The Railway Children
by Edith Nesbit (1905)
I’m working my way through the books by Edith Nesbit on my Kindle :) – the book cover here was copied from Wikipedia.
This story is about two brothers and two sisters who are suddenly uprooted from their previous comfortable life in a town house with both their parents, to go and live with only their mother in the countryside, under much poorer circumstances than before. Their father has suddenly had to go away; but the children get no real explanation of why or whereto or for how long, until near the end of the book. They soon understand that Mother prefers not to talk about it, and learn not to ask questions. Mother is also suddenly very busy writing stories for publication; which means that the children are often left to amuse themselves best they can on their own.
As their house is close to the railway, this becomes their main source of adventures. They make friends with the staff at the railway station, and they also get in the habit of waving to the people on a special train that goes by daily – especially to one old gentleman; with whom they later on get closer acquainted, to their mutual advantage.
Perhaps needless to say, after certain complications all ends well, and at the end mysteries are explained and questions answered, to the satisfaction of all involved.
I’d say that in many ways this is a rather typical children’s book for its time. Personally I enjoyed Nesbit’s ‘Psammead’ series more, as those books offer the reader more of an intriguing interpretation challenge, balancing between children’s imagination and “real” magic – and with a lot of humour, too.
From historical point of view, The Railway Children bears witness about the impact of the railway back in those days, though.
According to Wikipedia, the book has been dramatised several times (between 1951 and 2000) for radio, TV and film.
Amusingly, when googling the book title, one of the results that came up was an article from The Telegraph 11 July 2013, stating that:
After more than 40 years, the board responsible for classifying films in Britain receives its first complaint about classic film The Railway Children. [from 1970]
A viewer raised concerns with the BBFC about the danger of depicting children playing on railway tracks, in what was the first complaint received by the BBFC since the Railway Children was classified U in 1970, a rating which means it is generally suitable for children aged four and over.
David Cooke, director of the BBFC said the film had "always been a U on every platform." In the board's annual report it said it judged that as the Railway Children is set in the Edwardian period, access to trains was very different from today, and also the film showed the “potential harm to children if proper care is not taken” near railways.