I love being given books. It doesn’t even have to be my birthday. As today is my birthday, I’ve already received a juicy parcel of books. As I admired their lovely smooth covers and felt that excited anticipation that handling a new book evokes, I started thinking about the many beautiful books I’ve received on my many birthdays.
For some reason, a book I was given on my eighth birthday sticks in my memory – ‘The Story of the Treasure-Seekers’ by E. Nesbit.
I loved all her books and even now, though I have read the work of countless other children’s authors I think she is the author I most admire.
Edith Nesbit lived a big life and it’s funny that history remembers her predominately as a children’s author because she was also a poet, essayist, and a fierce political activist. But in the end, children’s stories endure long after the hurly-burly of elections, changes of government, war, and political upheavals which capture the front page of the newspapers have faded from view.
I remember unwrapping my birthday copy of ‘The Story of the Treasure-Seekers’ as I sat on my bed. It was a present from my grandfather, a beautiful hardcover edition that he had inscribed with a message on the inside cover. The book has long since lost its red and yellow slip cover. The most recent edition, pictured here, doesn’t evoke the magic of my worn, old, red cloth-covered copy. Although E. Nesbit is most famously remembered for some of her fantasy novels such as ‘Five Children and It’, I always preferred her realist fiction. She had such a powerful affinity with real children, a great grasp of human frailty and respect for the integrity of her characters.
I wanted to BE one of the Bastable children and my siblings and I often pretended that we were just like them and mimicked the games that they had played – whether that meant digging up the backyard in search of hidden treasure or starting our own newspaper. We even tried kidnapping one of our younger brothers but our mother wasn’t interested in paying ransome for someone who was playing ‘the treasure-seekers game’, even if we had put him in a cupboard and told him he could only have bread and water for lunch until Mum bought his freedom.
I don’t think E. Nesbit would have believed those stories she wrote for simple pleasure (and extra cash) would inspire generations of children and that 110 years later, they would prove to be her most enduring legacy. Never underestimate a children’s book.