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September 06, 2006

The Boxcar Children: A Primer on Gathering the Essentials

I liked the book, The Boxcar Children, when I was a child.  I liked the original book in the series, the one that describes how four children survive as orphans by making a home in a boxcar.  The children are so competent, and so resourceful.

After they become orphaned, the four children spend their small savings on milk and bread and yellow cheese.  They pick blueberries in the woods.  They discover an abandoned boxcar and they begin to make a home there, carrying pine needles into the boxcar and heaping them into four piles to make beds.  They discover a creek that spills over into a waterfall. The water is cold.  They find a hole in a rock behind the waterfall and the hole becomes their refrigerator.  They’re so ingenious.  They haul stones to build a fireplace.  They dam the creek to make a swimming pool.  They scavenge a dump and bring back treasure—a white pitcher, a teapot, a kettle, a bowl, three cups, five spoons.

Henry, the eldest boy, manages to get a job caring for someone’s yard.  One of his chores involves thinning the vegetable garden.  He saves the vegetables he’s thinned—baby carrots and turnips and tiny onions.  He then buys meat with the dollar he’s earned and carries all of this back to the boxcar.  The oldest girl, Jesse, takes the meat and miniature vegetables and makes a stew. 

It’s a bit of a fantasy, how neatly things work out for the children, and it becomes even tidier toward the end of the book when their grandfather finds them, and he turns out to be not only kind but rich and he takes the children into his home.  But the fantasy is such a satisfying one.  It offers, I suppose, a kind of catharsis.  The book opens with the four children standing in front of a bakery, looking in through at the window at the bread and rolls.  The children are hungry, frightened.  They’re like Hansel and Gretel, children out in the world without parents.  And then, bit by bit, they manage to secure precisely what they need.  Shelter.  Water.  Food.  Fire.

At one point the three oldest children decide they want to teach the youngest child to read and the older children make a book for him using salvaged paper and a stick blackened in the fire.

Shelter and water.
Food and fire.
Paper and a writing implement.
The essentials?


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I'm pretty fond of this book as well. Had they also found trout in that cold stream it would have been even closer to providing perfection.


Nice addition. The essentials revised:
Shelter and water.
Food and fire.
Paper and a writing implement.
And trout?

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