The Boxcar Children: Inspiration for a Legacy of Reading

The car rolled along US Highway 183 South, headed to my grandmother’s house. She lived two hours away from us, a length of time that might as well have been two days in a child’s mind. My brother and I sat in the backseat, or quite possibly on the floorboard, because this was the late 70s and people did that sort of thing. And we were quiet. There was no shoving or pinching or whining.

Instead, we listened, the two hours of road slipping, unnoticed, below us. In the front seat, our dad read out loud, “One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.”

And so began our family’s love of (obsession with?) The Boxcar Children Mysteries by Gertrude Chandler Warner. My dad was the official family driver, but he was also the official family reader. In my memory he was always behind the wheel, unless there was a Boxcar book that needed reading aloud, and then my mom took over the driving. I’m sure there were other books, but the Boxcar series holds a special place in my heart.

Orphaned children living alone in a train boxcar: I was transfixed. Their world was so far away from anything in my experience. The idea that children could be entirely self-sufficient, thriving on their own for even a short time, was thrilling.

That’s the reason we read, after all. To escape, explore, discover. To get outside of ourselves and experience another perspective. I can’t thank my parents enough for instilling that ideal early.

Aside from the road trip readings, thoughts of my dad always bring to mind a bedside table stacked high with books. Our house was full of books: novels, picture books, encyclopedias (remember those?), children’s stories. During daily quiet time – which I now understand was as much for my mom as it was for us – I read. I also did a fair amount of lying on my bed, head hanging off the edge, daydreaming. But my daydreams were fed by the books I read.

I’ll never forget reading Huckleberry Finn, and imagining my own trip down the river. Or Irish Hurdles, and dreaming of my own beautiful horse. Or the classic Nancy Drew mysteries. Who didn’t want to be Nancy?

That love for a good book, it’s a gift my parents gave to me and my brother. We both now have houses like the one we grew up in, filled with books. Who knows what our ultimate family legacies will be, but I’d like to know that part, at least, will be a passion for reading.

I now have two boys of my own who love books. We’ll always read out loud as a family, but knowing that my boys will one day fill their quiet times with imaginary adventures, fueled by the likes of Tom and Huck and children who live on a train car? That’s the good stuff.

Thanks, mom and dad, for creating a family of readers.

About the Author


Missy Stevens is a blogger and professional copywriter. She shares her thoughts on life, from family to fitness to the daily minutia, at Wonder, Friend. She has worked in corporate community relations, and public relations/communications for small businesses and non-profit organizations. These days, Missy is available to fulfill all of your copy writing dreams. Stop by her professional writing home, Missy Stevens Writes, to learn more. You can also follow Missy on Twitter, where she entertains her social media addiction. Missy lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two sons.