Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit

E. Nesbit is justly famous for The Treasure Seekers, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet, and the Enchanted Castle. I chose her as my first spotlighted author because she was a thoroughly modern woman of my favorite era, the turn of the 20th century. She believed in votes for women, she rode a bicycle in trousers and she earned her own living with her writing.

Her most personal book was The Railway Children, based on a dreadful period in her own life when her husband was put in jail.

I'm lucky enough to have an old edition. Here is the cover:

I must add a peek inside. Can't you just smell the old paper and leather?

In the beginning of the story, Phyllis, Peter and Roberta live in the city with their parents in a secure, comfortable home. Their father, however, is arrested, and they must move with their mother to the  country and learn "how to be poor."

Their new house is right by a railway, and of course they explore the trains, the tracks, and the country station. While their mother earns money by writing stories, they are free to run about the countryside and  meet the Porter, the Station Master, and their own "Old Gentleman."

There are lessons in this book, but Nesbit never clubs the reader over the head with them. Instead, they are hidden like nuggets of gold in a thoroughly entertaining story, with characters that are completely believable.

Nesbit's greatest creations were her children. Instead of being pious little caricatures like Little Nell, they are real kids who make mistakes. Peter won't share his most beloved possession, a toy train engine. Roberta, the oldest sister, loses her temper and causes her brother to be quite seriously hurt. And the youngest sister, Phyllis (called Phil) always has one bootlace coming undone:

' "Hurry up," said Peter, "or we shall miss the 9:15!"
"I can't hurry more than I am doing," said Phyllis. "Oh, bother it! My bootlace has come undone again!"
"When you're married," said Peter, "your  bootlace will come undone going up the church aisle, and the man that you're going to get married to will tumble over it and smash his nose on the ornamented pavement..." '

It should be obvious by now that I love trains, and I love this book.


Jeana said...

I love old books--the smell, the detail on the covers! The whole experience of reading an old book is so different.

west_2552 said...

I'm pretty sure this is the book (is it a series, or just a single edition?) that I remember reading in elementary school. I know I enjoyed it. Or maybe it was The Boxcar Children?? Is there such a book. Possibly it was based on The Railway Children. Don't you just love owning those old books??!!

Susan Petrone said...

I love love love E. Nesbit. The Enchanted Castle is my favorite. She's so much fun to read.