"We'll never let Benny go to a Children's Home. Never, never!" (1.44)
When Henry and Jessie overhear the baker's wife's plan to send Benny away, they instantly decide to run away—it's not even a question. It's clear that staying together is the siblings' top priority.
"He is our father's father, and he didn't like our mother," said Henry. "So we don't think he would like us. We are afraid he would be mean to us." (1.21)
Here's a little mystery that never gets resolved. Did Mr. Alden really dislike the children's mother? Why did he never visit when the children's parents were alive?
"She asked me if I liked cookies. I said I did, and she gave me one."
"What did you do with it?" asked Benny hungrily.
"When she went back into the kitchen, I put it in my pocket," said Henry laughing. (6.15-6.17)
Instead of eating the cookie when he was alone, Henry pocketed it for later so he could share it with his family. Now, that's a caring big brother. For the record, Shmoop is not so kind to its siblings.
"Our mother and father are dead." (9.20)
Yep, that's literally all we know about Mr. and Mrs. Alden: They're dead. The children never offer up further details. Why do you think that is?
Then Henry began to think of winning the race. He knew how much the twenty-five-dollar prize would mean to Jessie and the rest of the children.
"I am going to win this race!" he said to himself. (10.32-10.33)
Personally, Henry doesn't care if he wins the race; he's just running for fun. But, when he starts to think about his family, he feels more motivated. Twenty-five bucks would make his siblings super happy.
"What are you going to do with the money?"
"I'll give it to Jessie," answered Henry. (10.50-10.51)
Henry is consistently selfless throughout the story. Everything he has belongs to not just him but to his whole family. What a model older brother.
The doctor laughed to himself as Henry James shook hands with James Henry. (10.45)
The names Henry James Alden and James Henry Alden bear a strong family resemblance, don't you think? Mr. Alden doesn't notice at first because Henry withholds his last name on Field Day. Clever.
Poor Henry was so surprised he almost fell over! That kind man his grandfather! (12.39)
Poor Henry isn't always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but when he finally figures out that Mr. Alden is his grandfather, it's a happy moment for all of the Alden kids. Yay.
"They won't take Watch away?" she whispered to Henry.
"No, indeed!" said Henry. "We'll never, never give him up." (13.19-13.20)
The dog's situation at the end of the story echoes the baker's wife's threat to send Benny to the Children's Home. Watch is family now, so he's not going anywhere, no way, no how.
"Thank you for the surprise, Grandfather," said Violet. "We'll never go away from you again."
"I hope not, my dear," said Mr. Alden. "We'll all live happily ever after."
And so they did. (13.66-13.68)
The Boxcar Children spend most of the book running away from their grandfather, but once they meet him, they're sold. Their happy ending seems well earned, don't you think?
One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from. (1.1)
When the book begins, the Alden children are homeless, seeking shelter for the night in a bakery. Notice how it's a "warm night"? Already things could be worse—for instance, it could be cold and raining.
"We could have the nicest little home here, and we could find some dishes, and make four beds and a table, and maybe chairs!" (3.26)
Does IKEA have a boxcar section? Because Jessie's plans here sound pretty ambitious.
Then she saw something ahead of her in the woods. It was an old boxcar.
"What a good home that will be in the rain!" she thought. (3.6-3.7)
Although the Alden kids don't decide to make the boxcar their permanent address until later in the book, Jessie thinks of it as home at first sight.
"What a good place this is!" said Violet. "It is just like a warm little house with one room." (3.19)
Oh yes, Violet—it's just like a warm little house, except for the part where it's an abandoned boxcar in the wilderness. Po-ta-to, po-tah-to, we suppose.
"It looks like home," said Henry. "See the washing!" (4.62)
Making the boxcar look like the children's former house helps it feel like a real home.
When they were on the shelf, Violet picked some white and yellow flowers and put them in a cup full of water in the middle of the shelf. (5.52)
Home is in the details, you know? Life in the boxcar isn't just about surviving—it's about décor, too, and the kids want to make themselves as comfortable as possible.
"I thought we ought to have a tablecloth," he said. "So I got one at the store." (6.26)
Poor Henry—who has about $4 to his name and lives with his three siblings in a rusty box in the woods—thought that a tablecloth was a necessity. We're betting he wouldn't survive the zombie apocalypse.
