RS (rainbowstevie) wrote,

The Boxcar Children: A Retrospective


Previously on The Idealistic Daydream: I reviewed my memories of the Thoroughbred series, and several months later I am back at it again with another formative literary experience to examine before it falls out of my memory banks for good.

  • The Boxcar Children is a series I discovered very early on in elementary school. First grade, as far as I can tell, a.k.a. age 6 or maybe 7, in convenient tandem with the fact that -- as Wikipedia has just informed me -- the series had recently undergone a revival, with new books being published in 1991 after a 15-year hiatus. I adored this series beyond measure, and for many years after I stopped reading it, I always identified it as a favorite childhood memory. Still do, I guess. I don't remember HOW I discovered it, but it was certainly either Scholastic Book Order catalogs or the school library.

  • My most distinct memory is how much I loved / identified with / wanted to be Violet (she was shy and loved animals! and purple! one time I dressed up as her for Book Character Day, carrying a stuffed animal for maximum effect. A black and white Kitty Kitty Kitten, to be precise -- please enjoy this old commercial for them -- and oh goodness I am sad now that I gave her up, ragged as she was. I think I called her Purry, but maybe it was Marbles?).

  • My second most distinct memory is how I used their ages as benchmarks in my life. As I hit each milestone, I would think, "So this is what it feels like to be 10/12/14." In retrospect: Henry is a super patient 14-year-old boy.

  • Jessie was of course my second fave, because she was the lucky duck to whom their dog "belonged," and I also remember being kind of awed by how grown-up she seemed. Yes, when she was 12. She made me wish I had an older sister.

  • I was not a fan of Benny, whom I considered babyish; I remember being annoyed when he was the closest to my age. And Henry was just kind of "there." I never felt that strongly about him.

  • Their grandfather was wonderful. So was the housekeeper. And I remember the adoption of their cousin Soo Lee being a big change, but not how I felt about it, except I think it was probably my first proper introduction to the concept of international adoption.

  • Also, wait, I always thought Watch was an Airedale, but Wikipedia says he is a Wire-Haired Fox Terrier. Noooo, my childhood memories! I mean, they are very similarly shaped dogs, but distinct in that Airedales are bigger and devoid of white. Or maybe I was thinking Welsh Terrier, which is basically a mini Airedale.

  • I'm not sure of the first one I read, but it may have been the first one I bought -- The Mystery at the Dog Show. Because dogs! And an Iconic cover. Look at all those gorgeous purebreds! I'm pretty sure I tried to draw it at least once, too. It's still probably my favorite book of the series.

  • I'm sure I read the first book in fairly short order, to see how it all began, because children LOVE the idea of fixing up their own little place in which to play house, and I was no exception. I don't remember it well, but Wikipedia is telling me something about Violet falling ill and needing a doctor when they can't fix her on their own, and that both rings a dim memory bell and also makes me think that is certainly where a hurt/comfort seed took root in order to one day take over my personality.

  • Other books purchased:

-The Mystery of the Purple Pool (who WOULDN'T want a purple pool, is the mystery to me)
-Possibly The Mystery of the Lost Village
-The Mystery of the Missing Cat (my second fave. it's the only one where I can immediately remember both what the mystery was, and how it was solved. The fact that The Mystery of the Missing Horse wasn't one of my top 2 faves is how I know how young I was when I started this series; my best friend had not yet influenced me into deciding horses were my favorite animal)
-The Castle Mystery
-The Mystery of the Hidden Beach
-The Dinosaur Mystery

Possibly The Mystery of the Missing Music

I also got the first 3 super specials: Mystery on Ice/in Washington D.C./at the Snowflake Inn. I remember the winter books, or at least one, having really cool winter activities / recipes / games in the back, and I definitely reread it. Maybe I just remember liking the third one best because they were taking a sleigh ride on the cover. Pretty white horses!

  • I may have read the super specials as far up as the 7th one, because The Pet Shop Mystery definitely sounds familiar.

  • Skimming through the covers on Goodreads, I feel like I read the majority, but maybe not all, of the first 50 or so books in the series, mostly from the school and public libraries. I'm sure I didn't bother with any kind of order, not that you need to, because they're all very much designed to be self-contained stories. Like a cartoon, the children never truly age, and all of their adventures are essentially spec scripts in novel form. But that's perfectly fine for kids.

  • I'm trying to figure out the last book I read. Based on which covers do and do not trigger my memory, it might have been The Mystery of the Stolen Boxcar, # 49. Beyond that, only the covers of # 56 (The Firehouse Mystery) and 61 (The Soccer Mystery) look familiar, but I am not sure if I actually read them or just liked the look of them.

  • The Stolen Boxcar was published in 1995, and The Soccer Mystery was in 1997, which means I must have stopped reading the series around age 9 or 10, likely fourth grade. It seems incredible that such a huge tour de force in my literary life could have been over so quickly, but I also know how much more significant a single year is when you're under 19. It's like 5 years now.

  • And I know I outgrew them because I picked one out of the Attic Box the other day, and...oh dear. It's boring?? The language is so simple, and the stories so short. This is the saddest thing. Truly good children's books are enjoyable at all ages, even if you didn't read them as children, but when you can't even enjoy the ones you have pre-existing love for...

  • At least I will always have the memories, and the probably numerous hours of happiness I spent reading everything I could get my hands on. Honestly, if I thought about it, I could probably even still enjoy remixing some of the plots myself to make them more satisfying, either physically writing them out, or just daydreaming with the concepts...OH. Hey. There's an idea for something to think about on walks, if I ever start taking those again.

  • By the way, it turns out the series never actually ended. New mysteries are being written to this day, in an unbroken streak since '91, and there are currently 149 regular titles + 21 specials + whatever the 5 "Boxcar Children Great Adventures" are. Which kind of makes it sadder that they aren't actually that great to read past age 10.

  • I just realized I didn't actually talk about my impressions of any individual books. I tried, but there are so many that they all just kind of blur together in my memory except for the ones I highlighted. Maybe I will edit the post later. For now, just assume that my favorites were the ones that involved animals, old/empty houses (there was one with coins hidden in the wall!), or Possible Ghosts.

P.S. I actually read about the history of this series in detail earlier this summer, and it's fascinating! I knew the original books were old -- not at the time I was reading them; OF COURSE it was totally possible that kids would stumble upon and be able to live as orphans in a boxcar in the 90s!, but later on -- but I didn't realize the first one was not only released in the forties, it was an adaptation of a longer book originally published as a standalone in the twenties. (1924, to be precise, where living in a boxcar as orphans? makes a hecking lot more sense) That's also where I learned the series is deliberately simplified for beginning readers. Sigh.

BUT. It also means that I am now inspired to go read the original version of the book someday. It's out of copyright and available online, but since you know how I feel about both eReaders and reading novels online, I am going to bide my time and see if I can't request it out of a college library somewhere. I did peek at it, and I think it'll be pretty satisfying. Maybe even long enough for the reading list.
Tags: books, nostalgia

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