Not Hoovervilles, But Hooch: Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children and The Roaring Twenties

Abstract

This essay provides much-needed critical attention and historical context to the long-neglected 1924 edition of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Box-Car Children. Commonly overshadowed by its more recent and more popular 1942 version—known as The Boxcar Children—this earlier edition calls attention to the original cultural context of Warner’s classic text. Initially written in and for a different era, The Box-Car Children invites a reconsideration of the book’s aim, intent, and original audience. While the narrative is now routinely viewed through the lens of the Great Depression, it was actually a product of the Jazz Age. This alternative historical backdrop alters the socio-political issues that were bearing upon The Box-Car Children while it was being written and, as a consequence, with which it was originally engaging. An awareness of the role that these topics play in the conception and construction of Warner’s classic American story changes the way we view, discuss, and teach the text.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a more detailed discussion of the modifications made to the 1942 edition of The Boxcar Children from its 1924 original version, along with the literary, cultural, and pedagogical significance of these changes, please see my chapter “The Boxcar Children and The Box-Car Children: The Rewriting of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Classic and the Origins of the Early Reader” in The Early Reader in Children’s Literature and Culture, edited by Jennifer Miskec and Annette Wannamaker (London: Routledge, 2016).

  2. 2.

    While the narrative remains out of print, the full-text of the book became available online from Project Gutenberg in May 2013.

  3. 3.

    They are: the University of Virginia, the University of Florida, the University of Chicago, the New York Public Library and the Hennepin County Library in Minnetonka, MN.

  4. 4.

    See, for example, Matthew Huntington’s website “Boxcar Children Education Activities,” available here: http://www.ehow.com/info_7979219_boxcar-children-educational-activities.html. His site also contains links to a number of other online resources that similarly offer information about the Great Depression as necessary background context for the book.

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Correspondence to Michelle Ann Abate.

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Michelle Ann Abate is Associate Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults at The Ohio State University. She is the author of four books of literary criticism: The Big Smallness: Niche Marketing, the American Culture Wars, and the New Children’s Literature (Routledge, 2016), Bloody Murder: The Homicide Tradition in Children’s Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political Conservatism (Rutgers University Press, 2010), and Tomboys: A Literary and Cultural History (Temple University Press, 2008).

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Abate, M.A. Not Hoovervilles, But Hooch: Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children and The Roaring Twenties. Child Lit Educ 47, 257–266 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-016-9275-5

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Keywords

  • Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • The Boxcar Children
  • History
  • Cultural context
  • The 1920s