Five Chilren and It by E. Nesbit
The five children find a cantankerous sand fairy, a psammead, in a gravel pit. Every day 'It' will grant each of them a wish that lasts until sunset, often with disastrous consequences.
What a glorious little tale about being careful what you wish for, and full of nostalgia.
Our five children are presented as five pieces of a tight family puzzle; they work well with one another, they are each of them different, and they behave exactly as children their age should. We see them brimming with excitement and naivety at the beginning of novel, and then slowly, as each and every wish brings some level of catastrophe, we see them become careful, cynical, and crafty. They're clever kids, and they manage to wriggle out of each situation using only their wits. I did find them lightly irritating, although that's just how I feel about most children.
Nesbit's style is perfect for her target audience. Never patronising, she delivers her morals with subtlety, yet with an important weight. These kids have the opportunity to ask for anything they want from their sand-fairy, and they ask for all the things that would cross my mind (namely money, looks, and wings), yet each of these things brings misery and problems. They come to understand, with every wish, that things were much better before the wish had been made.
There's some clear racism and sexism here; although I normally write these off as a sign of the times, I was uncomfortable in places. I've read female authors from that period who would never have described someone as "just like a girl." It was disappointing.
Although the idea of having a wish every day is entirely delectable, and although I know I am cleverer than these kids, seeing the ways their dreams were thwarted each and every time has put me off limitless wishes. I would, however, like an irascible little sand-fairy to keep me company; his temperament was so exactly like my own.