The Happy Hollisters vs. The Boxcar Children

As the publishers of The Happy Hollisters, we are often asked whether our books are similar to The Boxcar Children. The two series do share a number of similarities.

Both are chapter books designed to entertain and engage young readers. The Alden children in The Boxcar Children are four orphans (ages 7-16) who live with their grandfather and solve mysteries, often with little adult supervision. The Hollisters are five siblings (ages 4-12) whose parents are present and provide occasional support (mostly transportation) in solving the mysteries.

The Boxcar series began in 1924 with the first volume, The Box-Car Children, written by Gertrude Chandler Warner (1890-1979) and published by Rand McNally. The first volume was revised and shortened in 1949 as The Boxcar Children for publication by Albert Whitman & Company, a Chicago publisher. Warner, a Connecticut schoolteacher with no children of her own, continued to write the next 18 books in the series. Upon her death, a succession of ghostwriters continued to create additional volumes with updated language and modern settings. The series is now published by Penguin Random House Children’s Books.

Andrew Svenson (1910-1975), a newspaper reporter, teacher, and father of six children, was a ghostwriter for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the children’s book packaging and publishing powerhouse which created Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and The Bobbsey Twins, among others. Svenson wrote more than 80 books for children under a variety of pseudonyms, including “Laura Lee Hope” and “Franklin W. Dixon.” He wrote all 33 books in The Happy Hollisters series under the pen name “Jerry West.” This series, which he began writing in 1948, is loosely based on his own children’s adventures as they were growing up in New Jersey. The series was distributed by Doubleday & Company but went out of print in 1971. Beginning in 2010, all 33 volumes were reissued by the author’s family without revision or modernization.

We selected volume three from each series, both originally published in 1953, for our comparison:

The Boxcar Children, The Yellow House Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

  • Lexile 590
  • 24,472 words
  • Lower grades K-2
  • Flesch-Kincaid reading level 3.8
  • 16 chapters
  • 191 pages
  • About 40 illustrations by Mary Gehr
  • Available formats: paperback, audiobook, e-book, hardcover
  • First 100+/- words:

Four lively children lived with their grandfather Alden in a big house. The children’s father and mother had died years before. Their cousin Joe lived in the big house too. He was grown up and his cousins thought he was great fun.

First there was Henry Alden, who was sixteen and in high school. Jessie Alden came next. She was in high school too. Violet was a pretty dark-haired little girl of twelve, and Benny was seven.

Benny was on his way home from school one day in Spring. The minute he went into the house, he heard the telephone ringing. Then he heard Mrs. McGregor, the housekeeper, answering it.

    • Representative illustration:







The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach by Jerry West (pseudonym for Andrew Svenson)

  • Lexile 690
  • 32,479 words
  • Middle grades 4-8
  • Flesch-Kincaid reading level 4.0
  • 18 chapters
  • 187 pages
  • 72 illustrations by Helen S. Hamilton
  • Available formats: paperback, audiobook, e-book, special-edition hardcover with bonus material
  • Also available through The Happy Hollisters Book Club (subscription)
  • First 100+/- words:

Pete and Pam Hollister roller skated along the sidewalk as fast as their flying feet would carry them. They wanted to catch the mailman.

“Oh, Mr. Barnes!” Pam called out, her brown eyes dancing with excitement. “Have you a letter for us from Uncle Russ?”

As the gray-haired man smiled and stopped, Pete and Pam skidded to a half in front of their rambling home.

“I believe there is a letter for the Happy Hollister children,” Mr. Barnes said, reaching into his bag. “It’s postmarked Sea Gull Beach.”

“That’s it!” Pete cried gleefully, as he ran his fingers through his blond, crew-cut hair.

  • Representative illustration:







Both of these series have an old-fashioned charm that 21st-century children find appealing, providing a glimpse into what childhood might have been like for their grandparents. The independence of the Alden and Hollister children may be concerning to modern parents, who tend to keep closer tabs on their children than was customary in the 1950s. Children today, however, are fascinated by their free-rein explorations, and the stories allow them to live vicariously through the exciting adventures of the Aldens and the Hollisters.

The vocabulary and syntax reflect mid-century usage, such as “Don’t let’s get upset” in The Boxcar Children or “Have you a handkerchief?” in The Happy Hollisters. Teaching moments abound in both series, from discussions about how language, lifestyles, and culture have changed since the books were written, to educational tidbits that the authors have woven discreetly into the plots. Children may learn about the feeding habits of porcupines from the Aldens or get the urge to bake a clam pie with the Hollisters.

Which is better for your family: The Happy Hollisters or The Boxcar Children? Your choice will depend on the age, reading level, and attention span of your child(ren). Each series offers a variety of themes and settings that may match individual hobbies or interests. The style and quantity of the illustrations may also guide your choice.

An internet search of “The Happy Hollisters vs. The Boxcar Children” provided the following comparisons which may be helpful.

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