Five new classics to explore 1: Five Children and It

When we open a classical novel, we open the door to multiple worlds (historical, geographical, literary, psychological and philosophical) to explore. It is exciting to see what each title means to us, who the author is, how the books were created and how they can be used to develop our students’ knowledge of language and culture.

Let’s take a look at our five new classic reader adaptations. Then tune in later in the year for a lesson based on each

book. The titles are:

  • Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit. Level 1 reader, adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne, illustrated by Viola Niccolai.
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels by Arthur Conan Doyle. Level 2 reader, adapted by Geraldine Sweeney, illustrated by Agilulfo Russo.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Level 3 reader, adapted by Donatella Velluti, illustrated by Michele Rocchetti.
  • The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Level 4 reader, adapted by Donatella Velluti, illustrated by Claudia Palmarucci.
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Level 5 reader, adapted by Elspeth Rawstron, illustrated by Sara Menetti.

1 Who is the author?

Edith Nesbit was born on 15th August 1858 in London. She was one of five children. Although her early years were spent in a happy family, her life changed at the age of three and a half, when her father suddenly died. After that the family often moved and lived in many different places, both in England and abroad. She went to several boarding schools, but she thought of them as prisons. At the age of 18 she met Hubert Bland, a journalist. They got married in 1880 and moved into a small house in south-east London. During the next five years they had three children. Hubert aand Edith didn’t have much money, and Edith started writing short stories and articles for magazines to help the family.
Edith wrote many books for children. Five Children and It (1902) is the first of a series of three books about five children. The second one is called The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) and the last one is The Story of the Amulet (1906). But The Railway Children, also published in 1906, is probably her most famous children’s novel.In 1914 Hubert died. Three years later Edith married again and she and her new husband moved away from London to a village on the south coast of England. Edith died there in 1924.

2 What do we need to know about the story?

The setting

The story is set in the countryside in Kent, where the five children move for the summer holidays with their Mother and Martha, the nanny.

The plot

One day the four older children find a fairy while they are playing in the sand near the house. The sand fairy is very old and it isn’t very friendly. The children ask it to give them wishes. They soon discover that wishes can bring a lot of trouble. Read about the children’s magical adventures with ‘It’ and find out how they learn from their mistakes.

3 Why did we choose this title for adaptation?

That’s simple. It’s all about magic, but magic that goes comically wrong. Five Children and It captures the anarchy of childhood perfectly and the children’s wishes (to be beautiful, be rich, be able to fly) are all things I wished for myself at some stage in childhood. Plus I have always loved the idea of a grumpy fairy! (Maria, the series editor).

4 How can you use this reader for language learning?

CLIL and discussion topics

  • Wishes (and the importance of knowing what you are wishing for)
  • Summer holidays
  • Daily lives
  • Money/currency/worth
  • Siblings
  • Magic and the supernatural
  • History link: Edwardians, the customs of the Edwardian society
  • Transport in Edwardian times

Language stuctures

  • Describing the scenery, the countryside, a house
  • Describing people and strange characters (the sand fairy)
  • Describing feelings and emotions
  • Say or tell?
  • Question words
  • Prepositions
  • Present simple tense

The main characters in Five Children and It. Illustrated by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling

5 How did we create the reader?

The original text of the novel was simplified for elementary level learners, avoiding complex grammar and sentence structures and minor plot strands that may lead to confusion. The vocabulary is only simplified as much as it is necessary to make it comprehensible for language learners at this stage. You can read our interview about adaptations with Jennifer Gascoigne on this blog.

The text was illustrated by Viola Niccolai, whose intimate expressionistic style adds layers of visual meaning to the magical atmosphere and emotions tht are so central to the story.

Read our interview with Viola here, and find out more about her work on Cargo Collective.

Here is a simple chart about our reading levels.

Helbling Reader levels

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