(Isn't that the most adorable cover? I want this edition.)
Like I said, most of us, at least the 'us' who are around my age, are probably more familiar with Ratty and Toad and Mole through the Disney double-feature, Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It's a wonderful little movie. I also saw some animated version of the whole book when I was very young, but it scared the crap out of me. Too realistic. I'd probably enjoy it now because it seemed more faithful to the book, which, as it turns out, is precious.
Wind&Willows is very much a product of its time. If you've never read any novels from around the turn of the century, this is a good one to start with. It's got animals doing human things (around and with humans, no less!) like a children's story, but it's also got some pretty beautiful scenes. The chapter entitled "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is especially attention-grabbing.
It's an easy book to read because it's so... well, charming. It's got a bit of everything. How do you not like a book where a Toad drives a motorcar like a maniac? Where, interspersed with Toad's drama, is an episodic unfolding of the idyllic life of a Mole and a Water Rat's friendship? What about a reenactment of Odysseus's return and subsequent routing of the suitors - when Odysseus is actually a delinquent and very naughty Toad?
Meanwhile, under the shenanigans and weasel-beating and the occasional comedy of animal manners, Grahame has a few nuggets of thought to pass on to the reader. What's the meaning of home? When's the time to leave home and when's the time to stay? How do nature and civilization play together? They're never stated outright, but the undercurrents of conflict and questioning are there. It's enhanced by the playfulness of the rest of the story. Somehow, these subtexts are easier to take - they're even lovely - when it's a Water Rat pondering them.
But on the whole, Wind&Willows is a delightful, lighthearted romp through some river country in England, played out by sophisticated animals who may sometimes have too much fun with motorcars and riverboats.