Raisin Reads: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (first published 1924)  is the first in a series for children about four orphaned children striking out on their own. I haven’t read the others in the series since I was a child and I don’t remember them very well, but the first book was a fun trip back to the innocent days when children solved problems for themselves.

I found The Boxcar Children on a $0.25 library sale rack, and when I picked it up, Raisin immediately wanted to read it, simply because the picture of train tracks and a boxcar on the front convinced him this was a “train book.” As we read it together, he kept asking when they’d find the boxcar, and he loved the independence of the children as they made the boxcar their home, as they prepared their own dinners, and as they found resources to make life pleasant. He begged me to keep reading beyond one chapter a night, a response I haven’t had to a chapter book since we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together a while ago.

The Boxcar Children is a dated book in many respects. Children without a guardian probably cannot be left alone for so long today, and we no longer live in a world where boxcars sit empty in a clearing perfect for making a home. Children can’t make $1 by working in a stranger’s yard for a day, and local dumps don’t provide the kinds of treasures the children utilized to continue to survive1. Beyond the setting, the children operate under defined gender roles that may irritate the modern reader: Henry seeks work, Jessie and Violet cook the meals. But, given the ages of the children, these roles make sense, since the oldest sought for work and the next two did the cooking. For me, knowing the book was dated when I began, I wasn’t too bothered. It’s a classic for a reason: the children that form the center of the book are creative, resourceful, and fully likeable.

Because I’m an adult, my opinion on the book shouldn’t be the bottom line. Here’s what Raisin (nearly 4) has to say about the book.

  1. I haven’t been to a dump lately, though, and I do live in the suburbs of a large city, so maybe I am just unfamiliar with the ways of life in a more rural area.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. This was one of my favorite books when I was younger. I read it over and over again. I think I read the next two or three in the series but I don’t have as fond memories of them as I do of the original. I’m glad to hear to Raisin liked it and that kids are still reading it.

    1. Christina » I don’t remember reading this over and over again but I’m sure I must have read it! Yep, I’m glad classic children’s book stay around too!

  2. I feel like I read this when I was a kid. I have a clear memory of loving a story about a bunch of kids in a boxcar, but for some reason I feel like their parents were there, and they were in the boxcar because they were poor? Maybe I’m just remembering the older children. I wish I could find the book!! I’m only about 50% thinking that this is it…

    1. Jillian » I don’t know if you’re thinking of a different book, but if you think of a different one, I’m sure Raisin would love it! Anything to do with trains and a boxcar…

  3. I remember reading these in elementary school! I don’t think I read as many of them as my younger brother did, but I definitely read a number in the series. Ah, nostalgia…

  4. The audio clip won’t work for me, darn it! I read this book to my two oldest kids several years ago, and just read it to my two youngest within the last year. I like the old-fashioned feel of it, even with the outdated gender roles. I love the resourcefulness of the children.

    1. Shelley » I am so sorry the audio isn’t working for you! I link to the mp3 file above but it seems that is truncated for some reason. I don’t know what’s going on but will play around with it. And yes, I kept thinking, “hmm pretty outdated gender roles” and yet I still enjoyed it too! As for the resourcefulness of the children, a few times Raisin called them on it. “Mommy! They can’t use a knife (make a fire, etc)! They’re children!” I tried to explain how careful OLDER children can do those things 🙂

  5. Awwww, Raisin. I’m glad he liked this! Are you planning on reading him more in the series? I found the rest of the series disappointing — what I loved about the first book was surviving in the boxcar. Once they got rich, I lost interest.

    1. Jenny » I honestly can’t remember reading the rest of the series. I probably won’t read them to him, but rather let him read them once he can read by himself…I don’t know if he’ll like them, but I think he loves the idea of “mysteries” so maybe he will get in to them some day!

  6. I loved this series of books as a child. I remember that I got hooked on them in the second grade, as did the rest of the class. We all fought over the second book in the series, Surprise Island. I always gravitated towards books with “survival” at the forefront, now that I think about it!

    1. Allie » aw, I can just picture the kids fighting over who gets to read that next book 🙂 How fun. I’ll have to see if Raisin continues to have an interest as he gets older.

  7. The Boxcar Children is one of the books I remember reading over and over when I was in grade school. Since the author died in 1979 I’ve been curious as to who writes/has written the ongoing series. I’ve not read any beyond the original, not wanting to break the spell!

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