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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Books you've just GOT to read!! #6

(Or our favorite under-appreciated, under-loved, long-forgotten or never heard of books that we know you'll love just as much as we do when we convince you to finally read them!...phew....books....)

It's time for another installment!

This time, I wanted to talk a bit about a much loved, but sometimes overlooked and forgotten series...The Boxcar Children. So many of us grew up reading the Boxcar Children books and then many of our kids did as well. I thought you'd enjoy the story of what the Boxcar Children meant to one reader...

Mandie of Just We Moms shares her story with us:

When Gertrude Warner was home sick from her teaching job one day, she came up with the idea of The Boxcar Children. She began writing the first of many Boxcar Children stories. Many of her pupils were learning English as a second language, so Ms. Warner worked diligently to make the story simple to read to encourage emergent readers to develop a love for reading.

Back in February of 1985, I moved from North Carolina to Iowa. Moving mid-year meant all the students my new class had already formed bonds with one another and I had a more difficult time breaking into the group. I vividly remember walking into the school library and finding a copy of The Boxcar Children on the shelf. I remember it was one shelf removed from the circulation desk located on the middle shelf on the far left side, the carpet was brown, and the librarian scared me. My interest was peaked because this book was the first in a series and if I liked it, I wouldn’t have to do the overwhelming job of finding another book with the scary librarian watching my every move since this was just the first in a series!

I was not disappointed with The Boxcar Children. Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny quickly captured my imagination. I had three sisters at home, but never a close relationship with them. I had multiple new friends at school, but no one with whom I had created a close bond.Visiting with the Alden orphans on a daily basis filled a large void in my life. I imagined running away from the orphanage, going to the local dump with them looking for the necessities of life, and finding that boxcar in the woods like an oasis in the desert. I joined Henry in his trips to the nice doctor’s house where he earned money to help feed his siblings. I sat in suspense as Violet fell ill and grew concerned whenever thoughts of the book’s villain, the orphans’ grandfather, came to mind.

When Gertrude Warner wrote the first book in this series in 1924, I am sure she never imagined it would grow to be 140 installments since she only penned the first 19! I am sure she also never imagined a younggirl in Iowa looking for a place to belong and finding solace the characters she created. Because of the experiences I had with the series, I will always have a special place in my heart for Gertrude
Warner, Henry, Jessie, Violet, Benny, and their grandfather, Mr. Alden.

Plot Summary of the first Boxcar Children book (from Wikipedia)

The first book tells the story of four children: Henry James Alden, 14; Jessie Alden, 12; Violet Alden, 10; Benny Alden, 6; and their dog Watch. Upon the death of their mother and father, their grandfather assumes custody of the children, but they run away because they believe him to be cruel. Finding an abandoned boxcar, they start a new life of independence. They furnish their boxcar with items retrieved from a local dump while Henry works for a young doctor, in order to earn money for food. The young doctor, Dr. Moore, who lives in a nearby city, hires Henry to do jobs around his home, such as mowing the lawn and organizing his garage. He also does gardening for Mrs. Moore. (In one case, Mrs. Moore let him take home some parsnips and carrots he had picked because they were too small) The children's lives are pleasant and simple until Violet becomes ill and they must go to Dr. Moore for assistance.

Earlier in the novel, Dr. Moore has read in the newspaper that a man named James Alden was offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who can locate his four lost grandchildren. When Violet is taken ill, Dr. Moore finally contacts James Alden, who arrives just after the children bring in Violet for treatment. Not wanting to frighten the children into running away again, their grandfather referred to himself as Mr. Henry (Henry being his middle name). Not knowing that the man was their "cruel" grandfather, the children warm to his kindness and are surprised but delighted when Dr. Moore reveals to them that he is their grandfather. After moving in with their grandfather, Mr. Alden moves the boxcar to his backyard for their enjoyment.

Boxcar Children is one of those rare literary franchises that can last for decades. You might remember them from your childhood, if so, introduce the Alden children to your family once again!


Sandra K321 said...

As a child back in the early 60's, this was one of my favorite books. My 2nd grade teacher would have us come in from recess and put our heads down on our desks while she read from this series. I loved all of the adventures. When I had my own children I would read to them from these stories, too. I think I still have about 40 of these sitting on a bookshelf upstairs. Some are by Gertrude Warner and others were written by other authors after she stopped writing. I'm glad to see you mention these charming books here. They opened up a museum for her in her hometime of Putnam, Connecticut a few years ago in, you guessed it, a boxcar.

CJ said...

I somehow missed these books when I was young but I got the pleasure of reading them to my nieces when they were little. For me, it was Trixie Belden and the Bobbsey Twins.

Thanks for a lovely trip down memory lane.


Anonymous said...

Great summary of the story. Thanks for posting this nice memory!

Unknown said...

Sandra: I read there was a museum. That would be fun to visit. Clearly, it would have to be in a boxcar!

cj: I'm glad you discovered them, better late than never!

rhapsodyinbooks: Thanks. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, too!

-Mandie of Just We Moms

Anonymous said...

I never tire of hearing about the pure pleasure that books can impart to readers. How wonderful to have written a series in 1924 and have it still being discussed 85 years later. As an author of children's fiction I can only dream of achieving such a powerful following.
Maureen Hume (www.thepizzagang.com)