The Railway Children and the Boxcar Children

by Anna Blanch on December 10, 2009

The dinner party conversation goes like this:
Them: So what do you do?
Me: I’m working on my PhD.
Them: In what?
Me: English Literature and Theology.

Sometimes the conversation stops right there and they change the subject or hurry away..but if they show interest the conversation continues a little like this,
Them: What are you writing about?
Me: E.Nesbit, she’s a 19th Century author, who lived a pretty interesting life and wrote lots of books.
Them: Oh, she was the one that wrote the Boxcar Children.
Me: ah, no, she wrote the Railway Children.

For a while i’ve been wondering whether the books were just released with a different title in the US. I thought exploring the connections or not between the Railway Children and the Boxcar Children is worthy of a post.

There is no connection between Nesbit’s Railway Children and the Boxcar Children.

The similarities are limited to there being four children, some relationship to the railway, and a kindly older gentleman.


The Boxcar Children is a franchise, initially created by schoolteacher Gertrude Chandler Warner in 1924 which now consists of over 100 books. Warner wrote the first 19.

Originally published in 1924 by Rand McNally and reisssued in 1942, the novel The Boxcar Children is the story of four orphaned children. Siblings Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny run away from the orphanage they have been placed in and upon discovering an abandoned boxcar in the forest they decide to call it home. They fear their legal guardian, their grandfather, believing him to be cruel. The siblings enjoy their freedom but find their lifestyle has many problems and is not a long term solution. Their fears are unfounded however and when they eventually meet their grandfather, James Alden, they find he is a kind and wealthy man. The children agree to live with him. Alden moves the boxcar to his backyard and the children use it as a playhouse. Over the ensuing books, the children have many adventures and find themselves embroiled in many mysteries in their neighborhood or at the locations they visit with James during the school holidays.

This confusion between the Railway Children and the Boxcar Children is only apparent within an American context because of the origin and popularity of the latter.

  • Steve in Oklahoma

    Thank you! Very informative. My friend who is a teacher in Victoria, Australia mentioned readling The Railway Children in class. This caused me to wonder if it was the same "The Boxcar Children" I read as a child. But you quickly answered that question. Thank you once again.

  • Goannatree

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