Convinced their grandfather hates them, the Alden children run away following the death of their parents so they cannot be forced to live with their g...moreConvinced their grandfather hates them, the Alden children run away following the death of their parents so they cannot be forced to live with their grandfather and stumble across an abandoned boxcar. The children work hard to set up the boxcar as their new home with Jessie and Violet keeping house and a watchful eye on their little brother, Benny, and Watch the watchdog while older brother, Henry, performs odd jobs for the doctor in the next town over.
I was recently reminded by Warner’s series, although I cannot recall exactly how or why now. The Boxcar Children, the first book in the series, was one of those novels that sparked my imagination as a child. I turned my bedroom into a boxcar casting my dog as Watch and gathering provisions in a box in my room. Milk in a water bottle packed amongst ice pack still spoils, if you were wondering.
Having now reread the first book in the series, I’m amazed at how clearly I remember every event and detail — the visit to the dump where Benny finds his pink cup, the mean woman at the bakery, the foot race, and the ending, of course. I’m not sure I could say the same of other childhood favorites, and I enjoyed my returned to the boxcar. Almost makes me want to revisit more in the series (my public library has three shelves full!), although I cannot recall if I ever read more than the first book in the series so it may not be a return by rather an introduction.(less)
Fifteen-year-old Laura manages to earn her teaching certificate even though teachers must be sixteen in the Dakota territories and is sent to teach at...moreFifteen-year-old Laura manages to earn her teaching certificate even though teachers must be sixteen in the Dakota territories and is sent to teach at a claim shanty twelve miles from the Ingalls family home. Feeling completely out of her element both as a teacher and a border in a local family’s home, Laura desperately wants to go home toughing it out only because her family needs her wages to pay for Mary’s tuition at the college for the blind. And, thankfully, Almanzo Wilder arrives every Friday with his sleigh to drive her home for the weekend no matter what the weather holds.
Judging by the torn spine, this was probably my favorite book in the series as a child. I’m not sure I would go as far to make that claim now, particularly because of how aghast I was at Laura’s attitude towards Almanzo. I wouldn’t dare to suggest a woman owes a man a date in thanks for driving her home, but she acts pretty resentful towards him for the intrusion into her life. Laura was told not to expect that her father would bring her home every weekend, but I do think she anticipated that he would and resented Almanzo for usurping Pa’s role as the hero.
That said, I do love how slowly Laura falls in love with Almanzo. It’s rather refreshing after the plethora of love-at-first-sight novels that saturate the market as of late. And I admired Laura’s determination to stick it out in her teaching job, although I would have thrown in the towel and walked the twelve miles home when the woman I’m living with pulls a knife and tells her husband to make me leave right now. Given the bleakness of such an event, I think the happy note on which the novel (and thus the original series) ends is probably why I loved the book so much as a child.(less)
After surviving the long winter, the town of De Smet experiences a building boom and Charles’ experience as a carpenter is in great demand. Still not...moreAfter surviving the long winter, the town of De Smet experiences a building boom and Charles’ experience as a carpenter is in great demand. Still not old enough to teach but desperate to help raise money to send Mary to college for the blind, Laura takes a job sewing shirts consigning this former tomboy to sit still for hours on end engaged in an activity she hates.
The lightness of the seventh book in the series is a nice reprieve following the bleakness of the previous book, and the whole town seems to be celebrating the change in the weather with a series of parties and extravagant spending. (Yes, what we now call business cards were extravagant expenses at 25 cents!) Almanzo also beings courting Laura in this book asking to walk her home after church much to the chagrin of her mother because Laura is, after all, only fifteen and Almanzo is ten years older. I forgot how large the age gap really was, and I can better understand how Laura was so confused about Almanzo’s attention towards her. I would be, too, and I’m far closer in age to him than Laura was.
The racist attitudes of the Ingalls family continue in this book with Ma stating that her daughters will never work in the fields because they are Americans and only foreigners do that. And the blackface minstrel show Charles participates in gave me great pause as an adult reader, but I, for one, am glad neither moment has been removed from the book as I think it is important to remind readers of the truth about American history.
Like the previous novel in the series, this book shows how human the Ingalls are as people. The evil Nellie Olsen returns as a poor country girl, which she used to taunt Laura about being, and Laura has a series of run-ins with the new teacher, Miss Wilder, which she paints as petty actions on the part of Almanzo’s sister. But it is also obvious through Laura’s actions towards her teacher and her glee over Nellie’s change in circumstances that Laura herself can be very petty showing that the Ingalls are not as perfect as people make them out to be. And, thankfully, Mary’s haughtiness and constant good behavior is finally explained as a very human need to show off in this book allowing me to (kind of) let go of my dislike of her. (less)
A series of terrible blizzards hit the town of De Smet in the Dakota Territories where the Ingalls family now resides from October until April. Figuri...moreA series of terrible blizzards hit the town of De Smet in the Dakota Territories where the Ingalls family now resides from October until April. Figuring his family will be safer in town than in the roughly built shanty on his claim, Charles moves the family and their provisions of food and coal into town and Caroline decides the proximity means the Laura and her younger sister, Carrie, can attend school all winter-long. Conditions deteriorate as snow pills up blocking the train tracks and preventing the supply train from traveling to De Smet, and the Ingalls family are forced to ration their provisions as winter drags on and they wait for Almanzo Wilder and his brother, Royal, to return from their desperate journey into the cold to save the town.
The sixth book in the series is undoubtedly the bleakest in the series with the ever constant threat of starvation hanging over the family’s head. One wrong turn in the blizzard could have cost all of the school children, including Laura and Carrie, their lives; one more refusal on the part of Almanzo to sell his seed wheat could have meant the Ingalls family starved to death. One more day without school or human interaction could have caused the family to go crazy.
Charles and the rest of the men in town forced Loftus, the storekeeper, to “see reason” and sell his dwindling storeroom of goods are a risible price. It is never explained exactly how the mob managed to make Loftus see reason, but it was probably more heavy-handed than the way Charles persuaded Almanzo to “sell” his seed wheat – bringing his bucket to Almanzo’s house, pounding on the walls until he found the false wall behind which the seed was stored, and taking some whilst telling Almanzo to set his price. And, at one point, Charles and members of the community rob an emigrant train traveling through the community.
The desperate is certainly understandable and goes to show how human the Ingalls were. Much of Wilder’s series is spent extolling the virtues of the family, particularly Charles, but this book shows that the family was facing a desperate time and, therefore, were desperate in their actions. It is not the romanticized portrayal of life as an American pioneer that permeates the rest of the series.
That said, the ingenuity of the Ingalls family as American pioneers still remains at the forefront of the novel. Who else but the Ingalls would have thought to twist wheat stalks into “logs” in order to create a fuel source? Or, would use the coffee grinder to turn seed wheat into flour?(less)
Previously published as And This Our Life, which I have already read. Do not know if it's a good thing (due to editing) or a bad thing that I did not...morePreviously published as And This Our Life, which I have already read. Do not know if it's a good thing (due to editing) or a bad thing that I did not recognize the story until working on my review.