3 April 2016

The Railway Children (Classic #2)


They were not railway children to begin with.  When Father mysteriously leaves home Roberta (everyone calls her Bobbie), Phyllis and Peter must move to a small cottage in the countryside with Mother.  It is a bitter blow to leave their London home, but soon they discover the hills and valley, the canal and of course, the railway.  But with the thrilling rush and rattle and roar of the trains comes danger too.  Will the brave trio come to the rescue?  And most importantly, can they solve the mystery of their father's disappearance?
Rating: ★★★★

The Railway Children is the second book I chose to read for the 2016 Classics Challenge.  After a not very positive start to the challenge in February with Peter Pan, I was hoping this would be much more enjoyable. And it was! I've never read the story or even seen the film adaptation before, so although I was familiar with the basic plot of the adventures three children who live by a railway, I was able to discover the full story and its characters objectively.  I absolutely loved it and I found myself smiling the whole way through.

I thought all the characters were really well written for such a short children's book, and in particular E. Nesbit did a wonderful job of showing the difference in ages between the children in their mannerisms.  For example, Bobbie the eldest, who is intuitive enough to realise her mother is upset by their father's absence, but decides best not to ask her about it, in case mother doesn't want her to know.  The Railway Children is an adventure story and I really liked the mixture of dramatic, exciting moments and more day to day country life.  The prose has a very gentle pace to it and we get to spend quite a lot of time getting to know some of the supporting characters, such as proud Mr Perks the station porter, and the Old Man who waves to the children every day from his train carriage.  Running through it all is the mystery of their father leaving home, and little clues are given here and there.  The ending was so lovely and actually brought a little tear to my eye - I won't spoil it in case you're still to pick this one up but those already familiar with the story will understand!

It's also very funny in places!  This was my favourite passage, which I had to stop and read aloud to Paul to explain why I was laughing:
'I suppose I shall have to be married some day,' said Peter, 'but it will be an awful bother having her round all the time. I'd like to marry a lady who had trances, and only woke up once or twice a year.'
'Just to say you were the light of her life and then go back to sleep again. Yes. That wouldn't be bad,' said Bobbie.
(p134)

And my favourite line of the whole book, delivered by Phyllis when the children are discussing what prizes they might receive for averting a disaster on the railway:
'It might be anything,' said Phyllis; 'what I've always wanted is a baby elephant - but I suppose they wouldn't know that.' (p133)

I can see exactly why The Railway Children is considered a classic and I think it will stay that way.  There are obvious differences between the audience of the time and modern readers, namely in the experience of childhood -  Bobbie, Peter & Phyllis have a lot more freedom than you would expect children to have.  Most parents now definitely wouldn't let their children play so close to the railway tracks!  But the story and characters are so endearing as to transcend this.

Some of the language is quite old-fashioned as might be expected but it's not too difficult, so I'd highly recommend this for children who are starting to explore books of a slightly longer length - this edition is 286 pages.  It's a really lovely story with all the right ingredients for a beloved children's book, and one that I also really appreciated as an adult first-time reader.
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