The Boxcar Children Beginning is a prequel to the classic The Boxcar Children series by the late Gertrude Chandler Warner. This is the only book in which the Alden children's parents are alive. One day, a blizzard hits the countryside and a car is stranded on the road near the Alden's farm. The family needs shelter and the Aldens take them in and become fast friends. Then springtime comes and, shortly after the visiting family leaves, the Alden parents die in an automobile accident, changing children's lives forever.
The story is a quick read and enjoyable up to the parents' death, which happens at the end of the book. It's not often that the death of a parent happens in "real time" in children's literature. They are often deceased, otherwise absent or supporting characters to allow for the young main characters to drive the story. Appropriately for such a young audience, the author doesn't dive too deeply into the details and emotions of this traumatic experience. However, she softened the children's reactions so much that it made this part of the story highly unrealistic. Upon learning about their parents' death, the children barely shed a tear and go on to plot their running away as if it was the natural thing to do. Also, the sheriff who informed the children of the tragedy simply told them and then left them in their house alone. What adult, especially an officer of the law, would do such a thing?
The reading level of this book is suitable for ages 8 and up.
Parents should be aware that the parents' death is part of the plot and be ready to discuss it with their children, if appropriate. Better yet, look for the other 130-plus The Boxcar Children titles, which can easily be found in local libraries or for purchase in hardcover and paperback.
Be sure to visit our review of The Boxcar Children: Mystery of the Fallen Treasure.
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