The Railway Children

The Railway Children


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Gabi's Review

Edith Nisbet’s novel The Railway Children, published in 1923, continues to win me over, despite some its outdated attituded and behaviours. In fact, its depiction of the social customs of an earlier period of history will enrich young readers’ understanding of particular aspects of the past.

The novel follows the story of three siblings, Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis, who move to the countryside with their mother after their father's incarceration for espionage. The children are granted no knowledge of their father’s predicament and are asked implicitly to trust their mother, which they dutifully do. They make every attempt for their mother’s sake to be cheerful and supportive, but the spectre of their father’s absence raises timeless questions about the necessity for communication and the burden placed on children by well-intentioned parents.

The family transition well to life in a small village, although the mother struggles to support them by writing short stories and editing. The railway station becomes the children’s main source of stimulation; there, they form relationships with the station master and railway workers. The novel describes their many dangerous escapades, such as averting a train crash and aiding a Russian refugee, in the process showing the children’s bravery, compassion, and persistence as they await news of their father's return.

The novel explores qualities of character that remain relevant for our modern world:  trust, resilience and altruism, and optimism in challenging circumstances. In a society that emphasises individualism bordering on self-absorption, I strongly believe that The Railway Children offers wonderful role models for young children.

Publishers Review

When Father is taken away unexpectedly, Roberta, Peter, Phyllis and their mother have to leave their comfortable life in London to go and live in a small cottage in the country. The children seek solace in the nearby railway station, and make friends with Perks the Porter and the Station Master himself. Each day, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis run down the field to the railway track and wave at the passing London train, sending their love to Father. Little do they know that the kindly old gentleman passenger who waves back holds the key to their father's disappearance.