Category Archives: From My Childhood Bookshelf

Captain Awesome Strikes Again

There have been many, many different covers for this book, but this is the cover for the one I checked out of the library. Plus it has Sally beating up that punk, Percy.

There have been many, many different covers for this book, but this is the cover for the one I checked out of the library. Plus it has Sally beating up that punk, Percy.

It’s time for another thrilling installment of Captain Awesome solves mysteries originally written for children! Yay! Up next: Encyclopdia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch (Dutton 1965). For those unfamiliar with the series, boy genius Encyclopedia Brown (neé Leroy) solves crimes and his Police Chief dad takes all the credit. He also opened his own detective agency for the kids (and occasionally the desperate and/or cheap adults) in the neighborhood. Other recurring characters include Encyclopedia’s partner, bodyguard, and kick-ass feminst icon, Sally Kimball; nemesis Bugs Meany; and teeth fetishist and future serial killer, Charlie Stewart. Now, on with the mystery solving!

The Case of the Secret Pitch

The case: Speedy Flanagan bet Bugs Meany his baseball bat (which was his first mistake) that Bugs couldn’t sell superstar Yankees pitcher, Spike Browning, a new pitch. Bugs shows Speedy and Encyclopedia a letter allegedly from Browning, dated June 31st, stating he was going to win 30 games with this new pitch. Encyclopedia calls bullshit and demands that Bugs give Speedy his baseball bat since he lost the bet. How did Encyclopedia know that Bugs was lying?

My verdict: Well at first I thought the answer stemmed from baseball knowledge. Do pitchers even pitch 30 games a season? And there were less games in the 60s, right? Maybe? But then I realized that the letter was dated June 31st and there is no June 31st.

Was I right?: Yes. Bugs might have gotten away with it if he wasn’t such an idiot.

Other Observations: Why do kids even make deals with Bugs anymore? Quite frankly I think Encyclopedia should just let them get scammed. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

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Mystery Solving Squirrels

Oh my God it’s finally autumn in the Alden universe.  It only took 13 books.  I can only imagine the length of time that will pass before we see spring again.  This is Snowbound Mystery in case you’re keeping track.9780807575161_p0_v1_s260x420

In the very first paragraph we learn that their school is closed because there’s been a fire and it’s been partially destroyed.  This sounds very mysterious to me, but what do I know, because this crime-solving quartet isn’t piqued in the least by this tidbit.

That’s Gertrude for you, throwing in some interesting news about arson to distract you, then never ever mentioning it again.

Meanwhile, Benny is extolling the features of this marvelous cabin in the woods that he was recently discussing with Grandfather’s good chum down at the Sportsmen’s club.

Seriously.

I’m starting to feel like Grandfather is feeling his age, and has wisely decided to skip over the older, slower ‘jock’ (is he a jock? I can’t think of anything Henry’s good at, that was the nicest term I could come by)—Henry— as his possible heir—going straight to his only semi-intelligent spawn.  All signs point to Benny being groomed for a future of finance and schmoozing on the links.  Why else is Benny hanging out at the Sportsmen’s Club, unless he’s making shady deals and being bribed by long lunches and cabin getaways?  Think of how easy it would be to bribe Benny with a good-sized hamburger.

If that wasn’t enough, it’s also pretty clear who’s now in charge of ‘masterminding’ these little adventures—as usual Benny extolls the virtues of his newest idea with the imagination and style of a mid-sized travel pamphlet.  ‘It’s too early to snow,’ and ‘only a 2.5 mile hike from the nearest grocery store’ and ‘there will be new plants and deer!’ and ‘I’m sure it won’t snow’ and ‘we could eat canned food’ and also ‘it won’t snow so that’s good.’

Spoiler alert:  it’s going to totally snow.  I mean, thanks for keeping the mystery alive, Gertrude, by naming the book Snowbound Mystery.  It’s like you want to inhibit children’s slowly developing deductive reasoning skills.

Obviously Gertrude is now working with some sort of Microsoft Office Word template, so in every new book she just has to tweak Benny’s monologue slightly, changing the details about the grocery store, and the amount of canned food they will want to purchase.  The paragraph about Watch attending/staying at home is optional.

However, I’m relieved to see they’ve finally moved on past ‘rocks and seashells”—earlier phenomena of nature previously fascinating to the set—and are now learning about multi-celled vertebrates.

