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.
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.
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.
[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.
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]