Sunday, 19 December 2010

BOOK REVIEW -- "The Bastables" - By: E. Nesbit

"Children are like jam:  all very well in the proper place, but you can't stand them all over the shop -- eh what??"  (The Wouldbegoods, Page 157)

The Bastables - By: E. Nesbit
Alisdair and I have been enjoying a good old fashioned "read aloud." The "Further Up and Higher In" curriculum that features "The Chronicles of Narnia" suggests students read books that C. S. Lewis would have been familiar with. In the second paragraph of "The Magician's Nephew" Lewis writes: "In those days Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won't tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those says there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer..." 

And so we ordered this book through inter-library loans.  It came from the Saskatoon Public Library and the flyleaf bears a stamp proclaiming:   "S. P. L. Boys' and Girls' Room."

The Funny Stamp
When this book was put into circulation, fines were the right price too!  Check out Rule #2 - "A fine of two cents a day will be charged on each overdue adult book, and one cent a day for each overdue juvenile book.  (Today the library charges 30 cents per day for adult overdues and childrens' books are free).

Note Rule #2

The first tale
We are soon introduced to "The Bastables" - six children who live with their Father in the Lewisham Road. Sadly, the children's Mother has died. The children are: Dora (the eldest); then Oswald (the third-person narrator); Dicky (who is good at sums); the twins - Alice and Noel (he is a bit of a poet); and the youngest Horace Octavius who is nicknamed "H. O."

The children are often left to their own devices as they are "taking a holiday from school" as their Father cannot afford to send them.  The General (a servant named Eliza) - seems to be around but the children mostly do as they please.  The children observe that their "Father does not like you to ask for new things.  That was one way we had of knowing that the fortunes of the ancient House of Bastable were really fallen.  Another way was there was no more pocket-money -- except a penny now and then to the little ones, and people did not come to dinner anymore, like they used to, with pretty dresses, driving up in cabs -- and the carpets got holes in them -- and when the legs came off things they were not sent to be mended, and we gave up having the gardener except for the front garden, and not that very often.  And the silver in the big oak plate-chest that is lined with green baize all went away to the shop to have the dents and scratches taken out of it, and it never came back.  We think Father hadn't enough money to pay the silver man for taking out the dents and scratches.  The new spoons and forks were yellowy-white, and not so heavy as the old ones, and they never shone after the first day or two." (Page 10).

And so the children begin to seek for treasure so that they might "restore the fallen fortunes of the ancient House of Bastable."  They try many things from simply digging for treasure in the yard to using a divining-rod.  They pay a visit to a Generous Benefactor, try to sell their poetry to a newspaper, act as bandits, try to sell samples of a wine called Old Delicate Castilian Amoroso (to a clergyman), and pretend they are detectives.  At the end of Part One, just when it is least expected, the Bastables do experience a change of their fortunes and things improve dramatically for them and for their Father.

The second story
We are still reading the last few chapters of the second half of the book.  The children find themselves in considerable trouble and are sent to stay in the country.  While there, they form a club called "The Society of the Wouldbegoods."  The aim of the society is "nobleness and goodness, and great and unselfish deeds." (Page 174).  This second portion seems even better than the beginning and Alisdair and I are enjoying the accounts of the mischief the Bastable children find themselves entangled in without even trying to get into trouble.

I had never heard of this book (or the author E. Nesbit) before coming across it in the curriculum, but this is a very entertaining British classic - well worth reading (if you can obtain a copy at your local library).  There are other titles, also by E. Nesbit, that we will, no doubt, be reading as a result of our initial exposure to this writer.

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