The Boxcar Children Graphic Novels
Based on the books by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Published by Albert Whitman and Company
The Boxcar Children were a beloved children’s series when I was growing up, and these graphic-novel adaptations have a sort of old-fashioned charm to them. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to update them with things like cell phones or computers, which is fine.
I have to admit that the only Boxcar Children story I ever read was the first one, and that was many years ago, so I can’t compare these to the originals. However, they do seem to be direct adaptations of some of the prose books in the series. (Some of them were adapted by Rob Worley, who went on to write the delightful children’s comic Scratch 9.)
Each book is about 32 pages long, which means there is about 25 pages of actual story, and each presents a fairly complex puzzle of a type that will be familiar to readers of Nancy Drew and other mysteries: There are false walls, missing items, and in one case, mysterious attempts to sabotage the local pizza parlor. The stories don’t seem to get particularly scary—strange noises from the ceiling and a broken gas line that puts the pizza oven out of service are about as hairy as it gets. Even when the children are snowbound in a cabin on top of a mountain, the mood never goes beyond cheery and cozy.
The four children live with their grandfather, a remarkably laissez-faire caregiver who has no problem dropping them off at the foot of a mountain and promising to come back for them a week later. That sort of freedom is one of the real appeals of a book like this. Another interesting trait, which could come across as goody-goody but somehow doesn’t, is that the kids are full of ideas; in two of the stories that I read, they helped adults do a better job of marketing their business by coming up with innovations like letting customers vote for their favorite pizza. And that’s another part of the fun of this sort of book—the kids are smarter than the grownups. Always.
With a lot of story to tell in each slim volume, the adaptors waste no space. The writing is mostly simple declarative sentences, and the characters fill in backstory and details with dialogue. The art is not brilliant, but it’s good enough to carry the story and not be a distraction. I’ve certainly seen worse.
Nothing about these books screams “quality literature,” but the same could be said of the originals, and of all the other adventure-story books I read as a kid. Still, the plots are solid, the puzzles are interesting, and if all the characters are a bit too nice, well, let that be a counterweight to the sea of snark our children are exposed to in other media. The writing may be pedestrian but the stories do pull you in—they’re page-turners, for sure. These are old-fashioned books, and they don’t pretend otherwise; I think these would be a good choice for young children who just want a good story and don’t mind if there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles.