Virtual Children's Books Exhibits


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Stroke, Stroke



4.  Charles Kingsley.
A. E. Jackson, illustrator.
The Water Babies.
London: Humphrey Milford/ Oxford University Press, 1920.

The title of this exhibition alludes to the fantasy about little Tom the chimney sweep who was transformed into a water fairy. Kingsley (1819-1875) claimed it was written for his infant son, but the book contains much material for grown-ups: long lists in imitation of Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel; digressions about contemporary problems such as the exploitation of child labor; and satirical portraits of people Kingsley disliked, such as the American children’s author Samuel Griswold Goodrich, known as Peter Parley.

Victorian land babies were probably enthralled by Tom’s underwater adventures, such as his encounters with the lobster.

The color plate by A. E. Jackson (1873-1952) shows Tom flinging himself headfirst over the crest of a wave, as the fishes watch below. It evokes the sheer joy of propelling oneself through the water up into the air and back down again.

There is an edition of The Water Babies with an excellent introduction by Brian Alderson in the World’s Classics series (it’s now out of print, unfortunately).