Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Boxcar Children


The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
L. Kate Deal, Illustrator,
Albert Whitman & Company, 1942

This is the story of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, four orphaned children who make their home in an abandoned railway car after their parents death. They fear their grandfather for some reason and though they try to make a go of it on their own their success is short lived. In the golden days they dig a swimming hole, scavenge the dump for useful items, Henry gets a job which provides them with food, and they even find a dog. I think that many children of that age dream of independence--of having their own cup, making their own food, having their own space.

Gertrude Chandler Warner's famous Boxcar Children series began with this one book. The language is very basic and great for beginner readers. I read a few of the others in the series, but never felt the same allure. There were more than 100 books in the series, with Warner writing only the first 19. Half the fun was the idea of four kids living alone in an abandoned boxcar, cooking their own food and eating it on salvaged dishes. When they were safely in the care of their Grandfather some of the allure and excitement vanished. The following books fell more into the mystery genre.

My siblings and I count this book as a beloved favorite. I don't really remember when I discovered it. Maybe my second grade teacher introduced me to the series. What I do remember is reading it aloud to my brother and my sister. First we'd read the story and then we'd act it out.

Nearly 15 years ago I was employed in a babysitting gig for a pair of sweet kids and I had the privilege of introducing them to the wonder of a read aloud from a chapter book. They were at the age where their family focus was on the picture book and we read from plenty of those as well... But I started them off with The Boxcar Children and this was a gateway to a new reading experience for Luke and Hannah too. I still remember Luke remarking with wonder, "You know I don't need pictures. You can see the pictures in your head."

A couple of years ago, I ran into Hannah (now in high school) and her mom at a local bookstore and of course we said hello. Hannah hadn't seen me in years and didn't really remember who I was. As her mom tried to explain, she said one thing that made Hannah's eyes light up and my heart swell... "she's the one who read The Boxcar Children to you." Apparently they still remember.

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