When the cherry pickers got back to their little home, they looked everything over carefully. But things were just as they had left them. The door was still closed, and the milk and butter were in the refrigerator. (9.35)
The "refrigerator" is literally a hole in a rock, by the way. No matter to these kids, though; it gets the job done, which is all they need.
The children's grandfather wanted them to like his house. He wanted them to live with him all the time. So he had made over some of the rooms just for them. (13.1)
Mr. Alden goes to great lengths to make his grandchildren comfortable in his home, but they don't really settle in until he hauls their old boxcar into the yard.
Would you ever think that four children could be homesick in such a beautiful house? Jessie was the first one to wish for the old boxcar. (13.46)
The boxcar was such a good home to the children that they miss it even though they now live in a beautiful mansion. A place doesn't have to be fancy to be home.
Now the baker's wife did not like children. (1.3)
Not liking children was seen at this time as "unnatural" for a woman—that's why the author uses it as a signal that the baker's wife is bad news.
"Let me try," said Violet. "Now, Benny, you can play that you are a little brown bear and you are running away to find a nice warm bed." (2.10)
When Henry tries to wake Benny, it doesn't go so well, but Violet is much more successful. In the world of The Boxcar Children, all of the nurturing falls to the women. Good luck, ladies.
"Good dog," said Jessie. "I can help you, but maybe it will hurt." […]
"Violet," ordered Jessie, "please wet my handkerchief in the brook." (4.11 and 4.13)
Remember what we said about nurturing being women's work in this book? Well, here's Jessie playing nurse with the dog. She just can't stop when it comes to taking care of others.
Now Jessie liked to have things in order, and so she put the laundry bag on some pine needles for a tablecloth. Then she cut the loaf of brown bread into five big pieces. (4.43)
Jessie and Henry are both big on organizing. But where Jessie organizes dinner, Henry organizes tools and nails in Dr. Moore's garage. Phew—stereotypical gender roles are still intact.
The next morning Jessie woke up first, and she got up at once, for she was the housekeeper. (5.1)
Yeah, yeah, we get it: Jessie is the housekeeper, Henry is the provider.
While the other children started the dam, Jessie washed all their stockings. (8.10)
She cooks and cleans? That Jessie sure is something else. We bet Henry never washed a stocking in his life.
"You boys can have the first swim," said Jessie. "We girls must go and get dinner." (8.27)
All of the food prep in the book is handled by Jessie and Violet. Dinner is clearly women's work in the world of The Boxcar Children.
He ran to the lady and climbed up in her lap before anyone could stop him.
"I'd like to keep you, Benny, in place of the dog," laughed the lady, putting her arms around him. (13.42-13.43)
Remember how the mean old baker's wife wanted to ship Benny off to the orphanage? The author signals this young woman's goodness by showing how much she likes children.
It really was Violet's room. There were violets on the wallpaper. The bed was white with a violet cover. On the table were flowers.
"What a beautiful room!" cried Violet, sitting down in a soft, pretty chair. (13.7-13.8)
Though Violet is good at fixing things—it seems like she's always doing something with her little workbag—all of the tools are in her little brother's room. Her room is decorated with flowers.
But Henry did not want to start. He looked to see how much money he had. Then he stood thinking.
At last he said, "I don't want to leave you girls alone." (3.39-3.40)
Henry sees himself as his family's protector—at least of the girls. Notice that he doesn't mention Benny, the youngest Alden, who is a boy. It's the girls he doesn't want to leave.
Henry said, "Today I'll go to town and try to get some work to do. I can cut grass or work in a garden or something. Then we'll have something besides milk for breakfast." (5.8)
Providing, like protecting, is another traditionally masculine role that Henry takes on. Fingers crossed he succeeds.
"This will be my pink cup," said Benny. (5.36)
Benny is just 5 years old, so he's not quite old enough to eschew "girl stuff" like pink cups. Does the author think girly things are childish? Or, does she think that boys don't learn to dislike pink until they're old enough to worry about how other people perceive them? Over to you, Shmoopers.
