Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: The Boxcar Children Beginning

The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm 

Prequel to the "Boxcar Children" series, by Patricia MacLachlan (author of Sarah, Plain and Tall).  Early Middle Grade historical fiction, approx. 140 pages.

First things first: I did not grow up with the Boxcar Children (not sure why; I just didn't), and have only read a few of the original books by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  But I totally sympathize with Ms. MacLachlan's desire to know more about the children and where they came from.

In this simply written story, MacLachlan tells of the months before the children become orphans (you guessed that from the title, right?) and hit the road on their own.  She tells of their life on the farm, working hard to make ends meet, but happy and comfortable enough as a family to welcome others into their lives and home as the poor displaced by the Depression begin passing.

In many ways, the story reminded me of my ancient Bobbsey Twins books.  The children manage more adult things than you'd expect (again, we knew that of them).  They even put on a circus (that was the biggest "Bobbsey" moment for me) with simple tricks and a cow dressed as an elephant.  Oddly, the adults in the book don't seem to question the kids' decisions very much.  In particular, when the children decide they must run away rather than trying to contact the grandfather they believe doesn't like them, they confide in their neighbors.  To my surprise, never once do those adults ask if they are doing the right thing.  I can see them ultimately deciding that the decision is for Henry and Jessie to make, but I did expect a little pushback.

Ultimately, it's a sweet, not terribly real (despite historical details) story that takes about an hour  to read and offers one answer to the mystery implied in the opening lines of The Boxcar Children: "No one knew them.  No one knew where they had come from."  Beats the heck out of the hundreds of generic spin-offs written over the years to keep the franchise going and "update" the characters.

Three stars.


  1. Interesting. I'm not sure if I want to know the background to the first book though. I always loved the mystery of it. I love the original books and my six year old is starting to read them now. I might have to check this one out because I'm pretty sure that he would love it. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I didn't read the series until I read them to my own kids. I thought they were great stories about far-away places. Well-written books, too. Yes, thanks for sharing.

  3. Sarah--I half agree. I like making up my own answers, which can be a lot more complex than can be put in a children's book :)

    Julie--I haven't read very many of the series, but the first 18 were actually written by Warner, and after that they become a corporate entity, much like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (and Bobbsey Twins, for that matter). My sister-in-law told me not to bother reading beyond those first 18, but I found even the first couple of sequels lost the magic.

  4. Oh my goodness! The Boxcar Children. I had forgotten all about that series, but I remember how much I used to love them. The Bobbsey Twins, too. Now I'll have to check out the library for a copy just to reminisce. Nice review, Rebecca!

    M.L. Swift, Writer

  5. Always fun to stroll down memory lane, Mike!


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