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.

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