Seventy years ago a Connecticut schoolteacher wrote a story to entertain her first grade students. Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children was the story of four brave and resourceful orphans who, before they are united with their benevolent and wealthy grandfather, live on their own in an abandoned boxcar. The Alden siblings–Henry, Violet, Jessie and Benny––cook their own food, solve their own problems and create a home for themselves without adult supervision. Warner offers many rich (and delicious) details of their rustic existence: the taste of brown potatoes baked on a fire pit, the sweetness of water from a stream, the quiet hush of a moonlit country road, a soft bed of pine needles, and the deep satisfaction that comes from making and fixing things. With The Boxcar Children a beloved series was born. Chandler wrote 19 of the over 100 titles that make up the series today.
In honor of the series’ 70th anniversary, a prequel, The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens at Fair Meadow Farm by Newberry Award winner Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall) has been published and Warner’s original story has been released with new cover art, and original black and white illustrations and maps. The prequel gives young readers a glimpse of the four Aldens before they became orphans. We meet their parents and see what life was like on a Depression era farm. The children walk to school, do chores, and with help from some friends and a cooperative cow, put on a circus for their neighbors. MacLachlan gently but forthrightly presents the death of the Alden parents because of a car accident, and enriches Warner’s original with many humorous and credible touches.
A schoolteacher’s tale of four children alone in the world still nourishes a child’s sense of himself or herself as an autonomous being, still reassures with its demonstration of the power of family love, still immerses young readers in an exhilarating natural world, and provides the shivers required of a good mystery. Because 21st century children have so few opportunities for real independence, this timeless adventure is empowering reading. Without special effects, super powers, superheroes, wands or spells, the Alden children take care of each other, meet challenges and solve big problems. Strength and joy comes from within and from each other.The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (7 and up).
The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm by Patrica MacLachlan.
There are graphic novel versions and easy-reader versions of Boxcar Children stories available. There is also a contest that runs until Otober 31st: One child between the ages of 5 and 14 years will win a voice part in a new animated DVD version of The Boxcar Children. For details visit: http://promoshq.wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/265482
Jo Perry has a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, and worked as a college administrator and as a television writer and producer. She is a reviewer for BookBrowse.com and is an ongoing contributor to kidsLA Magazine for which she writes about the city, children’s books, and conducts interviews. For two years she wrote the Kids’ Book Club column for the L.A. Times’ Kids’ Reading Room page.