Arabian Nights in Camden Town
The Phoenix and the Carpet is the middle volume in E. Nesbit's sequence of fantasy volumes beginning with Five Children and It and ending with The story of the amulet. The phoenix and the carpet has always been my favourite, ever since I saw the BBC adaptation in the mid-'70's. It's a real throwback to the tales of the Arabian nights, and has some lovely characters in it. The children are lovable, often naughty, and just can't help falling in and out of scrapes. The adults are slyly comical.
The phoenix is one of my favourite characters, vain and stuffy, but also clever and a true story book original. Although he clearly has his origins in the animals of Alice in Wonderland, he's also been a bit of an inspiration himself, inspiring, I believe, both Merlin and his owl in T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, and Fawkes, the brave and loyal phoenix, in the Harry Potter adventures.
It may have been published in 1904 but it does have a surprisingly modern feel to it, and is a charming read. Definitely one for a wet day, when you just want to curl up with a familiar literary companion. And you can now read it for free!