I have been reading so many good books lately. I could write several reviews (and maybe I will), but for now, I'll focus on lesser-known (though not unknown) choices.
I have been hunting down E. Nesbit's The Railway Children for over a month now, and finally was able to get it in at our bookstore. The Puffin Classic version is a paltry $3.99, so it was worth the purchase, rather than just checking it out of the library (however, I am unafraid of plunking down much more for hardbacks I've never read, so I may not be the average children's book buyer). Not far into the book, I began to count off people who I knew would love this book (Oh! It's like Penderwicks! Emily would love it -- so would Kelley. That reminds me of The Saturdays -- Anna would love it. I bet Karen would want to read this to her kids. I wonder if Sarah knows this is an Usborne book. . . and on and on). So I knew a post needed to be written.
After you read this (and I have no doubt most of you will), you'll feel as though every good modern children's book you read must in some small way be modeled after this one -- because of the memorable characters. I see slices of Narnian children (C.S. Lewis was inspired by Nesbit's stories), a bit of All-of-a-Kind Family, and the youngest sister is so much like Jane and Batty from The Penderwicks as well as Rose from Saffy's Angel that you will laugh out loud! But my favorite character (Nesbit's too, she says) is the eldest sister, Roberta, or Bobbie. She has a few faults, but mostly is terribly good and brave and wonderful. In one scene, when she stays in the railroad tunnel alone with a boy whose leg is broken while the others have gone for help, she talks to herself to pluck up her courage. When the children are awarded for saving a train from crashing, Bobbie almost cannot stand to have so much made of her because she is so horrified by what nearly happened to the train. She is sensitive to how her mother feels as she is all alone (father has been taken away suddenly -- it's a big mystery), and without saying anything that would worry her, she helps the others cheer mother up. Of course it is Bobbie in the end that discovers what has happened to Father, and because of her kindness to the needy, she is instrumental in bringing Father home. Bobbie humbles herself and apologizes first to her terribly boyish brother, and keeps Phyllis from retaliating by showing her how a girl is not frightened of being thought of as "goody-goody". Bobbie is very much like Mother, who is constantly praised as wonderful and one-of-a-kind, who writes clever stories to sell while they are living without Father and surprises the children with funny poetry to celebrate exciting or brighten dull occasions.
One of my favorite scenes is near the end when Peter talks to Mother about how he wishes there were another boy in the house (because he misses Father, no doubt). I'll share that snippet here to whet your appetite.
"I say" said Peter musingly "wouldn't it be jolly if we all were in a book and you were writing it? Then you could make all sorts of jolly things happen, and make Jim's legs get well at once and be all right tomorrow, and Father come home soon and --"
"Do you miss your Father very much?" Mother asked, rather coldly, Peter thought.
"Awfully." said Peter at once.
"You see," Peter went on slowly "it's not only him being Father, but now he's away there's no other man in the house but me. Wouldn't you like to be writing that book with us all in it, Mother, and make Daddy come home soon?"
Peter's mother put her arm around him suddenly and hugged him in silence for a minute. Then she said:
"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right -- in the way that's best for us."
Grab a cup of tea -- happy reading!