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Henry could see his own breath in the air.

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He could see Betty's breath, too. She carried a pail of water for the cows. The wind took her hat, and her long hair blew around her face. He went to the grain barrel and poured a scoopful of grain into Betty's bin. Boots came into the barn, snow-covered, her hooves clattering on the old wood floors. Papa scooped her some grain, too, and brushed snow off her. People coming! We need blankets! She hurried to the bedroom and came out with blankets and bedcovers.

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The door opened and there was a boy and girl, the girl carried by her father. Their mother looked frightened. In her arms was a small dog. I'll make some tea. Jessie, can you make hot chocolate for the children? Violet, get the cups, please. And a bowl of water for the dog. This is my wife, Sarah. We lost our home and we were on our way to my sister's in New Hampshire. But the car I think they're tending to your car.

After Seven Decades, the 'Boxcar Children' Get a Prequel

This is Jessie, Violet, and Benny. Benny went over to sit next to Joe, who was drinking water. In a moment, Joe finished and looked at Benny. The children—what are your names?

We have cows to feed and stalls to clean. It will be fine," said Jessie. When Henry came in with Papa after chores, he looked at Jessie, and they both knew that Papa had been right about things other than snow: They would see hard times. The Clarks have come from far away in the middle of a storm. Ice and sleet came after the snow, making it hard to walk. Papa and Henry and Jake chopped out a path to the barn to feed and water the cows. Henry found a tarpaulin to put over Jake's car so it wouldn't ice up.

There was no school for two days, so most everyone stayed inside, listening to the wind and ice pellets on the windows and roof. The children shared one large bedroom, hanging blankets on a clothesline across the room—the boys on one side, the girls on the other. Joe divided his time between the two, always ending up curled close to Benny. There were old people and young people.

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Some babies were wrapped in blankets. There aren't any fields like here. There are no cows. Or maybe they drove on through the snow ahead of us," said William. He read them fairy tales and dog stories and stories of heroes and horses with wings until Mama and Sarah came in to make sure the lights were off, and it was time for sleeping. On Saturday the weather cleared and Mama went back to baking. In the kitchen she and Sarah were surrounded by bowls of batter, wooden spoons, and trays where buns were laid out.

Row after row of buns for market. The children surrounded them, too. They spread the frosting on the buns—even Benny, standing on a chair with his very small paintbrush. Joe, under the table, was a smart dog. He knew something would be dropped, frosting or bun. He waited patiently, moving closer to Benny, who was more likely to drop anything. And sure enough, Benny couldn't wait any longer and took a bite out of a bun.

Surprised, Benny dropped the whole bun minus one bite. Joe leaped forward, scooped it up, and ran out into the parlor. This prequel chronicles their pre-boxcar days through four seasons as the children welcome a struggling family into their home, make new friends, create secret hideaways, and put on plays for their loving parents. Readers familiar with Gertrude Chandler Warner's original iterations of the children's story will know that tragedy brings an end to this idyll, and MacLachlan treats the death of children's parents and the children's subsequent running away with both compassion and restraint.

The Boxcar Children

The tone echoes the old-school charm of the original series, while short sentences, a straightforward plot, and plenty of dialogue make it an obvious choice for readers just transitioning into chapter books. Fans of the series will be pleased by this gentle addition, and others may very well be inspired to discover what lies in store for Henry, Violet, Jessie, and Benny. Final illustrations not seen. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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