Time to give up?

When I choose books for us to read in the 5th, 6th, and teen book groups at the library, I usually pick new (or newish) books, but I do like to mix in an occasional classic book.  And often parents will ask me if I’ll have the kids reading any classics, and I do like to say, “Yes, we will read X this year.”

One of my favorite classic books for the 5th graders is Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, which was originally published in 1902 and has a long reach of influence:  Edward Eager was inspired by Nesbit’s book to write his own classic fantasy in 1957, Half Magic, and J.K. Rowling has been quoted as saying that Nesbit is the author who has most influenced her work.  And there is the 2004 movie version of the book, starring Kenneth Branagh, which is quite different from the book in many important respects (making it all the more interesting when comparing and contrasting in the book group discussion). 

Past book groups have loved, or at least enjoyed and respected, Nesbit’s book, and we have had many great discussions that were inspired by this book.  But today’s group of fifth graders at book group were less than thrilled by the book.  And this is a group of really good readers, kids who love to read and don’t have to be prodded to do it.  Out of the six kids who attended today, not a single one had read the entire book, and only two had read as much as fifty pages.  The moms of those two who read the most each told me that their child just did-not-like-the-book-at-all, and the moms didn’t want to force the issue, considering that their kids do love to read, and are in the book group because they enjoy discussing books.

So now my question is: is it time to give up on Five Children and It?  Has it seen its glory days?  Is it no longer relevant to today’s kids?  Perhaps 108 years is an eternity in the world of children’s books – perhaps a fifth grader simply doesn’t have the life experience and exposure to history to be able to fully grasp the societal differences in a book written that long ago, when there were no cars, no televisions, no iPods, and when children had a very different role in society.  Not to mention that the language probably feels stilted and wooden to kids who are used to contemporary books that are cranked out with more of an eye to plot than literary style.

I hate to give up on a book that’s really quite good, and that does have such a significant sphere of influence.  But I think I may have to tuck it away on the back of my shelf of book group books, and maybe I’ll have to find some newer children’s classics to use in future.  It’s sad, in a way, but it’s also how children’s literature works: children’s books do have shorter lifespans than adult books (when talking about their appeal to children, that is, not adults), and that’s just the way it goes.  End of story.  So to speak.

2 thoughts on “Time to give up?”

  1. Abby, I think I would hold off on relegating this book to the back of a bookshelf…mainly because of this line in your post, “Past book groups have loved, or at least enjoyed and respected, Nesbit’s book, and we have had many great discussions that were inspired by this book. ” Perhaps this year’s group was an anomaly, and next year’s or the year after’s (I’m not sure if you do the same books every year) will find it enjoyable. I have books, too, as an adult, that I really loved reading and discussing with my students. Some books made very different impressions on different classes. I remember the wild range of reactions different classes had to Gary Paulsen’s “Brian” series, and even to Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” and sequels. I’d give the book another chance with another year’s reading group. I’m sure it still has a lot to offer to kids today, even if ipods, cell phones, and social media are not at the center of the story. Happier reading days ahead, I’m sure.

  2. Thanks, Liz – I appreciate your encouragement. I really would like to try the book again…maybe in two years, maybe next year…

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