The Railway Children by E Nesbit. The book has remained on the list of the best-loved children’s books ever since it was first published as a serial story in The London Magazine in 1905. Later, it was published in book form and won acclaim from critics and readers across the world for its wonderful elements of character and plot.
Edith Nesbit the author published more than sixty books during her long and illustrious career as a children’s writer. She was considered to be the first modern children’s writer and departed from the hitherto focus on fantasy and fairytale type of themes that were considered suitable for children.
Apart from writing for children, she wrote several novels for adults.
She also dabbled in poetry, horror fiction and collaborations with other writers. Her works include another famous book, The Secret Garden which also explores the childhood landscape and influenced generations of children’s writers. She was also a political activist and laid the foundations for the present Labor Party in England.
Her dominant themes were children in real life settings, contemporary events, children’s encounters with the mysterious and often nefarious activities of grown-ups, a deep psychological insight into the mind of a child and the enduring love of nature, family relationships and the simple pleasures of countryside life.
The story opens with the description of three little Londoners who enjoy an ordinary, peaceful life in the city with visits to the Zoo and Madame Tussauds.
They have a charming, well-appointed home and loving parents.
Things take a sudden turn for the worst when Father suddenly leaves after receiving mysterious bad news.
Mother decides equally suddenly to move with the children to the country-side and here begins their adventure with the railways.
They befriend a strange Old Gentleman who invariably travels on the 9.15 train from near their home and get drawn into bizarre and dangerous events.
Said to be based on contemporary events such as the Dreyfus Affair, Russian dissidents who were fighting the Tsarist regime and the circumstances leading up to World War I,
The Railway Children though ostensibly written for children certainly appeals to readers of all ages.
It has been adapted extensively for radio, stage, television and screen and has retained its freshness and thrill over the hundred plus years since it first made its debut.