The Boxcar Children - comparative notes

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The Boxcar Children - comparative notes

Jul 12, 2023, 2:56 pm

This is neither review nor academic attempt at writing.

The Boxcar Children is a work penned in 1924 by Gertrude Chandler Warner. While it is generally well known that only the first 19 books are her works, the others being written by other authors that have continued the use of her name, it is less well known that the books have been altered across generations. I am uncertain as to why this does not constitute an "adaptation", but it does not. Sentences are changed; words are changed; concepts are both added and removed. Therefore I set out to investigate these alterations for my own curiosity.

I first read this work in 1971. It was lent by a friend and I feel quite certain her copy was orange and from the 1940's. Even in that decade, alterations had begun, though, I won't be able to recall the specifics. Gratefully, I did not despise the newer version - mine being from the 1980's, and more changes may have accumulated since that time. The congeniality, nurturing, and thoughtful dispositions of the children has been retained. They continue to be industrious and independent. Overall, the changes have not deflected from the tone of the original. I will feel comfortable introducing this to my youngest grandson.

In the first chapter of the newer version, the father is already deceased rather than dying a drunkard's demise. For some, this gentle whitewashing may be preferable. Then, the children run away because the baker's wife intends to throw Benny into a children's home. In the original, she threatened to find the children's grandfather. Both scenarios work, the newer version, perhaps being more straightforward. In the newer version, also, much of the running away scene is abbreviated. Though unnecessary, it is not the worst edit. I believe, but would have to verify that the even the names of the towns have been changed. A truly unnecessary edit is the alteration of the grandfather's last name; as though modern children cannot understand that 1/2 of their grandparents have different last names. Alongside, this the grandfather is now the father's parent, rather than the mother's.

In spite of these brief adaptations, the flow of the story remains. One rather sizable alteration was that of Benny cutting the letter "J" into the dog's fur. (unless, I missed that due to falling out pages). This seemed really arbitrary. When Violet becomes ill, the word "pneumonia" is removed. (We can't have second-graders reading words with tricky phonetics, no longer introduced at that age) I had to chuckle at the removal of controversial statements about public education vs. alleged private options. So, now poor Benny never gets to know that some people dont send their kids to public schools. Enforced "democracy".

The original dog was an Airedale. I had heard that he was now some other terrier, but I dont recall my book specifying any breed at all. Were Airedales something snooty in the 20's? Is this more "class" censorship? Or is the word too hard?

Still a wonderful book for children. If this keeps them reading, then so be it. However, if you are able to read the original, it will provide many opportunities to discuss words and ideas that strengthen imagery of the world.