Originally published in 1942, Gertrude Chandler Warner writes a wonderfully suspenseful story of four orphaned children. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden are supposed to live with their grandfather, Mr. Alden, after their parents die, but they have never met Mr. Alden and are afraid of him. So, they decide to run away and live by themselves. On a rainy night in the woods, Jessie finds an abandoned boxcar, and the children soon decide to keep house in it.

As a child, I was inspired and a little frightened at the Alden’s exploits. The thought of living in the woods and taking care of my siblings without my mother or father to help me was just about the scariest thing I could think of. Yet, the Alden children never seemed worried about finding food or making money. Every day, Henry would do odd jobs for Dr. Moore and bring home food whenever he could. Every day, Jessie and Violet would work to keep the boxcar clean and prepare meals. The children’s resourcefulness is amazing, and even when Violet becomes very ill, you know that everything will be alright.

Modern children who read this book will likely be astonished at all of the things the Aldens are capable of doing. Henry gladly works to organize a hopelessly disorganized garage. Jessie can cook a whole meal over a fire. Violet can sew by hand. Benny never complains about any of the chores his older siblings give him. Considering that the story is set in the early 1940s during World War II this is not really as unlikely as it seems. Readers will learn that children during this time were expected to similar tasks every day or whenever necessary. The Boxcar Children is a perfect book to integrate into a unit concerning American history or World War II.

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The Boxcar Children

21 June 2012

As a child, The Boxcar Children series was a staple in my reading list. I spent a whole summer reading through as many of these books as I could find. I was thrilled that I could read chapter books, and these books instilled in me a permanent love of mystery.

The book we’ll be reading is the first in the series, The Boxcar Children. In this story, we are introduced to Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden who have just lost their parents. They are supposed to go live with their grandfather, Mr. James Alden, but they have been told that he is a cruel man. Afraid, they run away and build their own home in a boxcar. Warner tells the story of their lives with no parents and their joy in being together. Her words are simple, but her story is engaging. This is the perfect series for beginning readers.

Read The Boxcar Children, then tell me what you thought of the Alden children living on their own. If you read these books when you were young, tell me about the influence they had on your desire to read.

The review for The Boxcar Children will be posted on Monday, 25 June 2012.

James Marshall has written five short stories about George and Martha in George and Martha: One Fine Day.

  1. The Tightrope: Martha loves walking on her tightrope, but Martha loses her confidence when George becomes frightened.
  2. The Diary: Martha cannot seem to find a private moment to write in her diary. Will George learn to be polite and respectful of Martha’s wishes?
  3. The Icky Story: George decides that lunchtime is the perfect time to tell icky stories, so Martha comes up with a plan to prove to George how undesirable such stories are when one is eating.
  4. The Big Scare: When George scares the daylights out of Martha, she threatens to scare him, too, but when?
  5. The Amusement Park: After a day of fun, Martha gets her revenge and scares the daylights out of George.

Each of these amusing stories is accompanied by charming drawings. The pictures are simple but engaging. Marshall is able to put the weight of every emotion into the faces of each hippopotamus. You will always find George or Martha looking amused, innocent, annoyed, sly, or angry. George even turns completely green when Martha tells her icky story!

Through George and Martha, Marshall has written several unassuming moral lessons. Children learn the importance of minding their manners at the table and toward individual people, and they learn the value in encouraging their friends. George and Martha provide teachers and parents with the perfect opportunity to fulfill a teachable moment.

For another look at George Marshall’s work, read this article which places George and Martha as #48 on a list of Top 100 Picture Books!

It’s Saturday again, and time for another Picture Book Weekend! Today we’ll be reading George and Martha: One Fine Day by James Marshall. George and Martha are two best (hippopotamus) friends who are always having exciting little adventures, and they have been two of my favorite storybook characters for as long as I can remember. While reading this book, consider what it means to be a friend and the different ways we should (or should not) treat our friends. Then, if you find some other George and Martha stories, let me know what you think of those, too!

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems is a wonderful story for any child who has an attachment to a stuffed animal or blanket. In this story Daddy, Trixie, and Knuffle Bunny take a trip to the Laundromat. Trixie helps Daddy do the laundry, but she leaves Knuffle Bunny behind.

Every child, no matter how young or old, fears that she will lose something. Mo Willems’ illustrations help the reader see Trixie’s emotions as she and Knuffle Bunny experience their frightening adventure. In the pictures, the background scenes are black-and-white photographs of the cityscape where Daddy and Trixie live, and all of the people are Mo Willems’ own cartoonish color drawings superimposed on the photographs. It is an interesting medium that produces a realistic but whimsical mood for the story. The characters are larger than life, playing to the child’s imagination, but the setting is exactly what any city kids might see.

I know that most children won’t be making comparisons between their own lives and the pictures in the book, but it does highlight the important fact of the story: Take care of your favorite things. When Trixie didn’t take care of Knuffle Bunny, she lost him. However, Mommy and Daddy love Trixie so much that they dash back to the Laundromat, and Daddy won’t give up searching for Knuffle Bunny. As teachers and parents, it is our job to take care of our students and children so we can teach them how to take care of their belongings.

What are your thoughts on this story? Did you enjoy it? Were you able to learn or teach a lesson with this book? Have you had your own experiences with a lost toy or favorite thing?

Find out more about Mo Willems, Trixie and Knuffle Bunny, and all of his other books on his website. Let us know what you think of his other books, too!