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The Boxcar Children


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

This review was created by the editorial staff at Thriving Family magazine

This mystery book is the first in ” The Boxcar Children” series by Gertrude Chandler Warner and is published by Albert Whitman & Company.

The Boxcar Children is written for kids ages 8 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny search for a place to call home after their parents die. Although they do have a grandfather that they have never met, they are determined not to let him find them. They think he is mean and cruel because he did not approve of their father’s marriage to their mother. Jessie finds a deserted boxcar in the woods near Silver City, and the children make it into their home. While Henry finds work doing chores for Dr. Moore and his mother, Mrs. Moore, Jessie, Violet, and Benny find dishes and other necessities in the town dump. They also find a stray dog that they name Watch.

Unbeknownst to the children, who make a fireplace and a swimming pool in their free time, the Moores keep an eye on them. They like Henry and want to make sure he is safe. Before long, Dr. Moore realizes that the children’s grandfather is a rich, kind man who lives not too far away, Mr. James Henry Alden. When Mr. Alden holds a Field Day for Silver City, Dr. Moore asks Henry to go to it. Henry ends up winning the Free-for-all Race and shaking his grandfather’s hand as he accepts the prize. Yet neither Henry nor Mr. Alden know they have met a relative.

When Violet becomes sick, Henry asks Dr. Moore for help. Dr. Moore brings Violet and the other children to live at his house until Violet feels better. He reveals the children’s identity to Mr. Alden. Mr. Alden does not tell the children who he is, but lets them get to know him. By the time they realize that he is their grandfather, they also know him as a kind man.

The children go to live with their grandfather, who has designed special bedrooms for them and tries to make them feel at home in his large house. To help them fully adjust, he moves their boxcar to one of his gardens so they can play in it whenever they like.

Christian Beliefs

The children view Sunday as a day of rest, meaning a day not to work, so they build their swimming pool on that day. Dr. Moore and Mrs. Moore have Henry work for them every day but Sunday.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Henry and Jessie are in the place of authority over their siblings, and Benny, who is 5, and Violet, who is 10, treat Henry and Jessie with respect. Henry and Jessie take their role of provider seriously and work together to provide food and a safe place for their family to live. They are determined to keep their family together, no matter the consequences. The children believe their biological grandfather will search for them, but they are intent on hiding from him because they think he is mean and cruel.

Their grandfather has never met them because he did not approve of the woman his son married. A baker and his wife spend their free hours searching for the children. Although the baker’s wife does not like children, she feels responsible for the children’s safety. Dr. Moore and Mrs. Moore quietly oversee the children’s welfare, too, with little to no interference once they realize that the children are safe and fed. Mr. Alden is seen as an upstanding citizen in the community and eventually as a kind man to his grandchildren.

Profanity & Violence


Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

  • What are Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny running away from?
  • Where do they end up?
  • What have you run away from that was actually good for you?
  • How did you find out that it was good for you?

  • What are some ways that Henry and Jessie made do with what they had?

  • What are some ways that you have learned to be content with what you have?

  • How do the children’s attitude make a difference in their adventure?

  • What would have happened if they had grumbled and complained the whole time?
  • If they had bad attitudes, how much would the children have loved the boxcar they were in?

  • What makes Henry work so hard and well for Dr. Moore and Mrs. Moore?

  • What does his hard work bring him?
  • Tell about a time when you were a good worker.
  • What was the result of your hard work?

  • What are some of the dangers that the children face?

  • How do they make it through the dangers?
  • Why do they agree to live with their grandfather instead of remaining on their own in the boxcar?
  • How might their life with their grandfather be similar to your life?
  • How was their life in the boxcar different from your life?

Additional Comments

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book’s inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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