The Boxcar Children: Gertrude Chandler Warner

Books Worth Reading

November 1, 2018

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The beloved classic tale of four siblings who create a home in an abandoned boxcar.

Reading Level: 8-14 (and appropriate to a younger audience as an audio or read aloud book).

Length: 154 pages. Read Aloud time: Under 2 hours.

About the Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner was an American teacher and author, best known for creating the Boxcar Children series. She lived in Putnam, Connecticut where she taught first grade. In The Boxcar Children she wanted to create a book that was both exciting and easy to read that featured children acting on their own with minimal adult supervision. The first book, originally published in 1924, was heavily revised and reissued in 1942 and became a great success. From 1949 to 1976, Warner continued the story in 18 more books. Today, there are over 150 Boxcar Children mysteries, all including the byline “created by Gertrude Chandler Warner.”

Here’s why kids might like The Boxcar Children:

The Boxcar Children is the endearing tale of four siblings who work together to create an idyllic home living in a boxcar in the woods following the death of their parents. Through hard work and determination, they create a simple home for themselves, filled with “treasures” found at the dump, a homemade refrigerator and swimming pool in a nearby brook, and the companionship of their newfound dog Watch. Through their friendship with Dr. Moore, they eventually find their grandfather who has been looking for them and longing to bring them home. In the subsequent books, beginning with Surprise Island and The Yellow House Mystery, the four Alden siblings have memorable adventures and find there are always new friends to meet and a new mystery to unravel.

What makes The Boxcar Children worth reading?

These books recall a simpler time, where the four siblings find joy in the little adventures they have together and contentment in working together to create a loving home in the boxcar. Many kids love seeing the Alden siblings’ self-sufficiency and resourcefulness as they make their own meals, go to the dump in search of dishes and other necessities, and build their own furniture. They even make themselves a swimming pool! My four year old always wants to play that he’s “camping like the Boxcar children!” The books are innocent and endearing, and the children are kind and warm hearted, without any sibling spats. This makes The Boxcar Children a very peaceful book to read.

There is, however, one aspect of the plot to be aware of. The children are very frank about the fact that they are on their own because their mother and father are dead and they do not want to live with their grandfather because they believe he is mean. The grandfather did not approve of their mother and has never seen or met the children. It is never explained how the children come to be on their own. A problematic gap in the narrative is that when the children finally do meet their grandfather he is very loving, considerate, gentle, and kind — nothing like the man they imagined him to be. This portrait of their grandfather, however, is inconsistent with his never having seen his son since his marriage or ever meeting his grandchildren (the oldest of whom is 14). The book never addresses why this was the case and the grandfather never expresses any regret or remorse for his past treatment of his son’s family.

A few ways to discuss this book with your child:

  • Why are the children afraid to live with their grandfather? How does their grandfather compare to their idea of him? Can you think of a time you had a wrong impression of someone? Tell me about it.
  • Jessie calls the things they find at the dump “treasures.” Why does she call them that? What makes these broken items “treasures” to the children?
  • Do you identify with one of the Alden children more than the others? Which one and why?

Publication Details:

Book: Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman and Company, 1989 (Reprint Edition). Audiobook: New York: Listening Library, 1992. Narrated by Phyllis Newman. [This narrator is better than the ones for the newer audiobook collections from Oasis Audio. I like this collection which includes the first three books and runs at 7 hours and 15 minutes.]

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