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The Water Babies

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Overview

The story follows Tom in his land-life as a climbing boy for a chimney-sweep and in his after-life as a water-baby, where he gains redemption from selfishness as well as from drudgery. On to this fantasy Kingsley grafts a series of digressions and comic asides, through which he comments on a range of contemporary issues. Kingsley ostensibly wrote The Water-Babies for his infant son, but its erratic flights of fancy are liable to take it beyond the immediate comprehension of adults and children alike. Often seen ...
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The Water Babies (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

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Overview

The story follows Tom in his land-life as a climbing boy for a chimney-sweep and in his after-life as a water-baby, where he gains redemption from selfishness as well as from drudgery. On to this fantasy Kingsley grafts a series of digressions and comic asides, through which he comments on a range of contemporary issues. Kingsley ostensibly wrote The Water-Babies for his infant son, but its erratic flights of fancy are liable to take it beyond the immediate comprehension of adults and children alike. Often seen as an attack on the exploitation of child labour, it is rather a heterogeneous commentary on Kingsley's life and times. He writes with vibrant and humorous symbolism, fierce satire, and uninhibited imagination. This is the first edition to explore fully Kingsley's text, its variants, and its iconography, and to annotate the many references which enrich the story.

The adventures of Tom, a sooty little chimney sweep with a great longing to be clean, who is stolen by fairies and turned into a water baby.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
It's the straight story, which has been around for over one hundred and thirty-five years. In this edition, beautiful color plates and dozens of two-color illustrations enhance the story. Tom flees his hard life and mean master and he finds himself in a world under water where life is much nicer. Kingsley was concerned about the treatment of children and his story was part of his effort to stimulate social reforms. That doesn't take away from the charm of the tale. This version is perfect for gift giving and a great book for reading aloud. Peter Glassman provides an Afterword.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) served as Chaplin to the Queen, Tutor to the Prince of Wales, and Canon of Westminster. His writings include Westward Ho! (1855) and The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children (1856). A keen naturalist and social reformer, he was in his lifetime a revered, though at times controversial, figure.

Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) was one of the most popular and successful American illustrators of the early twentieth century. A student at Howard Pyle's Brandywine School of American Illustration, her hundreds of magazine illustrations and more than forty illustrated books include Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (1905), Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (1916), and George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind (1919) and The Princess and the Goblin (1920).

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep, and plenty of money for Tom to earn and his master to spend. He could not read nor write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived. He had never been taught to say his prayers. He never had heard of God, or of Christ, except in words which you never have heard, and which it would have been well if he had never heard. He cried half his time, and laughed the other half. He cried when he had to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when his master beat him, which he did every day in the week; and when he had not enough to eat, which happened every day in the week likewise. And he laughed the other half of the day, when he was tossing half pennies with the other boys, or playing leap-frog over the posts, or bowling stones at the horses' legs as they trotted by, which last was excellent -fun, when there was a wall at hand behind which to hide. As for chimney-sweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten, he took all that for the way of the world, like the rain and snow and thunder, and stood manfully with his back to it till it was over, as his old donkey did to a hail-storm; and then shook his ears and was as jolly as ever; and thought of the fine times coming, when he would be a man, and a master sweep, and sit inthe public-house with a quart of beer and a long pipe, and play cards for silver money, and wear velveteens and ankle-jacks, and keep a white bull-dog with one gray ear, and carry her puppies in his pocket, just like a man. And he would have apprentices, one, two, three, if he could. How he would bully them, and knock them about, just as his master did to him; and make them carry home the soot sacks, while he rode before them on his donkey, with a pipe in his mouth and a flower in his buttonhole, like a king at the head of his army. Yes, there were good times, coming.

One day a smart little groom rode into the court where Tom lived. Tom was just hiding behind a wall, to heave half a brick at his horse's legs, as is the custom of that country when they welcome strangers; but the groom saw him, and halloed to him to know where Mr. Grimes, the chimney-sweep, lived. Now, Mr. Grimes was Tom's own master, and Tom was a good man of business, and always civil to customers, so he put the half-brick down quietly behind the wall, and proceeded to take orders.

Mr. Grimes was to come up next morning to Sir John Harthover's, at the Place, for his old chimney-sweep was gone to prison, and the chimneys wanted sweeping. And so he rode away, not giving Tom time to ask what the sweep had gone to prison for, which was a matter of interest to Tom, as he had been in prison once or twice himself. Moreover, the groom looked so very neat and clean, with his drab gaiters, drab breeches, drab jacket, snow-white tie with a smart pin in it, and clean round ruddy face, that Tom was offended and disgusted at his appearance, and considered him a stuck-up fellow, who gave himself airs because he wore smart clothes, and other people paid for them; and went behind the wall to fetch the half-brick after all; but did not, remembering that he had come in the way of business, and was, as it were, under a flag of truce.

His master was so delighted at his new customer that he knocked Tom down out of hand, and drank more beer that night than he usually did in two, in order to be sure of getting up in time next morning; for the more a man's head aches when he wakes, the more glad he is to turn out, and have a breath of fresh air. And, when he did get up at four the next morning, he knocked Tom down again, in order to teach him (as young gentlemen used to be taught at public schools) that he must be an extra good boy that day, as they were going to a very great house, and might make a very good thing of it, if they could but give satisfaction.

And Tom thought so likewise, and, indeed, would have done and behaved his best, even without being knocked down. For, of all places upon earth, Harthover Place (which he had never seen) was the most wonderful, and, of all men on earth, Sir John (whom he had seen, having been sent to gaol by him twice) was the most awful.

Harthover Place was really a grand place, even for the rich North country; with a park full of deer, which Tom believed to be monsters who were in the habit of eating children; with miles of game-preserves, in which Mr. Grimes and the collier lads poached at times, on which occasions Tom saw pheasants, and wondered what they tasted like; with a noble salmon-river, in which Mr. Grimes and his friends would have liked to poach; but then they must have got into cold water, and that they did not like at all.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2008

    A very rare and magical story for brilliant young minds

    I remember this book after 50+ years since my childhood. This is the very earliest book from childhood, I can recall. The story and pictures made such an impression on my very young mind. I'd forgotten how the story started but never forgot those enchanting water babies! I MUST have this book to read to my granddaughter. I know it will be THE book she will never forget, as well. Seems the books of today are very skimpy on imagination and have little redeaming value.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2012

    This one is an abridged version.

    This is a book of great charm, but in the original it has a lot that is pretty ethnically insulting. The author also had strong feelings about various forms of government (including US) that he was quite eager to display. I didn't feel the bowdlerization helped soften the blows that much, and it did make the book seem a little thin. The Penguin edition is unabridged, and you can judge the author and his opinions more objectively. It is of historical interest for its early support of Darwinism, for its concern with the abuse of child labor, and other issues. Bite the bullet and buy the unabridged version. Don't feel too guilty about reading the slurs; if none of your ancestors is among the insulted, you are in a very small minority indeed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 22, 2009

    I Love this Book!!

    The Water Babies was my favorite book growing up. My sister still has the original book we had as children.
    I have one at my home for my grandchilren to look at and am now buying one for my first Great Grandchild.

    A must have.

    I DO want to get it in hardback though

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2008

    First Book I can remember as a child

    I am 56 Years old. This book was the very first book that made such an impression on me that to this day I still remember it. I could not have been more than 5 years old and have been looking for it for years. I cannot wait to share it with my granddaughter!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 1, 2012

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    Posted September 28, 2013

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    Posted August 11, 2010

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    Posted August 12, 2009

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    Posted August 12, 2009

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    Posted October 26, 2008

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    Posted August 11, 2010

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