"I bought another loaf of brown bread at the store," said Henry, "and some more milk. Then I bought some dried meat, because we can eat it in our hands." (6.2)
Henry always brings home the food. Jessie always prepares it. It's a division of labor that's literally never discussed.
"If there is someone out in the woods, he knows that there is a dog in this boxcar," said Henry.
He took the new broom in his hand and waited. (6.67-6.68)
Henry and Jessie both admit they're frightened, but Henry is the one who picks up a weapon. Why is it his responsibility to be the family's protector?
Then he picked over the things and put the tools in the toolbox and the nails in the nail-box. This was fun for Henry, because he liked to get things in order. (7.49)
Jessie and Henry both like putting things in order. But where Henry orders "manly" things like the contents of a garage, Jessie organizes things like dishes and food.
"Oh, Jessie!" cried Benny. "This is the best meal I ever ate. I found the eggs, and you cooked them." (8.53)
Though Benny is just 5 years old, he's already internalized that boys are providers and girls are cooks. As modern-day readers, we can't help but cringe a little.
Violet and Benny carried the stones, with the help of the cart. Now and then Henry was called on to help with a heavy stone. (8.12)
One of Henry's attributes is his strength. We don't hear much about Jessie lifting heavy stones.
Now J. H. Alden liked boys. He liked to see them running and jumping and playing. So each year, with three other rich men, he gave a Field Day to the town of Silver City. (10.2)
Between all of those boys and rich men, it sounds like Field Day is a bit of a boys' club, eh?
All the children shouted when they saw Benny's room. The wallpaper was blue. […] There was a rocking horse and a tool box and little tables and chairs. (13.9)
Violet's room is decorated with flowers and "soft things," while Benny's room has tools and is—of course—blue. We think kids these days might blow Warner's mind.
She took the string out of the laundry bag and tied one end of it to a tree. The other end of the string she tied to the boxcar. This made a good clothesline. (4.61)
Jessie basically outfits an entire household out of a laundry bag, two clean towels, and a load of junk from their neighborhood dump. You go, girl.
All Jessie saw were two pieces of wood nailed to the closed door of the car. But she knew at once what was in Violet's mind. She ran to get the board they had carried from the dump and laid it carefully across the two pieces of wood. It made a fine shelf for the dishes. (5.48)
The Boxcar Children could probably build a bomb out of clothespins and used chewing gum. Here, Jessie sees some random nails and is like, "Obviously, that's a shelf." Obviously.
"You can have my wheels," said Benny.
"Good!" replied Henry. "I'll make you a little cart with the wheels, Benny, and you can carry stones in it." (6.48-6.49)
If we saw four wheels in the garbage, we would probably just think of them as garbage. But Benny and Henry have a vision: They'll turn those junk wheels into a cart. Bravo, boys.
Henry was hot and sticky as he looked at the waterfall.
"Maybe we could make a swimming pool," he said. "We could build a dam out of logs." (6.42-6.43)
Engineering a dam is no joke, but when Henry wants a swimming pool, Henry gets a swimming pool. Again, we find ourselves hoping the Boxcar Children will stop by our house.…
"A ladle, of all things!" cried Henry. "Where did you get it?"
"I found a tin cup in the dump," said Jessie. "We used a long stick for a handle and tied it to the cup with a piece of wire. It makes a fine ladle." (7.68-7.69)
Mama always said that a ladle made out of trash makes soup taste better. Just kidding. Please don't put trash in your soup. Or, not without cleaning it really well first.
The fireplace was a very good one. The children and Watch had made a hole at the foot of a big rock between two trees. Flat stones were laid on the floor of this hole and around the sides. More big stones were put up to keep out the wind. (7.34)
Did everyone know how to build fireplaces in the old days or is this just another of the Boxcar Children's superpowers? Unclear. Either way, though, nice work, kids.
"We'll have to put lots of logs on, with brush between them," said Henry. "We'll put on so many that the water can't get through." (8.21)
When Henry's first attempt at a dam doesn't work, he's not discouraged. He keeps at it until he's built the swimming pool of his dreams.
"We could make a book," said Violet. "We have all the papers left from bundles."
"So we could," replied Jessie.
"But what could we use to make the words?"
"We could use a burned stick out of the fire," said Violet. (10.67-10.70)
Jessie and Henry aren't the only inventive ones. Here, Violet creates a writing utensil out of a charred stick.
