Friday, May 25, 2012

The Boxcar Children

1942, 1977 Albert Whitman & Company edition
Gertrude Chandler Warner
Illustrated by L. Kate Deal
The Boxcar Children
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn hardcover

I read many of the "Boxcar Children" books as a child, but I have to admit that I was always disappointed that the series became about a bunch of kids living in luxury and solving mysteries.  I much preferred the siblings living in the boxcar and making do with what they find and make.  Going back to the story, I'm still disappointed in the "happy ending" where they're reunited with their rich grandfather, but I'm also struck by two other things.  The plot and vocabulary are much simpler than I remembered, a contrast to most of the other children's books I've read for this project.  Also, it's definitely a safer time, with no real dangers threatening the children.  The one "wild" animal they meet turns into their trusty watchdog Watch.  Even the mean adults aren't violent.  Mostly, the children meet with kindness and encouragement.  Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls face much greater hardship.  Even the Automobile Girls are living in a scarier world.  I can't attribute it to the time period, because the 1940s were a scary time for some children, admittedly more so in other parts of the world than the U.S.

On its own, I'd give the story a C+, but the sort of silhouette illustrations by Deal are perfect, managing to convey emotions and scenery in a striking way.  The cover of this edition looks more 1960s/70s, with the two boys wearing t-shirts and brown slacks, as opposed to the short pants/knickerbockers, jackets, and hats that the two brothers wear.  Even by my 1970s childhood, this book was a period piece, and I now suspect that it may've been one even in the 1940s, although supposedly set in the then contemporary world.  That's part of its continuing appeal, the fantasy that you could go live in a boxcar, but I find that fantasy less appealing, or at least less well done, than I did as a child.

P.S. After looking on the Internet, I discover the book was originally published in 1924 but heavily revised by Warner in '42.  That may account for some of its datedness.

P.P.S.  This finishes off the third bookshelf, covering a score of years, with lots of children's books in particular.


  1. I loved this book when I was small, but one time I read it while babysitting after the kids had gone to bed, and it seemed kind of silly. I think when I was young I was in favor of the ending (though not necessarily the later books) because I remember finding it especially exciting that each kid got a room painted in their favorite color. Yeah, it's funny what kids get excited by.

  2. Oh, yeah, the rooms decorated for each of them were cool. (I liked the bedrooms in the 1970s "Escape to the Witch Mountain" movie, too.) What struck you as silly?

  3. I don't remember exactly what I found silly on rereading, though probably the convenient happy ending was part of it. I had the general impression of "This isn't nearly as good as I thought when I was little." Now, keep in mind that I read the book the first time(s) when I was... whatever age the book is for, maybe 8 or 9? But when I encountered it again as a much older and wiser reader, it was probably only about 6 years later.

  4. What did the kids you were babysitting think of it? It still appeals to kids in the 8ish age group, but I don't think it's a kids' book that has much for adults, or even teenagers, judging from your rereading.

  5. I don't know what the kids thought of the book -- they were asleep. I believe they were younger than 8, but they might have had books in their collection that they hadn't read yet, or maybe their parents had read it to them.