January 15, 2012

Kids' Books Worth Reading

I've had the pleasure of reading two superb books to the kids over the past few months.

  • Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White.  This is the same T.H. White who wrote The Once and Future King.  The New York Review of Books has reissued the book in a beautiful new edition.  I don't have much to say about it - there is treasure on every page.  Kids like it, but it's not a children's book.
  • The House of Arden by the wonderful, mostly-forgotten, Edith Nesbit.  Available both in a gorgeous NYRB edition, or for free in various places (e.g., here). 
Nesbit's book was published in 1908, before the conflagration, White's came out in 1946, just after it had burned itself out (in Europe, at least).  

The books are remarkably similar in subject matter.  Both describe the search by high-born children, orphaned and living under harsh conditions, for the family fortune that is their birthright, with the aid of fantastic/magical creatures.  In another Nesbit work (The Story of the Treasure Seekers - link), one of the children says:  "I'll tell you what, we must go and seek for treasure; it is always what you do to restore the fallen fortunes of your house."

Both books smuggle in lots of humanism and good, clean progressive values (Nesbit co-founded the Fabian Society).  White's is particularly diabolical in making the main villains a churchman and a tutor, inadvertently aided by incompetent bureaucrats and police.  The only good adult is, as so often happens, a doddering old professor.

Gore Vidal explains Nesbit (in 1964!) here.


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