Wednesday, November 30, 2011

23 - The Old Motel Mystery

I actually dimly remember the plot of this one. As I recall, the Aldens go to a motel run by a friend of their grandfather's and find that someone's trying to run them out of business, so they decide to help. You know, like some kind of pre-teen A-team. Though to be fair, I'm not sure "filling the pool with apples" is that sinister of a plot. And seriously, Henry? Fishing them all out one by one? I'm sure there's a skimmer or something around. And what the hell is happening to your foot? If we had this one in the store, I'd do a close-up, but it kind of looks like it's trying to escape his weird purple shoe.

20 - The Haunted Cabin Mystery b/w 21 - The Deserted Library Mystery featuring DJ 22 The Animal Shelter Mystery

Oh snap! When I was setting up the dates for this week's updates, I accidentally put in next week instead. All fixed now. Here's three books.

As the ghostwriters take over, we can see that they're making some major changes. For one thing, the Aldens have started dressing sensibly, and are passing harsh judgment on Violet for not complying. Or maybe she's pointed out that the Cabin is not Haunted, and what they had mistaken for a ghost was only a rooster painted on the roof. Or maybe she's been really smug the whole way up about how much less she's packed and they're sick of it. Whatever it is, lines have clearly been drawn.

In this one, Henry's really into the whole "dressing sensibly" thing, and has decided to take his siblings to the local library, to look up more information on fashion and to teach them how to have matching shirts and shoes. But they find the Library to be Deserted, and far more aggressively than that Schoolhouse was Abandoned. In fact, forget deserted, this place was freaking pillaged. The children's reactions are quite diverse. Henry is shocked that someone would destroy Where's Waldo? so callously. Jessie is shocked that half her hair has fallen off, not realizing that it's behind her back. Benny is impatient, as he has to go star in a 1950s Japanese monster movie. And Violet is bending over with her hands on her knees, which shows up on these covers almost as much as pointing.

SIDE NOTE: I have no clue why the pictures I have to find online post bigger than the ones I take at the store. Just one of those things.

Speaking of which, this is the best point I've seen in a while. Benny has the same dead-eyed shock that we saw in the Tree House Mystery. I can only assume he's taking the sign at its hastily-Sharpied word. "That means ME? But how could they know I'd be here?" And all Violet can do is give him a reassuring hug, and wonder if maybe they should get him tested. Hey, I just noticed Benny's wearing the same blue sneakers this book as he was last book. And they match about as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#129 - The Great Turkey Heist

Happy Thanksgiving, all y'all. As a special treat before moving into the ghostwriters proper, I wanted to show this, the latest in the series. This is what we're working toward, folks. It's the 150th book overall, and while the clothes are less deranged and they don't throw the word "mystery" in all over the place, it's nice to know they're still pointing pointlessly. Guys, you're in a theater. There's nowhere to look BESIDES the screen, especially when something's standing in front of it. There's still something off though...

Oh well, whatever. I'm taking tomorrow off, since it's the day after Thanksgiving and I work retail. We'll be back to normal on Monday, when the ghostwriters take us on our first of many absurd adventures.

Wish I could figure out what's weird about this one, though...

Wait a minute -

Who the hell are they looking at? Me?

19 - Benny Uncovers a Mystery

You may notice that Benny looks slightly older than usual here. And for once, it's not just the mercurial whims of the cover artist at fault. See, while most of these covers have Benny at a comfortable and consistent (ish) six years old, but throughout the series, Warner aged them. Not in real time, that would put Benny in his late fifties here (HILARIOUS), but at like a year every three or four books. So Henry's at college in this one, and Benny's getting a part time job. So the sudden, jarring appearance of Tween Benny is for a reason. What this job is, I am uncertain. Stockboy or bag boy at a department or grocery store, I think, but I really don't know more than that, and that's just from reading up on the publication history. Looks like a department store, I guess.

Not that it matters. In my mind, the store is just one big front for a crime organization, and Benny is a useful idiot, a stooge, a mule, the fall guy. They plan to sell him out as a distraction should they ever get caught, but they never do. Benny moves the merchandise, and the crooks skip town , their mission accomplished. And home Benny goes, ten dollars in his pocket, intent on buying some candy and then rejoining his brother and sisters to go look for diamond smugglers.

But they won't want to look for diamond smugglers. They have jobs of their own, and they can drive. Sleuthing is a child's game, and it is time for them to put away childish things. Time to leave behind pirate treasure and hidden maps and pink hotpants with white velcro shoes and black socks. Time to grow up, Boxcar Children, and become tiresome, dull, Grandfather's Mansion Adults. They won't be bad people, they'll still be kind and loving and caring. But today is the day it ends. Though he knew it not, today Benny was the diamond smuggler.

And it is on that melancholic note that we leave Gertrude Chandler Warner and prepare ourselves for the ghostwriters slamming their hands on that reset button and returning the kids to their sleuthing glory days. And I'm fine with that. I didn't mean to get so gloomy about it up there, but there is a part of me that gets sad that kid characters have to grow up. And the way I imagine the Boxcar Children getting on with their lives is certainly better for them than the way the Animorphs ended things, dead or insane or depressed. Or the Sweet Valley Twins, now canonically a pair of dreary adults. If Calvin did grow up to be Frazz, then he's happy, but he's not Calvin anymore. So goodbye, G.C.W. I leave you now with the words of A.A. Milne, from The House on Pooh Corner, after Christopher Robin and Pooh discuss the former's inevitable growing up:

But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

And in California, shapeshifting teenagers will always be fighting aliens and cracking wise, and in Connecticut, spunky tweens will be watching precocious scamps, and in Idaville a tiresome child will be confounding criminals with trivia facts, and Junie B will always be malapropizing at wherever it is she does that.

