(My Rating: 3/5)
I have started to read, in between ‘heavy’ books, the many children’s classics that I either never read as a child or have forgotten the stories of. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I know my son will be ready to begin reading these books in a few years.
The Railway Children is the first Nesbit I have read and tells the adventure story of 3 children whose circumstances suddenly change, forcing them to leave their comfortable life in London and move with their mother to the countryside to smaller dwellings and a simpler lifestyle.
There are several things I enjoyed about this book:
- The story opens well, with a mystery that makes you want to read more – what happened that made the children’s father leave so suddenly, without any explanation?
- The portrayal of the mother who fights to stay positive in trying times, for the sake of her children and how this transfers to the children having a positive outlook too and making the most of a bad situation.
- Edith Nesbit is a good storyteller and the pace moves along nicely, as she creates a world of mystery, adventure, wonder and delight. I think I would describe her writing style as ‘charming’. This is how she describes heavy, slanting rain on a day when the children are forced to stay indoors – “It’s like being in a besieged castle,” Phyllis said; “look at the arrows of the foe striking against the battlements!”
- Nesbit’s observations of human beings, such as “He was a very nice looking gentleman and looked as if he were nice, too, which is not at all the same thing.”
- I like how as part of the story, Nesbit poses several moral questions, such as whether a good deed should be done for a reward or whether the satisfaction of having done the good deed is reward itself. A good question, in my opinion, for young readers to ponder.
I realise that some readers / parents might not like certain aspects of the book, in particular, the fact that the children quite freely make friends with complete strangers, usually older men and the fact that they willingly go (though admittedly for a noble cause) into railway tunnels and walk along railway lines.
Regarding the first aspect, I remind myself that Nesbit wrote this sometime in the early 1900’s, so perhaps the worries, quite sadly, are a product of the current times we live in, where we often border on being paranoid. Then also, how is one to find the balance of creating an idealistic world vs. presenting harsh realities to readers of a young age? We want them to read stories about people doing good things, don’t we? But we also don’t want them to be naïve. Where is that balance to be found?
Regarding the second aspect, again, due to inexperience, I don’t have the answer to this – are children of the age group of say 8 – 12 years, able to discern that though characters in a book have done something rather dangerous, that they should themselves not do the same?
So besides being a good read, the book has also given me a lot to contemplate, should I ever want to write children’s stories one day.
My review is skewed from the eyes of an adult and a parent, but I get the feeling the targeted audience would thoroughly enjoy the book and give it a 5 star rating without hesitation, as opposed to my 3.