Gertrude Chandler Warner, author of The Boxcar Children books, passed away in 1979, when she was nearly 90 years old, but we often still get mail for her from Boxcar fans. In this occasional blog feature, we’ll answer frequently asked fan questions, such as…
Q: How old are Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden?
It sounds like an easy question, but you’d be surprised at how complicated it gets. See, in The Boxcar Children, the very first book, Henry is fourteen, Jessie is twelve, Violet is ten, and Benny is five.
But, well, he’s only five until he has his birthday in Surprise Island, the second book in the series. And when you get to Book #8, Lighthouse Mystery, you’ll notice that Henry is about to go off to college. By Book #19, Benny Uncovers a Mystery, Benny is working a summer job in a department store. But if you crack open Book #20 and check the children’s ages, it will tell you that Henry is fourteen, Jessie is twelve, Violet is ten, and Benny is… six! Confused yet?
So, what gives? Is Henry one of those genius kids who goes off to college early? Is Benny breaking child labor laws? Why are the Aldens older in the early books in the series and younger in the later books? You can see how all this leads to further questions. Are the Aldens shape-shifters? Or maybe vampires? Could the uranium mines at Aunt Jane’s Mystery Ranch have something to do with all this?!
If Gertrude were here, she would tell you to calm down. If there’s one thing the Boxcar Children can teach us, it’s that anything that seems spooky and weird has a perfectly reasonable explanation! In the first 19 books in the series, the Aldens gradually grow older. After Gertrude Warner passed away in 1979 (just a few years after Benny Uncovers a Mystery was published) there were no new books in the Boxcar Children series for many years. In the 199os, though, the Aldens returned in a big way with new stories. We realized that most people remember the first books the most, so for these newer adventures it was decided that the Aldens should stay the same age as they were in that earliest book. After all, it’s hard to solve mysteries when you have college midterms.
So yes, it’s a little perplexing, but when you read the books, it’s clear that the Boxcar Children are really ageless. No matter how old they are, they’re always wise beyond their years.