Tag Archives: jenny aguter

Subversive Children’s Literature

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E. Nesbit was a staple of the British children’s library section and I’m sure I must have read some of her books (as well as watching Jenny Aguter waving her petticoat at steam trains: another rite of passage for those of us of a certain age), all the while assuming that the “E” stood for something like Edgar or Edwin or something equally Victorian and male.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, while enjoying “Raising Steam” by Terry Pratchett, with it’s sly references to “The Railway Children” and the spirited “Edith”, that I twigged: E. Nesbit was a girl?! 1

But I don’t think I really appreciated how good E. Nesbit was, or how subversive.

She does a fabulous job of showing the world from a child’s perspective, by showing how clueless most adults are. In this exchange a small boy who has, unexpectedly, been made king, goes off to fight a battle against a dragon he has unleashed. It’s a pivotal point in the story, because the king has decided to face up to his mistake and try to correct it, no matter the cost. And his nanny responds just as you’d expect, if you think about it:

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Is it any wonder kids stop listening to us, eventually?

I also particularly liked this throwaway line:

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I’m not sure you could get away with that now. Not in the US, at least!

People used to think that writing for children was somehow a “lesser” pursuit, which probably has something to do with why women were “allowed” to do it. But this brilliant stuff!

When I read this (and T.H. White2)
I think it’s pretty clear which tradition Neil Gaiman comes from. He has that gift for seeing the world from a child’s perspective too. And for being clever without being pretentious.

Anyway, enough if this. I’m off to read the book I allegedly bought for my nine year old….

Thanks, Retold Tales, for bringing me this gem!


  1. I was also told recently that S.E.Hinton, of “The Outsiders” fame, was not only female but actually a girl, having published the novel at 16!
  2. Not, I’m fairly sure, a woman hiding behind her initials.