Before J.K.Rowling and Roald Dahl, there was E.E.Nesbitt; the most prolific and inventive children's author of all time, even if the inventor of Harry Potter may be close to usurping that title. Even though her books were written a century ago, such was the universal appeal of her themes and the ease with which children could identify with her characters that she has remained in print to this day and the stories are just as good now as they were then.
As with any children's classic - and "The Railway Children" is both a classic and most probably her best book - its appeal lies in a cracking plot, good character development and adult accessibility; parents are as keen to read as their children are to listen. The plot is simple: well-to-do-kids living ideal life in London suddenly have to "play at being poor" in the country after Daddy mysteriously disappears. After a series of adventures, all based around the railway that runs near their house, events coalesce into a satisfying finale.
The story centres on Roberta (Bobbie), the eldest daughter through whose eyes the story is narrated. She is one of my own favourite literature heroines and, as she suffers loss and hardship; and gains friendship and love, I would challenge even the most hard-boiled cynic not to shed the odd tear. The story is not, however, nearly as fluffy as all this may intimate. Like Rowling, Nesbitt loved to include magic and enchantment in her stories (it is, perhaps, ironic that her best tale contains none although it is certainly enchantING). Like Rowling, her stories also tend to have a dark side: many contain, and even hinge around, an absent, idealised father, reflecting the loss of the writer's own parent when she was just six. I've worn my way through two copies already!). Buy dozens! Spread them around your own children, their friends, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, neighbours ... any child who can manage joined-up writing will be enchanted by this story - and so will their parents