Discussion Post: It’s the Boxcar Children’s Author’s Birthday! What is the First Book You Remember Reading?

I really love Gertrude Chandler Warner. She got me reading, just like she got so many other children reading.

Gertrude Chandler Warner was a self-taught first grade teacher. She never even finished high school, because of frequent illnesses. And then during WWI when all the men were gone, her town asked her to teach first grade simply because she was already teaching Sunday School and there was no one else. 6 years after that, while stuck at home recovering from bronchitis, she wrote a book about children living in a boxcar because when she was a child, she always thought that would be fun (her family home was across from a rail line). 18 years later, she revised the book to include only 600 words that were suggested for first grade readers. Instead of reading about Dick and Jane and boring things like that, first graders (like the ones Warner taught) could now learn how to read from a book with a real plot and conflict and adventures.

Gertrude Chandler Warner, author of "The Boxcar Children." | Kids ...

Warner continued teaching and did not turn back to writing until after she retired, preferring to focus on the flesh and blood children in front of her rather than the ones in her imagination. After retirement, she wrote 19 more Boxcar Children books, all of them extremely popular. Fame and success did not change her life, she continued to live in her home town first with her parents, then in a small house she purchased. She volunteered with the local Red Cross and cancer society. And she formed a household with another older woman, a retired nurse.

Warner lived this small retiring life, and yet her influence was enormous and continues to this day. In 1990, 11 years after she died and 66 years after she first wrote The Boxcar Children, I was a little girl in first grade struggling to learn how to read. I hated it, the teacher was having us sound things out and that didn’t work for me at all, all the letters felt jumbled when I looked at them, and I got scared every time we did “read aloud” time in class that she would call on me. And then one day I was a little sick and had to stay home from school, my Mom had to go to a job interview and to keep me quiet and entertained while she was in the interview, she gave me her old falling apart copy of The Boxcar Children. I really struggled with the first few pages, but I could sort of recognize the shape of the words I’d already been taught. And then about 6 pages in, I got entranced by the story, so caught up that I forgot to worry about sounding things out and reading the “right” way, and I just read.

The Boxcar Children | Boxcar children, Favorite childhood books ...
This copy, I still have it, the spine is almost entirely gone now. Also, yes, I am aware that I am probably slightly dyslexic. Thus the misery in first grade, and the constant spelling errors you all have to put up with now.

What was that book for you? The first one you remember just reading, all on your own? Was it The Boxcar Children also? Or something else?

11 thoughts on “Discussion Post: It’s the Boxcar Children’s Author’s Birthday! What is the First Book You Remember Reading?

  1. Angelina Ballerina illustrated books by Helen Craig and Katherine Holabird (lovelies last name ever!). I had the books and the animated TV series was recorded for me on VHS since I was in Pre-School at the time the show would premier. I loved it! Loved the books! All of them and the show had Judy Dench as the voice of Miss Lily the ballet teacher and it was great!

    The books are about Angelina’s life in a quaint English village and her ballet classes and other such stuff. It was illustrated so well with great detail and so much charm. I had collected them all, and they might be still somewhere in a box or been given away. But I’ve seen them so many times I remember the illustrations and how when there was a show they would show the backstage of it in the drawings and I loved it.

    The first book of the series and some illustrations:

    https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0649/9573/products/On_Stage_art_LR1_1_1024x1024.jpg?v=1423313266

    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/oNoaBTtKU7OarGE2GlQeGcCKlqjdiG6E3ye2-QhnvVzRlpvIpvoueyCRSL90Zeu1e6CuiO3B4e7Gy3vSZDdG_1QmAYdFOfZg3b1GmhP8Z2Fbh8_PWbUjsuNl1JTPXxmurJrb-r0eIUXSslnNDxoPrzltfJI

    The first episode of the original hand-drawn animated TV series:

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    • I remember those books! But I think I just read one or two, I didn’t really fall in love with them. Maybe I should go back to them? I’m a grown up now, so I could probably read the whole series in a couple hours, right?

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  2. The first books I remember reading, for myself, for pleasure, were Sweet Valley High books. I think I read them (my friend had the whole series and I just borrowed them from her) when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. I also liked Anne of Green Gables. If people asked that is what I would tell them was my favorite, even if it wasn’t really true.

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    • I loved the Anne of Green Gables books, my Mom started reading them aloud to me and then I got so caught up, I read the rest to myself.

      On Thu, Apr 16, 2020 at 8:12 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I don’t remember the first book, bit I do remember checking out a copy of Misty of Chincoteague from the school library when I was in maybe second grade. It was a big illustrated edition, the size of it (with chapters!) felt bold in the moment, like I was undertaking something ambitious and important. Plus it had a beautiful horse on the cover. I’m still find of those books, though my older kid failed to fall in love with them. Plan to try again with the younger kid.

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    • I think I never read that. I was all about The Black Stallion books for a while though!

      On Sat, Apr 18, 2020 at 11:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • They’re sweet, based on a real place on the coast of Virginia. The main characters are a brother and sister. There is a real herd of wild ponies on a real uninhabited island called Assateague and a real thing called “the swimming of the ponies” where every year the people of Chincoteague round up all the mares and foals on Assateague and swim them across the channel to Chincoteague. They select some mares to send back to the island with their foals and other foals they auction off in order to keep the pony population under control. The funds go to support the local fire department. The fun epilogue is that I went to that part of Maryland and Virginia with my husband before my kids were born and it happened that we were in Chincoteague for the pony auction. I didn’t buy a pony, that’s not how the story ends! But it’s a totally fascinating slice of Americana with book fan clubs bidding on ponies against local Amish and Mennonites against prosperous suburbanites out to get a pet for their daughter, with a ragtag collection of tourists from all over looking on.

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        • Now I am less interested in reading the book and more interested in going to the auction! Or, better yet, watching the actual round up.

          On Sun, Apr 19, 2020 at 10:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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