I can’t remember learning to read. As I’ve watched each of my kids undertake to makes sense of all those lines and curves, I’ve thought, How could I not remember this? Twenty-six different letters, many with several different sounds, combinations making even more sounds …. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot to take on.
Maybe my memories of those struggles were eclipsed by reading itself, which, once I’d mastered it, was like being let loose in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A good book felt as delicious as hot fudge sundae to me. But more than that, the characters helped me make sense of my own life, and opened wide the French doors to other worlds, so I could escape my life when it felt too nonsensical.
I loved The Boxcar Children. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s about a family whose parents die suddenly. The four kids decide that their grandfather, whom they’re supposed to go live with, is too mean, and they set off on their own. They find a boxcar in the woods, clean it out, scavenge old household items from a nearby dump and make it a home.
I loved that book in part because it was my aunt’s from childhood, and for some reason I thought I could only read it when I went to her house several hours away. Its appeal grew by the very fact of its limited availability. (I have no idea why it never occurred to me to get a copy from the local library, which was like a second home to me.)
While my own family was struggling with divorce—a fairly rare and shameful thing in our small New England town at the time—and its resulting financial crisis, The Boxcar Children offered perspective. These kids had no parents and no money. They relied strictly on hard work, ingenuity and cooperation. (Are there any life skills more critical these?) When one of them gets gravely ill, they have to make very hard decisions.
And yet I envied them also. Their relationships were straightforward, reliable, loving. They disagreed occasionally but never had screaming fights. No hair was ever pulled, which was the tactic of choice among my two sisters and me. The adults in the book were generally trustworthy, though it often took the kids several chapters to be sure.
The Boxcar Children gave me hope that, though my own young life often felt incomprehensible, good things could come. Happy surprises might await. In fact, they did, and I didn’t even have to go live in a boxcar for them to find me.
We’re giving away two signed copies of Juliette’s latest novel, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.
Sean Doran has spent twenty years as a nurse in Third World war zones and natural disaster areas, fully embracing what he’d always felt was his life’s mission. But when burnout sets in, Sean is reluctantly drawn home to Belham, Massachusetts, the setting of Fay’s bestselling first novel, SHELTER ME. There he discovers that his steely aunt, dramatic sister and quirky nephew are having a little natural disaster of their own … and that the bonds of love and loyalty might just rewrite what he once thought he knew about his purpose in life.