"Where did you get the dishes?" he cried, when he saw the shelf.
"We went exploring," said Violet, "and found a big dump." (5.58-5.59)
Henry is super impressed (and not at all alarmed) by the garbage dishes. He recognizes true resourcefulness when he sees it, and he appreciates it, too.
When everything was ready, Jessie rang the dinner bell. This bell was only a tin can from the dump. Jessie had hung it on a tree with a string, and she rang it with a spoon. (8.29)
Tin cans are clearly an all-purpose item in the Alden household. The best part is that when Jessie rings it, Benny automatically knows it's supposed to be a dinner bell. It's like a shared hallucination.
"What are we going to do now, Jessie?" Benny asked his sister.
"Well, Benny," answered Jessie, "we'll go exploring and look for treasures." (5.12-5.13)
The Alden children don't seem to believe in naps or gentle walks or simply taking it easy. They always have an agenda that involves some form of hard labor.
"I called after him and asked him if I could cut the grass. […] So I cut the grass, and he said, 'Good for you. Do you want to work every day?' And he said he had never had a boy who cut it as well as I did." (6.9-6.10)
Henry is not just a worker—he's the best worker that ever was, according to Dr. Moore. Notice he does most of his work away from home, for pay, while the girls tend to the house.
She took her scissors out of her workbag and cut the two ends even. But before she began to hem the pretty blue tablecloth, she helped Jessie wash and rinse the dishes and put them away. (6.28)
Poor Violet runs herself so ragged that she ends up sick in bed for days, if not weeks. Take a break, girl. Interestingly, it's this sickness that winds up connecting the kids with their grandfather.
The two girls sat by the brook. Violet was hemming the blue tablecloth, and Jessie was making the broom with a long stick for a handle. (6.33)
Notice that the types of work the girls do are very domestic—the tablecloth is for the dinner table, and the broom is for cleaning. Martha Stewart would be proud.
Henry was so eager to begin work that he ran all the way to town. (7.12)
Henry sure is an eager beaver. Have you ever seen anyone so enthusiastic to begin their workday? Besides us, we mean. We love our jobs.
He was very happy when Dr. Moore said, "Do you want to clean up this garage?" (7.46)
Henry loves eating stew, walks in the woods and … cleaning garages? Guess it takes all sorts.
It was hard work building the dam, but the children liked hard work. (8.12)
Of course, they did. Because they're perfect.
"These are my sisters, Jessie and Violet. They can pick cherries, too. Benny is too young to climb trees, but we had to bring him."
"Maybe he can carry baskets," said Dr. Moore, smiling at Benny. (9.9-9.10)
Though he's only 5 years old, Benny participates in all of the work projects. Put 'em to work early, that's what we say.
The children laid all their treasures, even the wheels, on a board, and the girls carried the board back to the boxcar between them. They put the dishes down by the brook.
"Now we must wash them," said Jessie. (5.38-5.39)
By the by, the "treasures" are dishes that the children have scavenged from the dump. So, they worked hard to get them, and now they're working hard to be able to use them.
When Henry said good-by and went back to town, all the children were working happily. (6.28)
Though they live in the woods, free of all responsibilities, the Alden children still manage to fill their days with hard work. It's impressive. They are welcome to stop by Shmoop's house any time.
"I will give you what you want for the dog," said Mr. Alden. "The children love him. They want to keep him."
"But I sold him to a lady," said the man. "I must take the dog to her." (13.26-13.27)
Even the "extras"—aka the super minor characters—in the book have a moral code. That's some commitment Warner shows to morality, don't you think?
This was the first time in four days that they could go to sleep at night, as children should. (4.70)
"As children should" sounds a little preachy, doesn't it?
"Tomorrow will be Sunday," said Dr. Moore. "Will you come again the next day?" (7.59)
In the world of The Boxcar Children, Sunday is a day of rest. We have to say, we like the idea of a dedicated day of rest.
"Tomorrow will be Sunday, and I can stay at home," Henry went on. "Do you think it's all right, Jessie, to build the dam for a swimming pool on Sunday?" (7.81)
Henry wonders if it's OK to build the swimming pool on a Sunday, but Jessie thinks that God will give them a pass. What do you think her logic is?
