The Railway Children
by E. Nesbit, first published 1906
“Very wonderful and beautiful things do happen, don’t they? And we live most of our lives in the hope of them.”
While the brilliant author Edith Nesbit may be best known for her liberal use of magic and fantasy, not all her books include magic. In this very likeable children’s book, The Railway Children, we discover something even more important than magic…We discover that even in difficult situations, there is magic to be found right in daily life, if we only have eyes to see it.
The three children in this story, ages 8, 10, and 12, are moved from their suburban London home to a very impoverished lifestyle. Impoverished, however, only on the material plane. It is a treasure to see how these children, and their mother, enrich their lives through the development of their character, their kindness, their deeds, and their adventures. I couldn’t think of a better way to show children that it’s not what’s outside that matters, it’s what you carry within. The ability to cultivate resilience in the face of difficulties is demonstrated in ways that make your heart soar.
This is a fairly easy read, with only minor complexity in the plot. It is set in an early era, in London around the turn of the century, but the vividness of the characters makes the children’s book feel timeless. Since the main characters include a brother, and two sisters, there is appeal for both boys and girls. Because the language feels simple enough to follow, I would include younger children who are competent readers as the audience. It is possible that the older (11 to 12 year-olds) might find it too tame. While there’s plenty of drama, nothing bad really happens! That makes it perfect for the younger set. It’s possible to read this one aloud as well.
After your children have read the book, it might be fun to watch the version made by PBS/Masterpiece Theater. It’s quite accurate, and very heartwarming to watch.
Again, as with all of Edith Nesbit’s children’s books, since the copyright has expired, there are many editions of the book in print. Select carefully— they are not all the same quality. My recommendation is the 100th anniversary edition, with the original illustrations. Amazon is the worst place to shop for quality children’s books like this; however, below is a satisfactory edition.