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The Primrose Railway Children by Jacqueline Wilson, Illustrated by Rachael Dean


Jacqueline Wilson’s books for children are renowned as modern classics. It’s no wonder then, that as she turns her hand to retelling a story that has stood the test of generations, the resulting book is a fresh and unforgettable adventure.


Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children was first published in 1906. It takes courage to redo a classic, and it’s not about whether or not Wilson has done it better. The Primrose Railway Children updates a fun and charming story for modern children, with flourish and originality. When Becks, Perry and Phoebe’s beloved, funny father mysteriously disappears one day, and their overworked and frazzled mum takes them on an unexpected holiday away from London to a dilapidated old cottage, the family is put to the test. Becks is fourteen (almost fifteen), obsessed with make up and boys. Perry is obsessed with facts. Phoebe describes herself as neither pretty nor smart. She loves art and making up stories, like her dad, her favourite person in the whole world.


But now Dad is missing, and while Mum has said he’s on a desert island filming a TV documentary so can’t contact them, it’s hard to be sure. At first the cottage where they are staying – the only one available that could be booked at such short notice – horrifies everyone but Phoebe, who loves its rustic charm and the paintings on its walls. It has no signal, an outdoor loo, and there’s no road to the door, only grassy fields filled with rabbit holes. However, it turns out to have one spectacular advantage. It is close to the Primrose Railway, where the family soon find themselves spending much of their time.


There’s something at the Primrose Railway for everyone – for Mum, it’s the coffee and wifi, for Becks, the hunky eighteen-year-old ticket collector Jake, and for Perry, the steam engine trains themselves. For Phoebe, it’s Mr Thomas Brown, the elderly railway volunteer who’s so kind to her, especially as she’s missing her dad.


Dad’s disappearance is a mystery hanging over the whole book. When will they see him again? And soon, the children start to wonder, are they ever going home?


The three kids make up a family that Wilson makes come alive. While the general plot follows the original book, there’s plenty that’s new here. It’s easy to get caught up in the family dramas, the new people they meet at the village, and Phoebe’s wild imagination. My favourite part was the place the family stays; the grass fields, damp with dew in the morning, and the cottage, at first strange and then familiar, filled with beautiful artefacts that tell a story of their own, set the scene for many a family holiday. The illustrations are whimsical and break up the text of the book. This is an enjoyable read for 8 to 14 year olds, perhaps to be devoured on their own summer break.


Reviewer: Susannah Lyon-Whaley

Puffin