Gertrude Chandler Warner, the author who started the popular series of children’s books known as the Boxcar Children books, was born on April 16, 1890. She came up with the idea for the series while teaching during World War I, and penned the first nineteen books. (The series continued on for over ninety more books under other authors, and has been updated several times.)
The Boxcar Children series appeals to young readers for several reasons. As early chapter books, they are short and fairly easy to read, and act as a “gateway” to more challenging books. (This was a deliberate choice on Warner’s part.) The main characters are a family of four children without parents, who live in an abandoned boxcar until they are eventually located by their grandfather; children relish the family’s relative freedom and independence. The stories are mysteries, though never of a very dangerous or threatening sort. And the familiarity and continuity of a series always provide appeal.
When our daughter was hospitalized for a month with a serious illness, she plowed through as many of the series as the librarians could locate for her, probably ninety-plus books in all. The books provided a temporary escape from illness, pain, and the hospital environment. Though they were written at a lower reading level than she was capable of reading at that time, their familiarity was a great comfort to her.
Warner died in 1979, but the series she began remains popular with children today. Some years ago, I ran a reading incentive program for our daughter’s elementary school. The Boxcar Children books were among the top reading choice for children making the transition from picture books and books like Henry and Mudge to more difficult chapter books. Thanks to Ms. Warner, many children have caught on to the joys of reading.