Tag Archives: boxcar children

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.


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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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

The Boxcar Children: We Can Even Make Science Boring

Lighthouse Mystery begins with the end of the Woodshed Mystery, because that’s how synched up Gertrude is.  Aunt Jane is relieved that no one calls her Mrs. Bean after her marriage, because even she knows that is a stupid sounding name.  We are not even one full page into the book before bread and milk come up.  Henry has decided to take the scenic route home, never missing a chance to enjoy the power steering and smooth ride of their STATION WAGON and Grandfather knows of a beautiful lighthouse that they will drive past.  I feel a mystery coming on.

I am not even a little bit surprised when the lighthouse is for sale, and even less surprised that the family feels like this is something they NEED TO BUY.  Like now.  However, imagine my shock when the group discovers that the lighthouse has ALREADY been sold.  The grocer, Mr. Hall, offers to rent it to them for the summer, and I’m amazed that Grandfather agrees to this, instead of insisting that he WILL buy it, ONE way or the OTHER that lighthouse shall be mine! That’s kind of how the scenario went in my head.  Grandfather does make the children wait in the car however while he ‘negotiates the rent,’ whatever that means, probably a pistol-whipping.

When the family returns to the lighthouse, ‘the girls went into the kitchen at once.’  This is a direct quote.  Dear God.  After inspecting the stove and dishes, and how cold the water is, and if there is sufficient storage for the enormous amount of milk and bread that Benny requires; they go to bed.  At 8 o’clock.

Mystery Alert!  At the stroke of midnight, Watch begins barking and Benny smells food (no one else smells food, but we know that Benny has a keen sixth sense for anything edible).  After a few minutes, Watch goes back to sleep, but Grandfather feels that they should still alert the police due to the highly suspicious activities—that I will reiterate —consist of a dog barking, and Benny, a food obsessed halfwit, maybe smelling some potatoes.  This combination of Benny and Watch and food just made me think of Scooby Doo…Henry, Jessie, and Violet/Fred, Daphne, Velma?  Are we discovering the adult iteration of the Boxcar Children?  Just think about it.

The next day, the group discovers that they don’t have any food and maybe should go to the grocery store.  Facepalm.  The same grocery store they were at the night before, while renting the lighthouse?  NO ONE thought to buy food while they were already there?  Not housekeeping maven Jessie?  Not epicurean Benny?   Wow.  This may be the first time that they’ve passed up an opportunity to purchase, discuss, and cook food.

But if they hadn’t been forced to traipse back to the grocery store we might not have met angry, black-eyed man.  If his dark eyes weren’t enough to let you know he’s a bad seed, let me tell you how he ALMOST bumps into Jessie on the sidewalk.  Yes, to clarify, he doesn’t actually bump into her, but he almost does, which sets the whole group off into hysterics.  I assume that they are used to their own town, where the citizens kowtow respectfully, and know to clear the streets at their approach, perhaps strewing palm fronds beneath their feet.  Just a hunch.

As if this incident wasn’t traumatizing enough, inside the grocery store, Henry tries to chat up a boy his own age, and is REBUFFED.   Mr. Hall, sensei of the town of Conley, tells the family that this boy wants to go to college and his cruel father, Mr. Angry Dark Eyes, won’t let him.   All the children are predictably aghast at this information.  Mr. Hall tells them nothing can be done about this, many have tried and failed, and all the children immediately think of Grandfather, and how he can force anyone to do anything, no matter how much they dislike it.  It’s worded slightly differently, but that’s the gist of it. Continue reading

Letdown Mystery

Is it just me or does Violet have Kelly Osborne hair here?

Aunt Jane wants to move back to New England.  She calls Grandfather and demands that he buy her a farm.  I suppose she’s finally come to her senses vis-à-vis the danger of uranium poisoning on Mystery Ranch.  Grandfather is flying high on his blood pressure meds and is super jovial while he’s on the phone with his sister.  Benny and Violet are hanging around shamelessly eavesdropping on the whole conversation.  I suppose it’s better than if they’d gone to the library to pick up the extension, but for kids who make such a show of being obnoxiously polite all the time, this seems a bit out of character.  My guess is that they were holding an intoxicated Grandfather upright when the phone rang.  Violet is constantly worried about his well-being and I doubt she can let him walk around unsupervised in good conscience.

The rent-a-friends seem to have the night off because everyone is home, even Henry who is in college now and still living at home.  No frat house for him.  I don’t blame him.  The other guys would probably haze him for his obsessive organizing habits and his barbering skills.  It seems that Aunt Jane has been totally transformed after meeting her nieces and nephews, and now she likes to move fast like Grandfather instead of moving slow like she always did before.  Retaining your own personality is not an option if you’re going to live in Aldenland.  Everyone reminisces about how stubborn and stupid Aunt Jane used to be before the kids arrived and brought her into line.  “Quick like a fox” becomes Benny’s catchphrase in T-minus five, and he does not use it sparingly, so brace yourselves. Continue reading

Boxcar Children with a Hint of ‘Lost’

Mike isn't important enough to make the cover.

Last time the children knew Grandfather was up to something because he seemed angry.  In an interesting (I’m using the adjective loosely here) change of events, this time they know something is up because he’s happy – he’s joking with Benny, and it’s an event to be remarked on and remembered and followed closely.  At length.  It really gives you some insight into day-to-day life with Grandfather, when any hint of emotion is an anomaly to be noted.  I can only imagine that his normal state of being is a kind of catatonic, drugged out bliss—with blank eyes and a frozen expression of nothingness.

This time Grandfather has surprised his brood of orphans with a trip to the South Seas!  Not on a cruise ship, as you’d imagine, but instead on a freighter, probably running illicit cargo to Tahiti.  Grandfather had planned on just taking them to San Francisco and then he considered Tahiti (probably to sell as house slaves), but THEN his friend tells him about first mate Lars Larson (Gertie’s not too creative about naming people.  It’s probably where Benny gets his skillz.  Remember Potato Camp?)  Lars got shipwrecked on this deserted island for an indeterminate amount of time, and it was so much fun (!) that he wants to go back FOR VACATION.  I think Lars has PTSD.  Sidebar – in another interesting insight of Life with James Henry (LWJH from now on), when the kids come in to meet Lars for the first time, Grandfather announces that he’s their friend from now on.  He just decrees it so, and no one bats an eye.  Let’s take a poll about why we think that he declares Lars their friend, so saith JH, let it be written instead of letting them decide if they actually want to be friends with this middle-aged stranger who has appeared in their living room and has whispered conversations with their grandfather behind closed doors.  He calls them all “Mr.” and “Miss,” so he knows his place.  This is probably why they don’t have more friends.

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