In The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, an idyllic home life is shattered before the story hardly starts. An unspeakable dread befalls a family's loving father when he is spirited away from home and children in a cloak of secrecy. Adaptable, as children almost always are, they find delight in impoverished circumstances imposed on the family by the father's absence.
Living in an English country cottage not far from a railway station, the children befriend everyone with whom they come in contact in the little community. They engage in childish plans and play, some of which are little more than roadside flowers to be enjoyed along the way, and some are bridges on the road itself bringing them across the gulf that has separated them from the happiness they knew. And so the story shows that it is impossible to tell which kindness on a given day simply does good along the way and which is so tied to future happiness that were it left undone the story itself would end quite differently.
Thus, sometimes chapters present heart-warming vignettes of childhood adventures, and sometimes the vignettes rise to the pitch of saving lives. Throughout it all, the commonplace is made heroic. There is much of perseverance and sending out goodness into a world when all the world has been unfair. Ultimately, goodness comes back and there is a sense in the happy ending that it will endure because the happiness will be more greatly prized, and because those who enjoy it will have learned something about the things on which happiness is based.
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit is featured in Vol 2 No 3 and Vol 8 No 3 of The Storybook Home Journal.