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.
A conversation with my almost five-year-old son about The Boxcar Children
- 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. ↩