It’s the children’s classic I never read – and believe me, it is a lot more sinister when you read it the first time as a grown-up.

Although I read many of the old classics when I was growing up, The water-babies never featured on the list.

The story, which features a little chimney sweep called Tom who is turned into an aquatic creature by the fairie nymphs of the river, is quite sweet on the surface. I’m sure the idea of hiding from eels and annoying the trout is charming to many of the children out there who read it. However, the fact is that the child who ran away due to a case of mistaken identity, has … drowned?

I mean it’s not like you have to live through it but the whole ’embrace of the river’ thing is so implied. Classic Victorian manouver that should mean that even as a reincarnated water baby, the little boy had to learn his lessons and behave.

Plus there is the grief of all of those grownups that had gone to the trouble of trying to find him. And I still shrug when thinking about the point of the little girl with the wig who terrified the boy into fleeing and subsequently drowning- if anyone knows what that is about please feel free to let me know.

‘The Water Babies’ pushes the agenda of the day – Christianity and a fair dose of casual racism all bottled into a neat little redemption story. All in all, the story is an enjoyable read if you decide to brush past all of those issues.

This review is part of my 1000 books by 30 challenge. Read more about it here!

Featured image: Creative commons photo courtesy of Steven Mileham
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