22 March 2011

New Nesbit and Another Nesbit News Bit

The Guardian reports that Jacqueline Wilson, one of the UK’s most respected and popular writers for children, has signed a contract to “write a new version of E Nesbit’s classic Five Children and It.”

That seemed like such a wasted effort that I went looking for more detail, but even the original report in The Bookseller adds little—only that Wilson will write a “contemporary version.”

Does this mean retelling the same Psammead adventures in contemporary England, where children don’t have to worry so much about evading the household help? Or will a new set of children discover the grumpy little wish-provider and make new wishes?

Is Wilson writing The Psammead Comes Back: And This Times It’s Personal? Should we look forward to more Nesbit revamps that reflect modern lifestyles, like The Airline Children? The Enchanted McMansion? The Would-Be-Above-Averages?

Most of Nesbit’s novels are set in England a century ago, of course, and some display the racism and class attitudes of their times. But the children—almost always a gender mix of siblings, not vastly distinguishable—treat each other in easily relatable ways. The narrative style and voice in many of Nesbit’s fantasies is delightfully fresh. So I’m not sure what about Five Children and It is so dated as to demand a contemporary rewrite, which would therefore be driven by the new copyright claim and exclusive sales.

There are other ways to regain that old magical realism, of course. Edward Eager unabashedly updated Nesbit for the postwar suburban American child, and Laurel Snyder has updated Eager with Any Which Wall. In 1999 Books of Wonder commissioned new illustrations for Five Children and It from Paul O. Zelinsky, as shown above. All those editions and additions share a certain old-fashioned and nostalgic tone, but surely that’s what people seeking “a new version of E Nesbit” would be looking for. Perhaps Wilson will simply produce her own “inspired by Nesbit” adventure.

The other Nesbit news story for this week was the revelation that some beloved details of The Railway Children—particularly flagging down a train to prevent an accident and receiving an engraved watch as a reward—also appear in a novel published just a few years before: The House by the Railway, by Ada J. Graves. Since I dislike The Railway Children, this news didn’t derail me in the least.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

A "new version" of an E. Nesbit classic is so offensive an idea that I can only attribute to the current craze for regurgitating and remaking every old movie, sitcom, tv series, Broadway musical that ever existed, as if our entire cultural heritage needs updating! Ridiculous. People are not so stupid that they can't appreciate or relate to anything unless it's couched in current lingo and dressed up in today's clothing.