Although the children are in a distressing situation, they are have the capacity to experience much joy. Their distress arises, first, from the fact that their father has gone away. They don't know that he has been wrongly sent to prison, but they know their mother is upset, even though she tries to hide it. Second, they have to move to a new and poorer home. As Mother says to Roberta (Bobbie):
we've got to play at being Poor for a bit, my chickabiddy.
Despite all this, the threesome makes the best of their situation. They are lively and energetic, and they especially derive joy from watching the trains go by. They are imaginative children and thrilled to be able to stand on a fence so close to the trains rushing from the railway tunnel, closer than they have ever been before. They think of them as dragons:
“Oh!” said Roberta, drawing a long breath; “it was 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,” said Phyllis.
But Peter said:—
“I never thought we should ever get as near to a train as this. It's the most ripping sport!”
They also derive joy from the simple pleasures of playing at the railway station:
Joy ... it was to peep into the porters' room, where the lamps are, and the Railway almanac on the wall, and one porter half asleep behind a paper.
The porter, a very patient man, becomes their friend and is willing to answer their many questions. They find joy visiting with him.
Although the family cannot afford much coal to keep warm in the winter, and although their mother is usually very busy writing to earn money for their survival, the children find joy in make believe. They play bandits in the attic, for example, and are "joyous" doing it.
Likewise, Bobbie and Phyllis derive pleasure from scrubbing their muslin dresses because they can pretend they are French washerwoman.
The three children have no money for activities or new toys but they make their own joy by getting imaginatively involved in the world around them and making a game of it as far as they are able. Imagination is a key way children make their lives happy, and these three children are lucky to have vivid imaginations and upbeat, friendly personalities.