Monday, June 25, 2012

The Boxcar Children: Beginning

"One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery.  No one knew them.  No one knew where they had come from." So begins The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  I first heard this story in second grade when my teacher, Mrs. Harris read it to our class.  I was enthralled by the story of the orphaned Alden children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny and the home they made in an abandoned boxcar, furnished with items found in the dump.

Though their parents are dead, the children are not entirely without family. Grandfather Alden, their father's father, is still alive, but due to a falling out with their father years ago, they have never met the man.  Well, the story ends (spoiler alert) with the Grandfather turning out to be a kindly, wealthy man who takes them in and raises them, moving their boxcar into his large backyard.

Chandler wrote this and 18 more stories about the Boxcar children.  At her death, the publisher, Albert Whitman continued the series with several different authors.  First published in 1942, they are still popular today.  

Now well-known children's author Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) has written a prequel to the series.  The Boxcar Children: Beginning establishes the Alden children on a farm with their loving parents Kate and Ben.  It's the Depression and times are tough, but the Aldens are a loving and generous family, sharing what they have with any strangers who wander by. When a family on its way to move in with relatives has car trouble right in front of the Alden's farm, they wind up staying for several weeks, becoming close friends with the Aldens. 

The  estrangement from Grandfather Alden is explained by the fact that Ben decided to live on  Kate's family farm rather than going into business with his father.  When Ben and Kate are killed in a car accident the children are faced with the choice of going to an orphanage, going to live with their mean grandfather, or heading out on their own.  The story leaves with them setting out for parts unknown, eventually arriving in front of the bakery.

Basically, MacLachlan does a good job of telling the story.  Written with a vocabulary and style suitable to the early chapter-book readers who have read the original story, she establishes the background of the Alden children in a style similar to Warner's, albeit a tad more saccharine in spots.  My major issue is that the death of the parents seems almost anti-climactic, and the children's reaction is almost too stoic.  I understand that the story is for younger readers, and there might be concern about traumatizing them, but I think a little stronger reaction to their death might have been okay.  Overall, I felt this was a good story about a loving family, and a good way to explain how the Boxcar Children their start.  I would suggest that children still read the original stories first.

I read this as an Advance Reader copy on my ereader from Net Galley, so by the time the final edition comes out in September there may be changes in content and style.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Overdressed: Elizabeth Cline's blog

For those interested in learning more about Elizabeth Cline's research into the fashion industry and suggestions of how to avoid fast fashion, I've just discovered her blog:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

You wouldn't know this by looking at me, but I love fashion.  From Barbie dolls in my childhood to Seventeen magazine as a teen, and more recently, my Project Runway" obsession, I've always loved looking at clothing and imaging having a fantastic wardrobe.  Fortunately, I had a grandmother who was an expert seamstress, so many of my clothes came from her, then as I got older, I was able to make many of my own clothes.  

Over the past few years, however, I haven't had as much time for sewing, so most of my clothes have been purchased ready-made.  Being budget-conscious, I always try to buy my clothes on sale.  There have been many times when I've been excited about the "steals" on got on my shopping trips.

Elizabeth Cline was also a budget shopper.  In Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Clothing she describes spotting canvas shoes at K-Mart.  Marked down from $15 to $7, she couldn't resist, and wound up buying 7 pairs.  Of course, within a few weeks, they had basically disintegrated, and two pairs wound up never being worn because she got tired of them.

This led her to look a bit more carefully at the clothes we buy.  The cost of clothing has dropped tremendously in the past few years, and there is more of it. Companies such as Old Navy, H & M, and Forever 21 constantly change their inventories, enticing the consumer to shop more frequently to see "what's new."  And because it's so cheap, we don't feel bad about carrying home armloads of new clothes, only to wind up not wearing very much of it.  As a result, each year tons of clothing are discarded, much of it going to landfills.  

The drain on limited resources is astounding.  Most clothing now is made from polyester, an oil-based chemical.  Then, the clothing is made in factories, almost all of which are outside the United States, under working conditions that are less than ideal, to say the least.

Cline thoroughly examines each of these different facets of fashion by spending time with fashion bloggers who post videos of their clothing "hauls," talking to fashion industry executives in the Garment District of New York,  and visiting factories in China and Bangladesh.  She also takes a look at what happens to our clothes when we get tired of them by touring a Goodwill facility and a clothes recycling business.

Cline calls this trend of cheap fashion "fast fashion," and compares it to the past, when we made our clothes last as long as possible.  She looks at some alternatives to fast fashion, and visits some clothing companies that are placing an emphasis on environmentally-friendly, high-quality clothes.  She also spent time with a young woman who has made the decision to make all of her own clothes.  Cline went so far as to learn to sew herself, an activity she eventually found to be quite satisfactory.

I have to say that I found this book to be informative, thought-provoking, and inspiring. I'm looking at my clothes differently, and it's encouraged me to start sewing more of my clothes again.  I know that I'll definitely be more thoughtful in my clothing purchases, looking at the fabrics used, and the conditions under which they were created.  I'm also going to try to be satisfied with fewer clothes of higher quality.

 Reviewers have compared it to Michael Pollan, the writer largely responsible for changing the ways we look at food, and I would have to agree.  I'm strongly suggesting that all my fashion-loving (and bargain-loving) friends read it.