Harris's Reviews > The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
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Dec 30, 14

bookshelves: nostalgia, library-book, read-aloud, mystery, ya
Read in February, 2010

Recently, my sister and I have been revisiting favorite books from our childhoods for purely nostalgic reasons. Going along with that nostalgia, we have been reading them to each other on car trips, as that was how we remember many, including the Boxcar Children. This first book is an origin story for the troop of siblings who later would go on many adventures solving various mysteries, though if I recall correctly, these may or may not be actual crimes. I remember loving this series as a kid, and I can definitely see how this would be very attractive to children; the Alden family, despite being orphans, live in this book a fantasy that many children spend much time imagining, I believe. I mean, we all loved setting up "houses" away from adult supervision in "clubhouses" or whatnot pretending that we were exploring or hiding or any other imaginary idea and the book really does follow that idea, I think. The "mysteries" in the later books also really appealed to me, being a curious and inquisitive kid but that did not seem to be a big factor in the first book.

However, I can definitely question some of the themes shown in this book in my modern, adult mind. The Alden children were depicted as nearly perfect in their demeanor, speaking in awkwardly formal diction and were unfailingly polite and truthful in all circumstances, even while escaping from who they perceived to be a "mean, uncaring" grandfather. It is hard to imagine such flawlessly "well-behaved" children existing in real life. The siblings lack of conflicting personalities may make it easier for the reader to place him or herself in the story as well, though. Mid-century social mores are also deeply ingrained in the book, with oldest male child Henry in charge of all the bread winning and planning, while Jessie, the second youngest provided moral support and cooking and housekeeping duties appropriate for her gender. All the children possess unfailing work ethics, never complain, and are always rewarded for their goodness. Looking back, I am forced to wonder how these traditional ideas have effected me in my childhood. Perhaps much of the idealization in the Alden children in actuality contributed positively to my personality. In spite of all of this, I can still see the reasons I enjoyed it myself so much as a child, with its simple yet compelling plot and enjoyable (if idealized) characters, and I would definitely introduce my own future children to the series.
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