The Railway Children
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On our cover this issue we feature an illustration by Charles Keeping from Beowulf (OUP, 0 19 279770 0, £4.50), a new picture book version for 9-13s of the Anglo-Saxon hero tale. The story is retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland. We are most grateful to Oxford University Press for their help in using this illustration.
What I wonder are Puffin's motives in collecting these titles into a new series? Do they presume that young readers wish to add these so-called classics to their collections on a sort of 'yard of children's books' principle? Will it simply work out as an economical proposition due to copyright considerations? Are these books aimed at the doting aunties and ill-informed grannies market, who generally like to buy familiar and safe-sounding books for their young relatives?
Given that they have arrived, who will read them? My librarian considers that children (and teachers) have enough on to keep up with newer and perhaps more meaningful books; They do not need to be 'cluttered' (her word), with some of the older titles, especially when not all are strictly children's classics anyway. I personally doubt whether they cannot be matched in style by more modern authors. Most make good stories, but not all so great as to be an indispensable part of literary growth.
On a more positive note, most of these books are now adapted for film or television and as such frequently on the small screen. For this reason alone, on the off-chance that a pupil will want to read the original, a copy or two in the classroom, library or bookshop will not come amiss. They are attractively pieced.
And so to the plot...
The Railway Children were prancing about in the smoke, steam and grime of a railway embankment trying to stop trains from crashing, for which service they received great praise plus watches and chains. There's also a damaged boy pretending to be a dog, an old gentleman who seems to spend a lot of time travelling, a long-suffering mother who is so poor she can only afford one servant, a Russian revolutionary, and a dark secret.
I said these classics made good stories didn't I?