By Patricia McLachlan
Illustrated by Tim Jessel
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One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.
It is hard to imagine that the first Boxcar Children book was written 70 years ago. Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens Of Fair Meadow Farm is the prequel to the series, brought out in honor of the 70th anniversary. The book answers the questions that have puzzled generations of readers: where did the children come from? how were they orphaned? do they have no family?
Patricia MacLachlan, author of the Newberry award winner Sarah Plain and Tall, was chosen to write the prequel, and there could not have been a wiser choice. The book slips easily into the tone set by Gertrude Chandler Warren, of simpler times simply stated, at a second grade level.
The Aldens, Papa, Mama, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny are a happy family. Papa warns of hard times coming. They work hard but still make time to play together. They all have chores, and Benny’s job, says Mama, is “to brighten our days”. Jessie is worried by Papa’s warning; she wishes for something exciting to happen. There is a foreshadowing of change.
The depiction of the hard times is gently handled. Jake Clark has lost his job and is driving his family to his sister’s home. That is all we are told. Their car breaks down near Fair Meadow Farm. The Aldens open hearth and home to them for as long as is needed. William and Meg, the two children, start school with the Aldens. Benny, the youngest, becomes their dog Joe’s caretaker.
Meg and William talk of their grandfather. We learn that the Alden children feel their grandfather does not like them. Mama explains that their Papa had a difference of opinion with his father.
Second grade readers will enjoy the circus show the children put together. There are clowns, bareback riders (Meg on Betty the cow), Benny the trainer with Joseph (Joe the well-trained dog) and, as the grand finale, two elephants. Elephants? Ingenuity can achieve anything, and the young readers will love this: Boots the cow and Joe the dog are disguised with gray blankets and stuffed-sock trunks to look like elephants!
Eventually the car is fixed and the Clarks leave with a “not goodbye”. Life falls into its old rhythm. Papa and Mama drive into town to deliver the baked goods. There is a bad accident. The children are orphaned.
Henry and Jessie hear from the Sheriff that the law requires family take care of them. Not grandpa, they decide, and run away from their home to make their own way in the world.
All the questions are answered and the ends neatly tied up. We know now who the four children were and where they had come from.
Students Interview Patricia MacLachlan. If you can’t see this video, Click Here.
- Title:The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm
- Author: Patricia Maclachlan
- Cover Illustrator: Tim Jessel
- Interior Illustrator: Robert Dunn
- Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company (2012)
- Reviewer: Anjali Amit
- Hardback: 121 Pages
- ISBN: 978-0-8075-6616-9
- Genre: Juvenile Fiction