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Would a Houseboat By Any Other Name Seem As Boring?

imagesIt’s still summer in Aldenland.  I think it’s been the same summer for about 4 books now, and we’ve only made it to July.  I want to say that it was the end of summer back in Mountain Top Mystery, but I can’t really remember, and honestly, continuity errors are the least of our worries these days because the mysteries are getting more and more ridic.  Just wait.  This book opens with the four kids and their grandfather whining about how hot it is.  They’re sitting in the yard under the trees because it’s the coolest place they can find.  I suspect that they’re wearing their usual color-coded wool sweaters and this is playing a large part in why they’re sweltering.  I also wonder why they’re not sitting under ceiling fans like regular people do.  Or installing air conditioning and a swimming pool like rich people do.  I’d think it would be especially appealing to a fabulously wealthy tycoon who wants some quality time to himself without a herd of kids  yammering on about how hot it is, but what do I know?   Anyway, of course it’s Benny who has the brilliant plan that they should ride around in the car to cool off because no one else ever has an idea.  They just sit around and wait for Benny to come up with something for them to do, passing the time by daydreaming about cooking supper (Jessie), rambling on about college (Henry), and looking for something that needs hemming (Violet).  Everyone agrees that a car ride is the most brilliant idea since sliced bread.  Jessie says (I shit you not), “Let’s ride until it gets cooler.  The weather report says this heat is going to last for a week.”  Did she just suggest that they ride around in the car for a week?  I’m still reeling from her stupidity when Violet declares that this family has the BEST ideas.  Seriously, Violet?  You could achieve the same effect with an oscillating fan and you wouldn’t have to get into a car that surely feels like an oven inside.  When Jessie chimes in to agree with her (“Things always seem to happen to this family when we don’t expect them.  I was thinking I’d never feel cool again.”) I want to beat both of them with a stick for subjecting me to this inane conversation.  It’s really unsurprising that Grandfather is always drunk.

Jessie doesn’t like to let Henry have too much fun, so she makes him drive slower.  Good thing too, because otherwise they wouldn’t have noticed the houseboat and we wouldn’t have been subjected to this wondrous bit of literature.

Of course the Aldens have to do a full inspection before deciding that a houseboat adventure is their cup of tea.  Is there room for storing milk and bread?  Is the water cold enough?  Done deal.  Strangely out of character, Grandfather points out that none of them actually know anything about boats and maybe this might not be the safest idea.  I am shocked, SHOCKED that Grandfather is concerned about such inane things such as ‘safety’ or ‘experience’ needed to pilot a boat.  Luckily for all of us Henry spent some time with a ‘friend’ on his ‘boat’ and so he knows all about trimming the jib or tacking the sail or starting an engine.  I don’t believe for a moment that Henry has friends, or any boat experience, and I’m even more dubious that if this was true, that his fellow Aldens wouldn’t have heard this story ad nauseam for weeks.  After expressing their surprise (and underlying doubt) over his story, it is unanimously agreed that they should start out tomorrow.

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Beavers, A Talking Horse, and Stupid Names

I had no memory of the Caboose Mystery until I picked it up again and the whole crazy-pants plotline came rushing back to me, like the morning after a long night of drinking.  Truly, Gertrude outdid herself–it is more bananas than anything we’ve seen so far.caboose-mystery-david-cunningham-paperback-cover-art

It starts out (just like the Schoolhouse Mystery) with Benny thinking (I hope Benny thinking is not going to become a recurring theme).  Benny is musing about how ridiculously eventful his life with Grandfather and his siblings has been thus far…almost ‘unbelievable,’ if you will.  I think for a moment that Benny is about to wise up to the fact that his life is in fact a farce, manipulated by Grandfather’s puppetmaster ways–but just as he almost becomes sentient–he is distracted.  Damn ADHD.

Grandfather breaks the news that their new adventure will be traveling the world (or a 20 mile radius) in an old fashioned caboose!  He actually has rented two, so the boys and girls don’t have to mix, avoiding incestuous scandal.  The real surprise here is that NO ONE mentions ‘the old boxcar’ fondly.  It’s as if the children have never spent copious amounts of time inside a train car–it’s eery almost–especially remembering a few books back when they wouldn’t shut up about it.  I guess all the mind-modifications have damaged their memory.

Grandfather’s ‘friend’ Mr. Carr who manages the ‘cars’ of the train (I mention this only to point out how delightful the children find this coincidence) mentions that the big caboose has a ‘history.’  Benny, with his attention deficit disorder is only half listening and thinks he says ‘mystery.’  Thanks for giving away the plot Benny.

The next morning, arriving at the train yard, there is a mailman hand-delivering letters to Mr. Carr.  I’m guessing the postman is integral to the plot by all the detail lavished on him; also he is fat, which the Boxcar children always like to point out with wide-eyed wonder.  AND he wants to see the inside of the biggest caboose, ‘just for a moment,’ but there isn’t a moment Mr. Postman because this is a train and trains run on tight schedules and we don’t have time for your mysterious questions! Continue reading


Schoolhouse Mystery OR Me Shaking My Head Sadly

Once again we find ourselves in the eternal summer that exists in Greenfield.  I honestly don’t remember the last time it was a different season.  The Aldens are codependently sitting on the porch when Benny casually mentions that his rent-a-friend Max has bet Benny that even the Alden family won’t be able to find an adventure in the sleepy little fishing village where his family vacations. I do enjoy how this is preceded by Benny ‘thinking,’ which consists of him sitting stock-still staring into space for hours before coming up with this simple sentence.  I think Gertrude is really spot on with her character analysis in this case.

