Book Review of The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

The Railway Children is another children’s classic written by Edith Nesbit. I have reviewed another book by her, Five Children and It. It’s a very sweet, innocent story, set in Victorian times. It is very moral, and the language might make it dull for some children. Paul read an adapted version, and thoroughly enjoyed it. (You can read his review at the end of this post). I like the unabridged version better, though, and I will be reading this out loud to my kids this winter.

Thorough Review of The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

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Parents should be aware that the father is taken by some men, and the children are not told why. The oldest daughter finds out near the end of the book that her father has been accused of spying on the government, and was found guilty. His innocence is proven by the end of the book, and he returns home.Their mother has to work very hard to make money for them to live on. Parents should also be aware that this book has a Christian worldview.

The message of The Railway Children is that good deeds are rewarded. Another major point is that God writes our stories and we should trust Him.

Thorough review of The Railway Children by E. Nesbit ~ What My Kids Read

My Mom-Meter gives The Railway Children an overall safety rating of 1 (Safe) for ages 7 and up.

Click here to skip to Paul’s review of this book

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsSafe - no actual four-letter words

BullyingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Disrespectful AttitudesSafe - no actual four-letter words

GamblingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Gross BehaviorSafe - no actual four-letter words

LanguageSafe - no actual four-letter words

Magic/SupernaturalSafe - no actual four-letter words

MoralitySafe - no actual four-letter words

Romance/SexSafe - no actual four-letter words

Scary ThemesSafe - no actual four-letter words

ViolenceModerately Safe

Thorough Review of The Railway Children by E Nesbit

Plot summary of The Railway Children: ***Contains Spoilers***

I found a good plot summary of the Railway Children, chapter by chapter, on this blog.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in The Railway Children:

  •  The mother in the story is described as being very brave to laugh and act cheerfully for the children even when things were bad. Was she brave? Can you name different ways to show bravery?
  • Peter steals coal from the train station and is caught. The Station Master could have reported him to the police, but instead shows mercy and forgives Peter. He treats Peter with kindness and pretends to forget about the coal-stealing. Have you ever been caught doing something that hurts someone else and then been shown mercy? How did it make you feel? Did it make you want to keep doing that hurtful thing?
  • “Bobbie understood a little how people do not leave off running to their mothers when they are in trouble even when they are grown up, and she thought she knew a little what it must be to be sad, and have no mother to run to any more.”
  • A Russian writer is taken in by the family. He had written “a beautiful book about poor people and how to help them,”  and he was imprisoned for it. He was sent to Siberia (there is a brief but harsh description of what that was like), but he finally escaped and made it to England. You might want to talk with your kids about censorship and the importance of freedom of speech.
  • The Russian writer escapes by joining the Russian army and deserting. Peter asks if it isn’t “very cowardly.” His mother replies “Do you think he owed anything to a country that ad done THAT to him? If he did, he owed more to his wife and children. He didn’t know what had become of them.” You might want to talk with your children about patriotism.
  • When the children keep the train from crashing into the mound of dirt from the landslide, they are sent a letter inviting them to a presentation as thanks. Bobbie asks “But oughtn’t we to be satisfied with just having done it and no ask for anything more?” What do you think about what Bobbie says?
  • When the children decide to celebrate Perk’s birthday, they ask everyone in the village if they want to donate for his birthday. An old lady responds bitterly that no one remembers her birthday, but her heart is softened when the children leave flowers and presents for her on her birthday. She ends p being very generous for Perk’s birthday. You could talk with your children about how one act of kindness often inspires more kindness in others.
  • Mother says “You don’t suppose [Uncle Edward (who has died) has] forgotten us and all the old times, because God has taken him, any more than I forget hims. Oh, no, he remembers. He’s only away for a little time. We shall see him some day.” You might want to talk to your kids about what your family believes about death.
  • Mother says to Peter “Don’t you think it’s rather nice to think that we’re in a book that God’s writing? If I were writing the book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right – in the way that’s best for us.” You might want to talk about what your family believes about destiny and God writing our story.

