I never read The Boxcar Children when I was a kid. Maybe the adults in my world thought a captivating tale of four clever children who make a home in an old boxcar in the woods with no grown-ups to help them was too subversive. I would have been charmed and envious and immediately brainstormed how to pull off a trick like that myself. Could have read it at a very tender age, too, which is exactly what Gertrude Chandler Warner intended when she began her series. It lasted for nineteen books.
The four Alden children, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny are orphans–no details about the event that maroons them in a world without parents but they set out to survive together–and to avoid the grumpy old grandfather whom they have heard about but never met. Along the way, they nearly come to grief in a bakery and stumble across an abandoned boxcar in the woods where they set up a makeshift home. It’s very cozy and they are resourceful kids so Henry finds day jobs in town and the others discover a dump with old dishes, pitchers and spoons, a berry patch in the woods, plenty of stones to make a fireplace for cooking, and pine needles for beds. They dam a creek to make a swimming pool for baths. They also acquire a stray dog who adopts them and watches over them.
They are very smart, nice children and their adventures are only a little bit scary–nothing a literate kid couldn’t handle. The book would make a good read-aloud, of course, but Warner wrote for kids to read themselves and these are the addictive kind of candy a child would stay up late to finish. I am a firm believer in seducing children to read, by any means, so I’d leave them around to be discovered.
The Boxcar Children is an imaginative adventure to explore at any age–I liked the first book a lot and would read subsequent volumes, although the kids do move indoors eventually so I’m not sure how the rest of the books play out. Still, Warner writes about a more innocent world that would be as strange and unlikely as the Shire to a contemporary child. So the series is now a fantasy as well as fiction. But a fantasy with thrifty, environmentally-conscious children living sustainably off their local resources and recycling like mad. Way ahead of its time.
The Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, No. 1) (Boxcar Children Mysteries) Gertrude Chandler Warner | Albert Whitman & Company 1977