Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The first chapter of The Railway Children begins by establishing Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis as ordinary middle-class children in Edwardian England, but such normalcy quickly vanishes when Father mysteriously leaves home. Father’s disappearance is the key problem of the novel and the force behind Bobbie’s growing up, and the book concludes with his return to the family. The primary events, however, are the adventures that the children have after moving with their mother to a country house near the railroad tracks.

Besides having their father absent and moving to a new place, the children must also cope with changing economic conditions; Mother must conserve both food and coal. The children’s scrapes and misadventures in the first part of the book are a result of their recent poverty. One time, Peter steals coal from the railway station and is caught; the station master forgives him, but Peter learns both shame and responsibility. When Mother falls ill and the children worry that they cannot afford the food that the doctor says she needs, they ask for help from the old gentleman whom they wave to every morning when his train goes by. When Mother recovers and learns what they have done, she is angry and tells them never to ask strangers for assistance.

Their later adventures, however, revolve around helping others. Their mother takes in a Russian political prisoner and writer who has escaped to England in order to look for his...

(The entire section is 458 words.)