Learning from The Boxcar Children

25 June 2012

Originally published in 1942, Gertrude Chandler Warner writes a wonderfully suspenseful story of four orphaned children. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden are supposed to live with their grandfather, Mr. Alden, after their parents die, but they have never met Mr. Alden and are afraid of him. So, they decide to run away and live by themselves. On a rainy night in the woods, Jessie finds an abandoned boxcar, and the children soon decide to keep house in it.

As a child, I was inspired and a little frightened at the Alden’s exploits. The thought of living in the woods and taking care of my siblings without my mother or father to help me was just about the scariest thing I could think of. Yet, the Alden children never seemed worried about finding food or making money. Every day, Henry would do odd jobs for Dr. Moore and bring home food whenever he could. Every day, Jessie and Violet would work to keep the boxcar clean and prepare meals. The children’s resourcefulness is amazing, and even when Violet becomes very ill, you know that everything will be alright.

Modern children who read this book will likely be astonished at all of the things the Aldens are capable of doing. Henry gladly works to organize a hopelessly disorganized garage. Jessie can cook a whole meal over a fire. Violet can sew by hand. Benny never complains about any of the chores his older siblings give him. Considering that the story is set in the early 1940s during World War II this is not really as unlikely as it seems. Readers will learn that children during this time were expected to similar tasks every day or whenever necessary. The Boxcar Children is a perfect book to integrate into a unit concerning American history or World War II.

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