Last summer I read The Railway Children, by Edith Nesbit. I am astonished that I had never before read it. Spending 4th through 6th grade in England, I was exposed to many such books and I devoured as many as I could get my hands on. The Railway Children is exactly the sort of book that made me love reading.
The characters are charming children, who, “when they are good, are very, very good.” Throughout the book they run about the countryside, free from much adult oversight. Miraculously, they only rarely get into trouble and they frequently have exciting adventures. It reminds me of summers as a child with my cousins.
But they are not so charming that they are unreal. The siblings fight with each other and pester each other like real children sometimes do. For instance, in one episode the girls tie up their brother, who goes along willingly, thinking it a game. They then refuse to release him until he promises to stop talking about “broken bones and people’s insides.” Peter immediately recognizes their stunt as a maneuver out of Kipling’s Stalky and Co.
The plot skips along with a number of seemingly unrelated pleasant or exciting episodes of children just having fun, until the climax. Then all of the parts coalesce, culminating in the eucatastrophe, Tolkien’s word for “a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story.”
Like all excellent children’s literature, the tale also embodies several important themes. These arise naturally from the story, rather than as preachy asides. They include:
Joy and Faith in the midst of trials
Family Relationships: loving and serving each other
The Importance of Community
That Old Feeling
While I was reading, I unexpectedly recaptured the feeling of reading when I was a child. I recalled the pleasure of being transported into a story and the almost out-of-body experience of entering another world. It is no wonder that I fell in love with reading as I did, but I had almost forgotten why. The Railway Children made me remember.
The story is so much better than a reading of the story chart suggests! Indulge yourself and your children by enjoying this delightful childhood classic!
SPOILER ALERT! Don’t look at the chart until you have read the book! Then click on the book title below to go to my story chart. The chart summarizes the elements of literature in the story: Characters, Setting, Conflict, Plot and Theme. It is a great tool to talk about the story after you have read it.