Watch ran after her, but Henry called him back.
"Don't run after the poor hen," he said. (8.40-8.41)
Ugh, thought Watch. Why can't you just let me live? Here, we see human morals imposed on a dog. Don't worry, though, Watch—we're sure the kids will feed you. After all, they treat the dog like a member of the family.
"Will your mother be watching for you?" […] Henry did not know what to say. But at last Jessie said, "No. Our mother and father are dead." (9.19-9.20)
You know what they say about young Henry Alden—he never told a lie.
He gave them four dollars and all the cherries they could carry.
"That is too much," said Henry. (9.28-9.29)
Henry is so good that he rejects his own wages for being "too much." Dr. Moore insists that he take the cash. Psst, Henry—we all know you need the money and the food. Just take it.
"Oh, I don't think I'll win," answered Henry. "But I like to run. It's lots of fun, you know." (10.22)
It's not about whether or not you win or lose, it's about having fun. Right, Henry? Well, until he remembers how much his siblings could use the cash—then he's in it to win it, though for the upstanding moral reason of taking care of his family (instead of, say, personal glory).
Then a man asked, "What is your name, boy?" Henry did not know what to say. He did not want to tell his name. So he answered, "Henry James." Now this was Henry's name, but it was not all of his name. (10.39)
Many people would tell you that a lie of omission is still a lie. But those people aren't Henry James Alden.
"I will give you the five thousand dollars."
But Dr. Moore would not take the money.
"I just want these children to be happy," he said. (12.6-12.8)
Hey, Dr. Moore, we'll happily take the $5,000. In fact, we'll even use a little of it to send you a postcard from the sweet vacation we're planning to go on.
"Where did you live before you came here?" asked the woman.
But not one of the four children would tell her. (1.26-1.27)
Though the Alden children are extremely polite, they're not going to tell anyone where they came from. Not even us.
"You may have some water when it gets dark. There is a pump near the farmhouse. But if we leave the haystack now, someone will see us." (2.26)
Not only are the Alden kids on the run, they're also in hiding. Through the first part of the book, they live a nocturnal existence to avoid prying eyes.
"If we hear anyone," said Jessie, "we must hide behind the bushes." (2.31)
Good timing, Jessie. Right after these words are out of her mouth, the baker and his wife appear, and the Aldens dive into the bushes as planned. Phew—that was close.
"This is a good place," said Jessie, as they walked along. "It is far away from people. You can tell that by the grass in the road." (2.58)
The Boxcar Children make their happy home in the woods, isolating themselves from the rest of society. Totally normal … right?
"What do you think it was?" asked Jessie. "Do you think it was a rabbit?"
"I don't know," said Henry. "But I think someone was in the woods. I am glad we weren't hurt." (7.2-7.3)
To be clear, being isolated in the woods does have its downsides. When Jessie and Henry are spooked by an intruder, they don't have any way to ask for help.
"If Grandfather is looking for us, it would be easier to see four than one."
"Yes, that's so," answered Henry. "But we can go down the hill and through the streets two by two." (9.3-9.4)
The kids go to some considerable lengths to avoid discovery, which helps us understand how afraid they must be of their grandfather. These kids really prefer to stick together.
"The four children are living in a boxcar, but I shall not tell Mr. Alden that they are his grandchildren," he said. (9.41)
Dr. Moore is awfully sneaky. First, he spies on Henry and his family, and then, when he learns their secret, he keeps it to himself.
"We don't want her to go to a hospital if we can help it. We should have to tell her name." (11.29)
When you're a runaway orphan, it really pays to have befriended a doctor. Dr. Moore to the rescue.
"They have changed their name," said the doctor. He looked at the man in a queer way. "The big boy changed his name on Field Day. You saw him then." (11.66)
On Field Day, Henry tells a lie of omission by not giving Mr. Alden his last name. You'd think Mr. A. might have noticed that Henry has the same first and middle name as his grandson, but alas, he does not.
"Can't I see them?" begged Mr. Alden. "I won't tell them who I am." (12.3)
This is the book's final secret: Mr. Alden doesn't tell the children he's their grandfather until after they learn to love him. Fair enough.