Reviewing a Childhood Classic

The Original Text of Boxcar Children

By Jeff Salter

On one of the FB groups (I belong to) where some of the “old-time” children’s series books are discussed, someone recently mentioned something about the original Boxcar Children series having been revised at some point… presumably because certain details were now considered a bit dicey. When I read that, I wondered, “what on earth could have been dicey about the Boxcar kids?”

Someone (on that thread) explained that at least one of those details had to do with their father being a drunk… and dying (drunk) shortly after they’d moved to a new town.

Well, that’s certainly an unseemly beginning of their story, but I saw no need for any later editors to have censored those facts. Nevertheless, the interchange about this book aroused my curiosity and I decided I must obtain a copy of the original 1924 text. So I did.

Summary

There are four siblings in the newly-orphaned family: two boys and two girls. The oldest (Henry) is 13; next is Jessie, a girl of 12. Violet is next and the youngest is a boy (Benny) who’s around 3, as I recall.

These kids had been told by their late father that their only living relative was a grandfather who supposedly disliked them… he was a cruel man who had basically disinherited their (alcoholic) father when he’d married and started this young family. [There’s no mention of their mother, presumably deceased.]

Now that the kids are orphaned, some of the local neighborhood folks want to “help” — but the only assistance they can imagine is either to admit the kids to an orphanage or to deliver them into the hands of the grandfather they’ve been taught to fear.

So, as you’ve likely guessed, the kids slip away during the night and begin a trek to a different town, some distance away. As they near this new place, they discover an abandoned freight car on a dis-used railroad spur, tucked away in a forest. In those woods they can trap small game, and there’s a nearby brook where they can drink and wash. There are berries and fruits about. So these plucky, resourceful kids will be able to stay together and face whatever obstacles come their way.

Henry ventures into town to find work and earns enough to buy a few staples. Jessie visits a town dump, where they find a few pans and plates that they can wash and use to cook meals.

The older boy – working odd jobs in town – is very careful not to tell anyone where he lives, or who he lives with, or that they are orphaned. But bit-by-bit, a few concerned citizens begin to piece together the truth of these kids’ situation.

Soon the younger girl gets sick and needs medical attention — and there begins the degree of attention (from citizens in this new community) which potentially threatens this little family’s isolated independence.

Review

I found their story charming. Their poverty reminded me of the stories my father told us about his own early years… in which there was often hardly a scrap of food in the house and the older siblings had to hunt for hard work just to bring in a few coins.

And I was really impressed with the cheerful way they all worked together… and looked after each other. There was no sense of self-pity and no expectation of “charity.” They were willing to work hard to procure what they needed to survive… and what they wanted most was to be allowed to remain together as a family.

Another reason I enjoyed this story was because it ties in with what I suppose is a fairly common theme of a typical child’s life when things at home aren’t going his way — that he’d consider (or actually threaten) “running away from home.” I can recall making such an announcement to my mom at various points during my early years. [She always cheerfully told me to “be sure to write”!]

I feel no need to read any additional entries in this extensive series, but I’m glad I located and read this first installment… in its original text.

Information

[From Wiki:] The Boxcar Children is a children’s book series originally created and written by the American first-grade school teacher Gertrude Chandler Warner. Today, the series includes nearly 160 titles, with more being released every year. The series is aimed at readers in grades 2–6.

Question:

Have YOU ever read any title in the Boxcar Children series? If it was this first title, did you read the original text… or was it one that had been revised?

[JLS # 544]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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11 Responses to Reviewing a Childhood Classic

  1. I liked the Boxcar Childernseries very much when I was a kid in the mid 1960s. I have no idea if they were updated any by then. I was very upset during the first one when the kids were so alone and impoverished.I remember the oldest boy working odd jobs and taking baby carrots to the kids to add to their make-shift stew.He had been thinning a lady’s carrot garden and asked her for t hem, the woman asked if he had rabbits, I think and he never answered. I was glad when their grandfather(?) took them in.
    My grandchildren read many of the newest versions, but I never got into those.
    A friend got me into the Bobbsey Twins books and those were certainly updated by then.There were still some old ones around and boy, they were pretty stereotypical and racist.I understood why they made changes. They were even hard to read with the terribly bad English and idioms out of the mouth of their black servants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yes, several of the popular series of that era have very predictable stereotypes regarding race or national origin. Reading them now causes one to cringe at those spots. Much like the Hollywood films of the same era.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve not read the books, but I do have an opinion regarding the revision of older books to fit with today’s times. If books have “sensitive” matter or can potentially “trigger” someone, I still don’t believe they should be shelved away or greatly altered. For one, like it or not, the raw truth of the ages is preserved on many different levels and some language inappropriate now likely was acceptable at the time written. Also what offends some doesn’t offend others. Add to that, if the reader’s sensibilities are threatened, well, the reader can put down the book and choose another more suitable for them. That’s not to say a different version can’t be written for later generations. I just don’t think the originals should be replaced. In this book you described, I wouldn’t think twice about the drunk dying father. It’s a stark reality of many no matter what year it is. It also sounds as if the objectionable circumstance was an important catalyst for the series and probably shaped the characters and their motivations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I agree, Jenn, on every count. Write the new titles to reflect an improved awareness of how hurtful some words and descriptions can be… but leave the originals as they were. It’s social history in addition to period literature.
      As for the drunk father — knowing that those kids survived some number of years without a mother and with a drunk dad, helps the reader to understand how “mature” they had become in fending for themselves. It’s also a refreshing victory that none of those kids show signs of “giving up” and resorting to alcohol or drugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is the book I mentioned in the forum that I read when I was in grammar school and was the first book I fell in love with. Like Tonette I had no idea it had been revised. And like Jenn, I’m disappointed in our society that thinks everything must be politically correct to be good. History is history. Changing everything so it’s hidden won’t alter the past. Somethings need to be changed, but there’s no sense in hiding our history. This is where we learn what needs to be changed.

    Where did you get your copy? I’d like to get one for mayself.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I’ve never read any of the books, but I think I would like them. I’d rather read them in the original form though.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Patricia Kiyono says:

    As I’ve mentioned before, this is the book that started off my love of reading. Later on, I was thrilled when both my daughters read it, as well as several of the subsequent books. I never thought there was anything inappropriate about the story. I’m so glad you finally found the time to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Hmmm. I’d forgotten that you had previously discussed this classic title.
      My memory is getting pretty flaky lately.

      Like

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