Max’s status as Friend clearly doesn’t give him the necessary clearance in the Alden Conglomerate to know that Grandfather orchestrates these elaborate schemes to keep his grandchildren entertained and out of his hair.  Also, it’s a fair guess that Max is a figment of Benny’s imagination–we all know Mike is Benny’s token friend.  What happened to Mike, Grandfather?  Max very suspiciously never makes an appearance.  It’s sad that the others don’t even have pretend friends.  Only the cold comfort of one another. Continue reading


In Which the Boxcar Children Force Their Help and Friendship on More Unsuspecting Bystanders

Note that Henry has morphed into a 40 year old man and that Violet and Jessie have elected to go mountain climbing in mini skirts.

Benny starts the day off by reminding Grandfather that he PROMISED that they could go mountain climbing one time and then they didn’t.  Apparently Joe and Alice saw that they were about to be saddled with chaperone duty so they went abroad ASAP, probably for some important “science” (read: black market sales of priceless artifacts), and I’m guessing that they’re still there since we haven’t seen hide nor hair of them since The Yellow House Mystery.  I wouldn’t be anxious to come  home, either, if I knew that I’d be spending all of my time taking the world’s most boring kids on elaborate vacations so that Grandfather can have some alone time for his benders.  Anyway, apparently Benny is still peeved that he missed the opportunity.  Grandfather chuckles indulgently at the little tyke and says that OF COURSE he hasn’t forgotten how they were all going mountain climbing in the Rockies until Joe and Alice ruined everything by going to Europe.  How could he forget?  Benny has probably been bringing it up on a regular basis since the day his trip got canceled.  He’s a persistent little bugger.

Grandfather suggests that they go to Old Flat Top the next day instead.  Benny doesn’t notice that he’s getting shafted on his mountain climbing expedition when he’s offered a brisk walk two hours away instead of a Rocky Mountain adventure.  He’s probably too busy appreciating the name “Old Flat Top” –  Benny loves a dull and descriptive name (Potato Camp) – and then Grandfather distracts him with a pop quiz about whether he knows one Dr. Percy Osgood.  While Benny is puzzling over who this person is and why he isn’t named Professor Professorson so that it’s immediately obvious to the more simple-minded who he is, Henry pipes up that he knows Dr. Osgood because he read the good doctor’s book last year in college.  Showoff.  The Aldens give their rent-a-friends the next day off, and they get up at the crack of dawn to go to Old Flat Top.  They don’t bother packing a lunch because it’s more fun to throw money around in the village store so that everyone knows that they are fantastically wealthy and will know better than to step out of line.  It’s subtler than having Grandfather wear his TYCOON, BITCHES button.  The guy at the store sells them so much lunch that all five of them have to carry a backpack up the mountain. He can see that they’re serious about food. Continue reading


Captain Awesome, Girl Detective

Look, it’s those Civil War swords that the kids are so into these days!

While reading the many Donald J. Sobol obituaries last month, I was reminded of how much I loved the Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid.  A kid solving mysteries?  Sign me up! Of course the conceit of the series is that you’re supposed to try and solve the mystery along side of Encyclopedia but I almost never did.  Now I was a smart kid, not Doogie Howser smart, but I could usually hold my own.  But I always seemed to miss some obscure clue that would’ve broken the whole thing wide open.  I started wondering if I, some (mumble-mumble) years older, would be able to solve the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries today.  Yes, I’ve accrued a bit more knowledge since then but I’m also a great deal lazier than I once was.  And thus, a blog post was born.

So just to set things up, here’s what I remember about the series. Leroy Brown, the son of the local Chief of Police, is so freakishly smart that he’s been given the nickname “Encyclopedia.” Do kids reading this today even know what an encyclopedia is?  Would he be called “Wikipedia Brown” today?  That’s depressing. Anyway, whenever Police Chief dad couldn’t solve a case, which seemed to happen with alarming regularity, he would tell the story over dinner and Encyclopedia would instantly figure out who did it. Of course the crimes never included any grisly murders or vicious assaults, so it’s not like Idaville was some hotbed of criminal activity. Encyclopedia is soooo good at solving crimes, that he decides to open his own detective agency to help the neighborhood kids from Bugs Meany, the local bully (and with that name, what else could he be but the local bully), and various other would-be hoodlums.

I’m starting my series re-read with the first in the series, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Dutton, 1963).

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