The Railway Children

This month we have been reading an old family favorite, the heartwarming children’s tale The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. And it is the perfect read-aloud family story, because it is all about family!

The main characters are three siblings (just like us . . .): Roberta (“Bobbie”), Peter, and Phyllis (“who meant extremely well”). When their father mysteriously disappears, and their mother must begin writing stories to make ends meet, their normal suburban life is exchanged for the new challenges and delights of the “Three Chimneys,” a country cottage right up the hill from the railway.

     “Oh, never mind about the garden now!” cried Peter. “Mother told me this morning where it was. It’ll keep till tomorrow. Let’s get to the railway.”
The way to the railway was all downhill . . . They all climbed onto the top of the fence, and all of a sudden there was a rumbling sound that made them look along the line to the right . . . next moment a train had rushed out of the tunnel with a shriek and a snort, and had slid noisily past them. They felt the rush of its passing, and the pebbles on the line jumped and rattled under it as it went by.
     “Oh!” said Roberta, drawing a long breath, “it was just like a great dragon tearing by . . .”
But Peter said:
     “I never thought we should get so near a train as this. It’s the most ripping sport! . . . It seems so odd to see all of a train. It’s awfully tall, isn’t it?”
     “We’ve always seen them cut in half by platforms,” said Phyllis.
     “I wonder if that train was going to London,” Bobbie said. “London’s where Father is.”
– The Railway Children

And from then on nearly all the children’s adventures center on the railway: from quite ordinary experiences such as waving to “the old gentleman” and celebrating Perks the Porter’s birthday, to more thrilling occurrences involving Russian refugees and averting train wrecks with red flannel petticoats.

     “It’s all coming down,” Peter tried to say . . . And indeed, just as he spoke, the great rock, on the top of which the walking trees were, leaned slowly forward . . . and then rock and trees and grass and bushes, with a rushing sound, slipped right away from the face of the cutting and fell on the line with a blundering crash that could have been heard half a mile off. A cloud of dust rose up . . .
     “Look what a great mound it’s made!” said Bobbie.
     “Yes, it’s right across the down line,” said Phyllis.
     “That’ll take some sweeping up,” said Bobbie.
     “Yes,” said Peter slowly. He was still leaning on the fence . . .
Then he stood upright.
     “The 11.29 down hasn’t gone by yet. We must let them know at the station, or there’ll be a most frightful accident . . . If we had anything red, we could go down on the line and wave it.”
The Railway Children

However, the most delightful part of the story is not so much the adventures, as it is the relationships between the three children, their new friends, and their splendid, brave Mother.

     “. . . No, my dearest, there’s nothing to be done. All we can do, you and I and Daddy, is to be brave, and patient, and”—[Mother] spoke very softly—to pray, Bobbie, dear.”
    “Mother, you’ve got very thin,” said Bobbie abruptly.
              “A little, perhaps.
             “And oh,” said Bobbie, “I do think you’re the bravest person in the world as well as the nicest!”
The Railway Children

Of course, the best kind of family pastime to go along with this family story would be something having to do with toy engines, like Peter’s. But be sure to be as willing to share as he is!

     “There’s my present,” said Peter, suddenly dumping down his adored steam-engine on the table in front of her. Its tender had been lined with fresh white paper, and was full of sweets.
     “Oh, Peter!” cried Bobbie, quite overcome by this munificence, “not your own dear little engine that you’re so fond of?”
     “Oh, no,” said Peter, very promptly, “not the engine. Only the sweets.”
Bobbie couldn’t help her face changing a little . . . now she felt she had been silly to think it. Also she felt it must have seemed greedy to expect the engine as well as the sweets . . . Peter saw it. He hesitated a minute; then his face changed, too, and he said: “I mean not all the engine. I’ll let you go halves if you like.”
     “You’re a brick,” cried Bobbie . . .
The Railway Children

As a matter of fact, all of them are bricks, and by the time you finish reading, they will be as dear to you as if they were members of your own family and village circle.

An appropriate treat to serve while reading this story would be apple pie, just like the children have on their first morning at the “Three Chimneys.”

. . . It was a little square room, and on its table, all nicely set out, was a joint of cold roast beef, with bread and butter, cheese, and a pie.
     “Pie for breakfast!” cried Peter; “how perfectly ripping!”
     “It isn’t pigeon-pie,” said Mother; “it’s only apple. Well, this is the supper we ought to have had last night. And there was a note from Mrs Viney . . . She’s coming this morning at ten.”
That was a wonderful breakfast.
The Railway Children

And because this apple pie (see recipe below) is made with maple syrup and not sugar, perhaps you could serve it for breakfast as well! But, of course, it would do just as well for supper.

And remember, if you decide to hold your own “Reading and Refreshments,” please let us hear about it! Tell us how your family enjoyed the book and whether or not you made the treat to go with it. If you can, send us a photograph as well. You can contact us at

The next installment of “Reading and Refreshments” will be coming out in April.

Breakfast Apple Pie


 For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon cold butter, diced
3 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
6 large apples
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
For the crumb topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ cup maple syrup
¾ cup graham cracker crumbs


  1. First, make the piecrust. Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium-sized bowl, and then cut in the cold butter, using either your fingers or a pastry cutter, until pea-sized pieces remain.
  2. Add the water and lightly toss together with a fork. Once the dough starts to come together, turn it out onto the counter and gently work it with your hands into a cohesive mass. Flatten into a disc.
  3. Wrap the disc of dough in plastic wrap and transfer it to the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Once the pie dough is chilled, remove it from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and transfer to a flour-dusted counter.
  4. Roll out into a circle about 11 inches in diameter, rotating the dough after every few passes of the rolling pin and dusting the counter with additional flour as necessary.
  5. Fold the circle in half, lift it up, and gently and quickly deposit it on one side of a 9-inch pie plate.
  6. Unfold the circle of dough to cover the rest of the pie plate and carefully ease it down into the corners. Trim the excess dough half an inch beyond the edge of the pie plate.
  7. Fold the ½-inch overhang under the dough that is covering the rim and press the two layers together so that they stand upright along the rim. Then take the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and place them against the upturned “collar” of dough, pressing the knuckle of your right forefinger between them to crimp the edge. Repeat all the way around the circumference of the pie.
  8. Transfer the prepared pie shell to the refrigerator to chill again.
  9. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  10. Peel and core the apples for the filling. Cut each apple in half and then slice each half into ¼” thick wedges.
  11. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples, cover, and cook until the fruit is beginning to soften.
  12. Uncover the pan, pour in the maple syrup, and bring to a vigorous simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced and the syrup clings to the apples. Stir in the spices and transfer to a bowl.
  13. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, and oats for the topping. Rub in the cubed butter with your fingertips until the mixture begins to clump together.
  14. Stir in the maple syrup and graham cracker crumbs. The topping will be quite moist and sticky.
  15. Spread the apple filling in the chilled pie shell and drop clumps of the topping over the filling until it is completely covered.
  16. Place in the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown and firm to the touch, 25-30 minutes.
  17. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Yield: 8-10 servings


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