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There are two schools of thought on converting classic children's literature to comic book style graphic novels. The first is that these represent the "dumbing down" of today's school children, by writers who very correctly point out that a few generations ago, children of similar ages were reading the classics in original form, and the original form should not be altered. The second school of thought is that comics, or graphic novels make reading much easier for children, and much more fun. This means they are much more likely to choose to read during their free time. When children read frequently, and enjoy reading, there reading levels invariably improve - no matter what it is they are reading. Those who favour graphic novels of the classics will also point out, that many children today will grow up with no exposure at all to classic literature. This at least will give them some familiarity with these stories and may encourage them to read the original editions at some point in time as well.
I fall into the second camp, in regard to graphic novels and comics. My son loves them. Of course I feel the original classics have their place as well, and we do read classic literature, as well as the Bible on a regular basis. But I also like to have a good selection of books that he can read very easily, and just for enjoyment. Of course children in the 1920's, when the originals first came out would have been more inclined to read these without the benefit of lovely illustrations. But you have to admit, books had a lot less competition for children's free time back then. Now They have TV, video games, computers and many of other toys and games to fill there time.
The Boxcar Children is a widely acclaimed series of mystery stories written an American school teacher, Gertrude Chandler Warner, beginning with the first book in 1924. At the time, critics complained of the fact that the children in these stories lack adult supervision. Miss Warner rightly said this was why children liked them - there is something magical to children about a world free from adult intervention.
The book I am reviewing is titled simply 'The Box Car Children', but many sources will refer to as 'The Box Car Children, Book 1'. This is because there is an entire series of these books, all of which involve some mystery - except for this one. This book is more of a prelude to the mysteries, much like the opening chapter in a larger book. It sets the scene for other stories to come - but doesn't have quite as much punch as I would expect from the mysteries.
The story begins with 4 orphan children, determined to stay together. There are some adults who try to take advantage of the children - while others try to help, but the children are remarkably self sufficient and soon set up house keeping in an abandoned railway box car. They are quickly joined by another castaway from society - a stray dog which they name Watch. I think every child must dream at times of living in club or fort in the wilderness ( at least in the summertime when the weather is warm), and I think this is a lovely story expressing that secret wish. But there is also a good deal about the importance of family, as well as kindness, and a message that sometimes you do have to reach to others and offer your trust.
This story is very short. There are only 32 pages, and of course, with this being a graphic edition, the majority of the space is taken up by illustrations. The illustrations are of a good quality and clearly show the story, so that a child could get a fair grasp of the story from pictures alone, or use the illustrations as clues to any words they might be unfamiliar with. The text is short, easy to read , and is primarily made up of words which most young readers will be familiar with. I would place this as perhaps a 7 on the Oxford Reading Tree level.
Unfortunately, I have not read the original books in this series, so I can tell if much has been cut. I do have the feeling, that this story is so short, that perhaps something has been lost from the original, but I can not be certain. Overall, I think the story was good, and a great introduction to further stories. At a price of £2.81, it was not too much to sample this series, and I will consider other books in this series. I would certainly give this book 5 stars, but it is not so much my opinion that counts, but that of the children.
My sons are ages 3 and 7. The oldest found this book very easy reading, and was able to read through it, cover to cover in only a few minutes. Both boys liked the idea of camping or staying in a box car, and both did enjoy the story. When asked if he wanted me to get the next book in the series though, my son yes, but when given a choice of these or another series, said he would prefer the Hardy Boys - or better yet Superman. He was a bit disappointed that there was no mystery to solve, and I think would enjoy the later books more as they do each focus on a mystery. But I also think these books were written to a different era, and do not have quite as much action and adventure - and even violence as some of the more modern stories.
I think this is a good choice for those looking for easy readers for young children, for an introduction to this series, or a non frightening, non violent adventure series. I am still keen to try more, as if the mysteries can get my son really guessing he will enjoy it more. But I do think the books with fight scenes and battles appeal more to his own tastes, and the most important thing to me with these books is that my son really enjoy reading them. So, at the moment, our selections for graphic novels have not included another in this series. Instead we have chosen 'The Hardy Boys', 'Superman', and 'The War Of the Worlds'. All the same, I am happy enough with this purchase. It may not be read over and over, but it has had a few readings, it's a nice story, and really didn't cost me anymore than picking up a magazine for light reading at the corner shop would have.