Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden live out the fantasy of nearly every child—to live in a world largely without adult supervision. Author Gertrude Chandler Warner was consequently criticized for this feature of her plots, to which she responded that this was the primary attraction for children, that they liked the stories because they were about kids and not about grownups. Which, if we're honest, simply begs the question. Yet Warner's little orphan heroes and heroines don't behave badly, and if there aren't adults around it's okay because the diminutive Aldens are busy doing good.
Warner's first novel, The Boxcar Children, was initially published as a stand-alone in 1924. The series didn't follow until 1942, beginning with a reissue of the original story, followed by several novels in which the Alden children (living with their kindly grandfather since the end of the initial story) have all kinds of innocent adventures solving mysteries for people they know. These mysteries are the kind little kiddos like—nothing too violent or scary, usually revolving around a theft of some kind, and always resolved cleanly by story's end.
A lot of similar books would focus on the children's superior intuition to that of their elders or the authorities. The Boxcar Children stories never fall into that trap, instead depicting kids with a solid moral upbringing who implement those ideals along with their brains to bring healthy conclusions to often difficult problems. Warner only wrote the first 19 volumes with other writers tag-teaming the rest, but the tone and characterizations of the original have been maintained. This isn't world-class literature, but it can be a fun diversion when your young scholars have had enough math and grammar for one day.
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Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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