Thorough Review of The Railway Children by E. Nesbit ~ What My Kids Read

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • Father has an “after-dinner cigar.”
  • A “bottle of champagne” is mentioned.
  • There is a mention of a woman ordering a “stout.”
  • When Mother is sick, the doctor says she needs several things including “a bottle of brandy. The best brandy. Cheap brandy is worse than poison.” The children manage to get some brandy in a flat bottle for their mother.
  • The old gentleman buys all the things the doctor ordered for Mother, and he adds more things, including a port wine.
  • “Mr. Perks made tea in a beer can, as usual….”
  • The Bargee Bill goes to an “ale-house,” the “Rose and Crown,” with his wife,”drinking their supper beer.” It is mentioned people are drinking “pots of beer.”
  • Bill the Bargeman had “knocked his pipe out” and accidentally sent his barge on fire.
  • Someone gives Perks “a tobacco pipe.”

Bullying:

  • One day, when the children were planning to fish in the canal, “a boy in a barge threw lumps of coal at them, and one of these hit Phyllis on the back of the neck.”

Disrespectful Attitudes: None

Gambling: None

Gross Behavior: None

Language:

  • Peter uses the word “ripping” many times. Such as, “How perfectly ripping!” and “It’s the most ripping sport!”
  • Vocabulary:
    “Perambulator” as in a baby carriage.
    “Pneumatic bicycle”
    “Dauntless” as in brave.
    “Braces” as in suspenders.
    When someone is nice, they are called “a brick.”
    “Gay” as in happy and merry, once it is used to mean colorful, as in “her garden was gay.”
    “Surly” as in ungracious.
    “Draughts” as in checkers.
  • “Bloomin'” is used a few times. “Here’s a bloomin’ go!” and “blooming well blest.”
  • “The engine-driver said he was blowed if he wasn’t blest. ‘I’m blest if I ain’t blowed,’ remarked the fireman.”
  • Peter tells Phyllis to “shut up.”
  • Bobbie says “he’ll think we’re idiots.”
  • “For goodness’ sake” is used once.
  • “Gee whillikins!” is used once.
  • “Rum” is twice used to mean good: “What rum names.”
  • “By George” is said once.
  • “My hat!” is said once.
  • “On my heavens!” is said once.
  • “Fool” is used once.

Magic/Supernatural:

  • Mother says “It’s magic!” meaning it was a wonderful surprise.
  • When the train goes by it feels “like a great dragon tearing by. Did you feel it fan us with its hot wings?” “I suppose a dragon’s lair might look very like that tunnel from the outside.”
  • The children name the trains. One is called the “Green Dragon.” Another is the “Worm of Wantley.” The midnight train is called the “Fearsome Fly-by-night.”
  • “If [the Green Dragon] was a real dragon, we could stop it and ask it to carry out love to Father.” “Dragons don’t carry people’s love, they’d be above it.” “Yes they do, if you tame them thoroughly first. They fetch and carry like cocker spaniels, and feed out of your hand.” “Let’s all wave to the Green Dragon as it goes by. If it’s a magic dragon, it’ll understand and take our loves to Father.”
  • The ticket book is referred to as “that sacred inner temple” a few times.
  • Phyllis says “trains really ARE dragons in disguise, with proper heads and tails.”
  • The children see a landslide. Bobbie says “it’s like the woods in Macbeth.” Phyllis says “It’s magic. I always knew this railway was enchanted.” “It really did seem a little like magic… ‘Oh, what is it? said Phyllis; it’s too much magic for me. I don’t like it. Let’s go home.'”
  • Peter says “I’d like to marry a lady who had trances and only woke up once or twice a year.”
  • Phyllis is referred to as “always unlucky.”
  • Phyllis says about a train “It IS a dragon – I always knew it was – it takes it own shape in here, in the dark.”

Morality:

  • Peter said “The only reason why I won’t tell you my idea that I going to do is because it MAY be wrong, and I don’t want to drag you into it.” Bobbie replied “Don’t do it if it’s wrong, Peter, let me do it.” Phyllis chimed in “I should like to do wrong if YOU’RE going to!” Peter was “rather touched by this devotion.”
  • Peter takes coal from the train station because he learns that they are too poor to use coal in the summer. He doesn’t realize that it is stealing, but he initially thinks “it MAY be wrong.” He thinks he is “coal mining.” The children learn that it is stealing and are forgiven.

