The Boxcar Children Beginning
written by Patricia MacLachlan
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
The Alden children, along with Homer Price, were probably my first heroes of children's literature. I couldn't believe this group of kids could set out on their own and survive. They were clever and really looked out for each other. In conjunction with the seventieth anniversary of the original Boxcar Children book, a prequel has been written by Patricia MacLachlan. Now before you go off muttering about tampering with the original and thinking bad thoughts involving George Lucas, take a deep breath. Look at whose name is on the bottom of the book. It's someone we trust and whose books we have loved. Stories like Sarah, Plain and Tall and Seven Kisses in a Row are classic tales of families. This same sensitive touch is applied to the Alden family. They live on a farm during the Depression and even though times are tough, the Aldens love one another and work together to thrive through their difficulties. During a snowstorm, a family passing through pulls up in the driveway. The Clark family is on their way to New Hampshire to live with a relative, but they are having car trouble. Kate and Ben Alden, along with their children Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, take the family into their home. This being the 1930s and not having an auto parts store on every corner, the Clarks have to live with the Aldens until the car part they need arrives in the mail. The two families bond and share the chores on the farm. The arrival of the car part is bittersweet as the families have grown close. The Clarks and Aldens choose not to say goodbye, but instead say they are only three inches apart on the map. Not long afterwards, readers of the original Boxcar Children series meet up with the event we knew had to come. MacLachlan handles it with a delicate touch and this sets the wheels in motion for the children to set out on their own.
I wasn't sure about this prequel, but I read it from start to finish without putting it down. It's not a long book which is in keeping with the original series. I like the interaction between the two families. There is genuine affection and kindness displayed, but it isn't sappy. I appreciate how the tragedy in the Alden family is handled. You might need to help readers with background knowledge about orphans in the Depression era and why these children might have decided to strike out on their own. In this era of instant communication, it may be hard for students to comprehend the world of the Depression era. On the other hand, many students, who have experienced this economic downturn personally, will be able to relate to people looking for work and having to move to find it. Readers of the original Boxcar Children series and newcomers will be more than satisfied with The Boxcar Children Beginning.