psammead Series is possibly her best known--Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet--while The Railway Children is the most filmed/performed of all her books (and ends with one of the most dramatic scenes in all children's literature).

She uses a technique common in nineteenth century children's literature--that of the amused, outside narrator commenting occasionally on the characters' foibles. This approach can get a tad coy. (C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, both products of English narration, use this approach to a limited extent; Tolkien is far more disciplined in its use and Lewis is far less coy.) Despite the occasional "now, let's see what the boys and girls are up to" style, Nesbit survives so well because (1) the children are allowed to behave like children; (2) her yarns are darn good fun.

Nesbit did not only imagine outlandish adventures, she created narrative arcs that hold together throughout those outlandish adventures--and also expose the reader to worlds that are fascinating without being skin-crawling (see Frank L. Baum).

Clip from The Railway Children (2000)
She also has the remarkable ability to create tone, a feel of sweet nostalgia or romantic, tender yearning. She is possibly the most slice-of-life children's author I've encountered. It's amazing that Hayao Miyazaki hasn't picked up any of her material! (Yet.)

Perhaps, indirectly, he did. Nesbit is one of the greats of children's fantasy, and she influenced/paved the way for an entire generation of like-minded British authors from Lewis and Tolkien to Diana Wynne Jones, Mary Norton (of Borrowers fame) and (even) J.K. Rowlings.

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