Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll #99: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
If there is a shining example of a book considered a classic in spite of the fact that it has garnered no awards, my vote would go for Warner’s ultimate kids-living-on-their-own story. When I was a child I spent a frightening amount of time writing stories about independent children who were orphaned by various horrible means. Looking back, I suspect that my influence at the time had to be Ms. Warner. Yet you will not find her books mentioned in Louise Seaman Bechtel’s Books in Search of Children, Anita Silvey’s Children’s Books and Their Creators or even The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators. Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard Marcus makes no mention of it nor does Gertrude Chandler Warner have an entry in the 1971 edition of The Who’s Who of Children’s Literature, compiled and edited by Brian Doyle. Finally, pick up a copy of your New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children by Eden Ross Lipson. Nope. Not there either. Heck, nobody even sent me a quote of the reason they liked this book.
The reasons for this are manifold but one problem may be the fact that you are dealing with the titular book in what would later become a series. Many is the library system that carries the Boxcar Children series but not that many kids know that the series had a single book begin it all that acted as a starting point.
The plot as described by Wikipedia says: “Originally published in 1924 by Rand McNally and reissued in 1942, the novel The Boxcar Children, tells the story of four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. They get permission to stay overnight at a bakery but run away when they hear the baker’s wife say she will keep the older three and send the youngest, Benny, to an orphanage. They create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the forest. They fear their legal guardian, their grandfather, believing him to be cruel. They enjoy their freedom, but need to seek help when Violet becomes ill. They eventually meet their grandfather, James Alden, who is a kind and wealthy man. The children agree to live with him. James moves the beloved boxcar to his backyard so the children can use it as a playhouse. In the subsequent books, the children encounter many adventures and mysteries in their neighborhood or at the locations they visit with their grandfather.”
Who defends it? Well me, for one. I have vivid memories of the book, having had it read to me in school. Cleaning the silverware. Hiding from the authorities. It was simultaneously gripping and comforting all at once. Add to that the fact that it’s not every book that lasts from 1924 onwards.
Lest you forget, a prequel to the series as written by Patricia MacLachlan called The Boxcar Children Beginning is due out this coming September.
- You can learn more about Ms. Warner here.
- And you can visit her museum, if you’ve half a mind to, here.
- And you can download an activity guide here.
In terms of covers, it seems fitting to show a special 60th anniversary edition that was released
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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