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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Boxcar Children Beginning, written by Patricia MacLachlan. Albert Whitman & Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"They walked past the sign that said Fair Meadow Farm and down the road, Henry and Jessie in front, Violet and Benny behind them. Four lambs. They walked quietly until soon the Alden farm was out of sight. After a while they passed houses and meadows and streams they had never seen before. When Jessie looked back she saw that Violet and Benny were holding hands."

I have such wonderful memories of sharing Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children with my kindergarten classes in the early 1970s and then to my grade twos and threes in the 1980s. Many have talked with me about it since, and one former student actually asked to borrow it from me so that she could read it to her own children! That's a pretty cool thing, isn't it?

They loved it! They loved the wonderful Alden children, they loved their independence and love for each other, and they loved the very happy ending. That is as it should be for 5 year olds. Now, seventy years after it was first published, another of my favorite, all-time-ever authors has written a earlier story that gives light to what led the Alden children to seek a life on their own despite their young years and its many challenges.

Patricia MacLachlan is a master at the craft of writing, and I am  eager to read every new thing that she writes.  So, I started this book last night with great anticipation. As I KNEW would happen, I was totally captivated by her warm and charming family story. Through her we meet the Aldens living on the farm that belonged to their mother's family, and the cause of the rift between their father and Grandfather Alden.

The author was chosen to write the prequel by the publisher for obvious reasons:

"She writes so beautifully about families and about families coming together in unusual ways. She had great insight into the young characters.”

Luckily for those who love the series, Ms. MacLachlan agreed to take the project under her wing and imagine the life that the Alden children must have had before their story began with Ms.Warner. It must have been a bit unnerving, given that they are so beloved by children around the world who have often had questions about their parents and earlier life. Of those parents, she says:

“I did invent the parents, but in a sense I knew what kind of parents they had been, because of who their children are. The siblings are thoughtful and kind, and they take care of each other.”
She has done a remarkable (and very satisfying) job of taking us back in time,  from our first meeting with those children as they stare into a bakery window, hungry and alone but for each other. The family was generous to those in need, worked together to make life comfortable and meaningful, loved and honored each other for their strengths, and lived a life that taught the children to be self-reliant, supportive and loving when the unthinkable happened and they needed to make a new life for themselves.
Though I would have thought it impossible, I have even more admiration for the formidable talent of Patricia MacLachlan and her ability to pen beautiful, tender family stories. Thank you!

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