It would be hard to find a person my age who hadn't read at least some of The Boxcar Children when they were little. I loved the first Boxcar Children books when I was a child. I wanted to go out and live in a boxcar myself, and search through the dump for dishes, and work on a farm to get food. I was, therefore, very interested when I saw this book on the shelf. I marveled at the audacity that someone thought they could write a prequel to such an icon of children's literature. Then I saw the author, and thought: Ok, so this might work. MacLachlan is a wonderful author who wrote, Sarah Plain and Tall, one of my favorite Newbery books.
In this story Henry, Jesse, Violet and Benny live with their parents on Fair Meadow farm. It is the beginning of the Depression, but the family makes do and has enough to spare to be generous to others in need. During a snow storm, a family shows up at the farm. They are refugees of the economy, and have lost their home. They are on their way to a relative's to stay but their car has broken down. They have two children similar in age to the Alden children. The children all become quick friends as they stay for some time at Fair Meadow, waiting for a car part to arrive. During spring break, the 6 children decide to put on a circus for the neighborhood. Each of the kids comes up with a part to play. It is a fun story to read, full of the innocence and ingenuity that makes the original Boxcar Children books such a delight. MacLachlan does an amazing job of not capturing, not only the characters, but even the writing style of the original books. Of course the book ends when the Alden children's parents are suddenly killed, and the children decide to run away rather than face becoming wards of the state. So how do you deal with death in a lighthearted book like this? MacLachlan barely does. The parents die, the children are sad, and decide to leave, but MacLachlan doesn't really explore the depth of emotions that would accompany such an event. It reminded me of the scene from the old Disney movie, Bambi. When the mother dies, the father dear says something like, "Your mother can't be with you any more" Bambi looks sad and turns to follow his father, and that is it. I think MacLachlan wrote it this way to make the book, like the other in the series, appropriate for very small children who are not ready to understand trauma. It was an interesting choice, but I think in this case it was the right one. The book isn't about death. It is about getting to know and understand the way the Alden children came to be the Boxcar Children. (119 p)