Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Railway Children

The Railway Children

by E. Nesbit

Puffin Classics Edition (2010), First Published in 1906 by Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 273 pages, Soft cover, Black & white, Price: Rs. 200, Borrowed from District Library, Navelim, Type of book: Adventure

Reviewed by Julian D’Costa

Three children, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis, who live in London, have to move to the countryside when their much-loved father suddenly disappears mysteriously.

Luckily, their new house is next to the railway line. They make friends with the Station Master, Perks the Porter, and the Old Gentleman who waves to them from the 9.15 every day. They have lots of adventures and it is ultimately their involvement with the railway that allows them to be reunited with their father.

This story was written in 1905 and so some things, like the apparent delicacy ‘pigeon-pie’ are unfamiliar. The setting is rural England at the time of writing.

Roberta (always known as Bobbie) is the main protagonist. She is a resourceful girl who is extremely sensitive to the feelings of other people.

My favourite character is Peter, the second child. He is generally nice to his sisters, but has a slightly macabre streak and likes to tell them things truthfully, but as gruesomely as possible.

The cover design gives away the climax of the book, which actually is very well known.

Edith Nesbit had an interesting life. She was an ardent Socialist and philanthropist and died almost bankrupt. Her family travelled a lot when she was young because of her sister’s ill heath. The Railway Children was probably inspired by her childhood days near the railway at a place called Halstead.

What I particularly liked about this book was the prose. It was wonderfully readable. E. Nesbit seems to discover the characters anew along with us as we read.

The Railway Children was one of the first children’s adventure novels and it has many subplots running at the same time

An excerpt:

‘There were three of them. Roberta was the eldest. Of course, Mothers never have favourites, but if their mother had had a favourite, it might have been Roberta. Next came Peter, who wished to be an Engineer when he grew up; and the youngest was Phyllis, who meant extremely well.’

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

E. Nesbit (1858-1924) wrote or collaborated on at least 60 books for children. Some of the more famous are:

The Story of the Treasure Seekers

The Wouldbegoods

Five Children and It

The Phoenix and the Carpet

Julian D’Costa

Std 7 – Vidya Vikas Academy, Margao

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