The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Novel: The Boxcar Children

Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner

Target Audience: 7 to 12 years

Genre: Mystery

Publication Year: 1942

Setting: USA, a rural area outside of a fictional town named Silver City; 1920s or 30s

A Favorite Quote: “One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.”

My One Sentence Summary: After being orphaned, the four Alden children flee to the woods (to escape being raised by their mean, old grandfather) and set up a home in an abandoned boxcar.

What I loved about this book: This is one of the books that made me fall in love with reading. I read the Boxcar Children mysteries voraciously. As a young reader, I was completely engrossed by the idea of living with my siblings in the woods. I loved the descriptions of how Jessie and Violet set up the house. I liked Henry’s independence as he took jobs in town to provide for his siblings. I even liked Benny’s chipped cup (for some reason, I thought it would be wonderful to find useful household items in the dump). Although, the story is old-fashioned by today’s standards, I think the concepts still resonate with young readers who enjoy imagining themselves as independent–able to make their own swimming pool in a stream or adopt a pet dog on a whim.

 Major themes: The strength of family ties, especially between siblings; independence and self-reliance; the value of respectfulness and strong work ethic; taking pride in one’s efforts and accomplishments

Who should read this book: This novel has held a wide appeal with young readers since it’s initial publication and is often described as being a classic. The language is straightforward and easy to access. Highly recommended for any reader who appreciates wholesome characters and children on an adventure relatively unsupervised by adults.


  1. The Boxcar Children
  2. Surprise Island
  3. The Yellow House Mystery
  4. Mystery Ranch

And so on…

There are over one hundred books in the Boxcar Children series today. Only the first nineteen were written by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The first four were my favorites when I was a young reader (though, I read dozens of others…as many books in the series as I could get my hands on). I particularly liked Surprise Island–which I remember thinking was as good (if not better) than the first book. Surprise Island is the first real mystery in which the children act as sleuths.