Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Book Review: The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
Edith Nesbit wrote The Railway Children in 1906, which makes one of the earliest children's books I've read. Nevertheless, the story will certainly appeal to children of any generation. The three siblings, Bobbie (Roberta), Peter, and Phil (Phyllis), have to move away from their beloved home into the country. They don't know why this must be; all they know is some tragedy has befallen them and taken their father away. But the move really isn't so bad. There's the railway, where they "wave their love to Father" every morning as the 9:15 went by to London. And there's the station master and engineers and all the friends that they make who are able to tell them anything and everything about the trains.
Perhaps for today's society, the children seem unrealistically good. But if you take into account that they all respect and adore their mother and they all know that she's having a very hard time with their father gone, well...maybe it's reasonable that they put their heads together and tried to agree to get along and stay out of trouble until everything is right again. That's not to say they never fight. But they always make up well and seem very mature in their understanding of their duty. (I like this part about their characters. But it definitely stands in stark contrast to modern stories where children who are disrespectful are portrayed as somehow being brave.)
In many ways the chapters are episodic. One big exciting thing happens in each, and often it ends up being the children helping or saving someone. They save a train from running onto a pile of trees that fell across the tracks. They save a baby from a burning freight boat. They save a boy with a broken ankle who is stuck in the train tunnel. But all this rescuing is interspersed with other fun episodes. Bobbie, for example, gets some train engineers to fix her brother's toy engine. And in another chapter, all the children together plan a birthday party for Perks, their best friend who works at the station, who hasn't celebrated a birthday in years because he "has the kids and the missus to keep." (The birthday party is probably my favorite part of the book.)
Even with all this do-gooding, the children are fun and realistic. Sometimes they get in trouble, but they always have a rollicking good time. Though it's not an animal book, I would probably put it in a category with Charolotte's Web. It's a simple, tender, fun story, good for younger grade school children. Of course, an adult could read it aloud, but as soon as a child is ready to read chapter books on their own, they are ready to read The Railway Children!
*A movie has been made out of the book, and after reading the book, I am quite interested in seeing it...