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The Wouldbegoods Paperback – November 3, 2015
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The Story of the Treasure Seekers was Nesbit's first published story. It tells the story of the six Bastable children - Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and Horace Octavius (H.O.). The story is told from the point of view of one of the six children, but the narrator refuses to reveal who he/she is until the end. If you're an astute reader, you can figure it out easily enough. The Bastable children live with their widowed father. The family used to be much wealthier, but they are very poor now. They're not really sure why they are, but they realize that things are not how they used to be. Due to their lack of finances, the children do not attend school and are left with a lot of free time to do what they wish. They decide to use this free time to restore their father's wealth. Will they succeed? You'll have to read to find out.
The Wouldbegoods follows the same six children, plus an additional two neighbor children (Denny and Daisy) who have been banished from their mansion after a disaster involving a water hose and expensive stuffed animals. Dora urges the children to mend their ways and form "The Society of the Wouldbegoods." In this group, they look to perform good deeds, but there are two problems with their plans - They never go the way they are intended, and they do these good deeds for praise and glory and not because they are the right thing to do. Will they eventually realize that good deeds are their own reward, or will they just keep leaving a path of destruction wherever they go? As I said above, you'll have to read to find out.
These are two unique, but solid books of children's literature. E. Nesbit writes with a timeless quality and presents the world as it is, which was a bold innovation for children's literature. Like most series, the sequel doesn't live up to the hype, but it is not without merit. I especially like the Hesperus Press versions of these two books, because they had forewords by respected children's authors Julia Donaldson and Lois Lowry, respectively. If you are looking to introduce your children to some of the classics in children's literature, then you need copies of these books. The only disappointment is that Hesperus Press hasn't printed the rest of the books about the Bastable children, but I can always hope.
I didn't find this nearly as much fun as The Treasure-Seekers. The latter carried on the often amusing conceit that the narrator was anonymous, although Oswald outed himself near the end, as if the reader hadn't already known after a couple of paragraphs. Still, he did come out and admit it - which makes it somewhat trying that the same conceit is carried on here.
It's a bit funny to read (listen to) this almost immediately after The Railway Children. That set of kids was well-intentioned, good-hearted, and heroic; this lot is much more lawless and self-absorbed. The very name "Wouldbegoods" is a sign of it: they realize that they are prone to petty criminality as the sparks fly upward, and the two "prissy" girls, Dora and Daisy, propose to form a club to try to improve themselves.
It doesn't go terribly well.
I hate to say it, being as he (along with his creator) is a birthday-twin, but ... I don't like Oswald Bastable in this. He was somewhat endearing in his pompous yet insecure self-praise in TTS, but here he and one or two of the others seem to have a bit more of a mean streak, or perhaps simply carelessness. Oswald will go far, though, with his attributes - or end up hanged.
I think part of it was that I missed Albert's Uncle in The Wouldbegoods - hey! Where did his beloved go? And why did I only just think of that? Hm. Anyway. I loved Albert's Uncle in The Treasure Seekers, but while he was nominally the adult in charge here he was locked up in his room writing a great deal. Rather more than might have been wise given the amount of close supervision these children require. Without him, there is less of the second-hand, through-the-lens-of-Oswald's-POV adult reaction which made Treasure Seekers so priceless.
I think that's a big part of why the constant string of incidents wore a bit thinner in The Wouldbegoods than in Treasure Seekers: it very soon becomes don't these kids ever learn? combined with Oswald at least must be old enough to know better by now. But they haven't, and he doesn't, and there goes the pig galloping down the road while the sheep vanish in the opposite direction. The one certainty in any given chapter is that there will be breakage.
Wouldbegoods is still miles better than most of what's put out today, as far as I've seen; it's still great fun. So: not my favorite, but still - E. Nesbit. That counts for a great deal.