Potentially Offensive Behavior:

  • The Porter at the train station and the children refer to “Japs.” The Porter, Perks, says “You can’t be sure with foreigners. My own belief is they’re all tarred with the same brush.”
  • There is a reference to “puppy-pie.” I could not find out what it means exactly, but it is some kind of insult for Bargemen.
  • The doctor tells Peter “Boys and girls are only little men and women. And WE are much harder and hardier than they are… and much stronger, and things that hurt THEM don’t hurt US. You know you mustn’t hit a girl… Not even if she’s your own sister. That’s because girls are so much softer and weaker than we are; they have to be, you know… because if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be nice for the babies….” Peter tells his sister that the doctor told him “but it all comes to you girls being poor, soft, weak, frightened things like rabbits, so us men have just got to put up with them.”

Romance/Sex: None

Scary Themes:

  • The Porter tells the children not to pull the lever to stop the train “unless you’re being murdered.”
  • Bobbie sees that her father didn’t pack any clothes, and she is afraid that he is dead.
  • The children witness a landslide and have to stop a train. Bobbie says “Don’t you see, Phil, if we can’t stop the train, there’ll be a real live accident with people KILLED.”
  • The children see a barge catch on fire and save a baby and a dog on board.
  • Phyllis mentions “Uncle Edward died before he was grow up, didn’t he?”
  • Guy Fawkes day is mentioned, a day in Britain when a figure is burned in effigy.
  • There is a boy in the train tunnel that the children go to check on when a train goes through the tunnel. There is a scary moment when they wonder if the boy had been in the way of the train, but they find him, injured from a fall but not hurt from the train.

Violence:

  • Peter “thumped his sister between the shoulders and told her to cheer up.”
  • Ruth, a servant, “boxed” Peter’s ears.
  • Phyllis fell down with a screwdriver and “ran it into her hand.”
  • Roberta accidentally burns her finger a little, and says “it was only a little burn, and she might have had to be a Roman martyr and be burned whole if she had happened to live in the days when those things were fashionable.”
  • It is mentioned that Peter tied Phyllis’ doll to a “firewood bundle and burned her at stake for a martyr.”
  • The Russian writer had been sent to Siberia, and he was chained to other convicts “a long chain of them, and they walked, and walked, for days and weeks, till he thought they’d never stop walking. And overseers went behind them with whips – yes, whips – to beat them if they got tired. And some of them went lame, and some fell down, and when they couldn’t get up and go on, they beat them, and left them to die… And at last he got to the mines, and he was condemned to stay there for life…”
  • Peter carries a knife. “The knives given to boys are, for some odd reason, seldom of the kind of steel that keeps sharp.”
  • There is a reference to Hugh Latimer being burned at stake. “it’s my belief that we’ve lighted a candle to-day – like Latimer, you know, when he was being burned.”
  • Bill the Bargeman grabs Peter by his ear.
  • After an argument, Peter falls on a rake and shrieks “like a pig being killed a quarter mile off.” The rake had punctured his foot. Perks tries to comfort Bobbie by telling her that he had a cousin who had a “hay-fork run into his, right into his inside.”
  • Peter speculates that the doctor was “attacked by highwaymen and left for dead.”

Thorough review of The Railway Children by E. Nesbit ~ What My Kids Read

From a seven-year-old’s perspective: I think The Railway Children is a pretty good book. It’s one of my favorite books. You think that their dad is going to come back in a little while, but it’s a long while before he comes back. It’s funny and cool and sad. They have lots of adventures. I think kindergartners would like it if their parents read it to them. Ages 5 to adults would like it.

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The Railway Children
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Comments

  1. riddhi chakrobarty says:

    a very boaring book

    • Riddhi Chakrobarty,
      I’m sorry you didn’t like it – it’s an older classic (and British), so you have to get past the different vocabulary. Thanks for the comment!

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