And in a forest, some orphans will always be living in a boxcar until they are found by their grandfather, and then going off and solving mysteries. Which is a bit of a strange and awkwardly drawn-out thing to be always happening, but screw you, pal. This is my metaphor, and I can do what I want, because I'm A. A. Milne, and you're not.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

18 - Bus Station Mystery

That there may be some business at the Bus Station called "Frank's Place", I can accept. It's an odd name for anything that's not a bar, or perhaps a restaurant, which you're unlikely to find at a bus station, but perhaps a vendor of light refreshment and notions and sundries has given their shop a rather publican name for reasons known only to Frank. But a closer look at the sign reveals that it says "FRANK'S PLACE BUS STATION", which seems to imply that the town itself is called "Frank's Place", which while an odd name for a convenience store, is a flat out weird name for a town. This is, no doubt, what attracted the Boxcars, who are abnormally hard up for diamond smugglers, and have resorted to classifying inclement weather as "mysterious". Also, Henry has transformed into Corey Feldman.

Right? It's not just me seeing that?

Monday, November 21, 2011

17 - Mystery Behind the Wall

You may think the child on the cover is attempting to uncover the Mystery Behind the Wall, but I'm inclined to believe that the solution to the mystery is "Some kid was sawing up the walls." Now, I don't know who the kid is, but I don't believe is a Boxcar Child. Their physical appearances aren't super-consistent, but he appears to be not so young as Benny* nor so old as Henry, and besides, Violet seems to be avoiding him. (Though she may be just overly cautious today, dressed as she is for a flood.) I do wish that they had chosen to vary his appearance a bit, though. Maybe make him a redhead, or perhaps even a minority. HA! No, I'm just kidding, the odds of that happening in this series are pretty damn low.

*Just wait two days for that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

16 - Mystery in the Sand

Ugh. Benny would have a metal detector. He is exactly the kind of kid who would take one and run all over the beach, harshing everyone's calm because he thinks he's going to find pirate treasure. Newsflash, kid: Pirates didn't bury treasure. That's not a real thing that happened. Robert Louis Stevenson made it up. And everyone wants to go swimming, or on the boardwalk, or up to that castle or whatever it is, but you're so sure that you're going to find buried riches that you'll just go on and on and whine whenever anyone wants to leave... And the worst of it is, he seems to be right, which totally justifies how bad I wanted a metal detector at that age. VINDICATED.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

15 - Bicycle Mystery

Look, I admit, I'm no Boxcar Children scholar. I probably read about 20 of these, and I only have clear memories of one. So there's every possibility that this is, in fact, a picture of a bicycle mystery. It is possible, even likely that Henry is not pointing at the mysterious house, but at a nearby mysterious bicycle. Or he's stretching to get ready to point at his bike. Or his hand is exhibiting a natural aversion to Violet's jodhpurs. Of course, the far more likely answer is that "The Spooky House Mystery Which Was Noticed While On Bicycles" just doesn't have the same punch.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

14 - Tree House Mystery

Is this tree house in their own yard? Because they have a perfectly good boxcar over there that they never seem to do anything with. Of course, that would mean that whatever Benny's looking at would be in the house, and I'm not sure what kind of at-home mystery could give Benny this kind of face.

Look at that. He's been traumatized into a coma. I want to make some kind of joke here about how he saw Grandpa's secret basement family, or Henry and Jessie going all Flowers in the Attic on one another, but those jokes don't sit well with the Boxcar Children. No, I think we can just assume that they're visiting one of their Grandfather's innumerable friends and relations, and Benny, who is really easily shocked anyway, saw some, I don't know, diamond smugglers or something.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

13 - Snowbound Mystery

This is one case where I am actually NOT going to make fun of the clothing. Kids in the '90s had the best snow clothes. All bright colors and geometric angles. And rad snow pants on top of it. I will criticize the way the artist chose to depict snow, though. Looks like someone smeared crisco all over the damn cover. Actually, knowing some of our customers, I wouldn't be surprised. Right on the spot where I was standing to take this picture, I have seen a child poop on the floor at the urging of their parent. So, yeah, someone smearing Crisco on '90s kid books for their own perverted gain is practically standard.

Monday, November 14, 2011

12 - Houseboat Mystery

It's a heron. Hey! I solved the Houseboat Mystery! No wonder Mark Trail is looking on in seething jealousy. I'm more concerned with how freakishly tall Henry is on this cover. It seems to me that if he stood up, he'd be taller than the door into the houseboat. Though it is a tiny houseboat. More of a studioapartmentboat. Cutting down on size must keep it very lightweight, though. Even with the added mass of Giant Henry and Ordinary Violet (and probably the other two inside), it is still able to easily move through water shallow enough for a Heron to stand in.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 - Schoolhouse Mystery

Don't sell yourself short, book! That's more than one Schoolhouse Mystery I see in there! Let's see...

1 - The man Mysteriously sneaking out of the Schoolhouse is clearly Cable ACE award winning actor Denis Leary.

2 - The cover artist has elected to depict the definition of Denis Leary's ass cheeks in loving detail.

3 - If you look past Denis Leary's lavishly rendered ass, you will note that the Schoolhouse appears to be built in the middle of a swamp.

4 - While the cobwebs show that the Schoolhouse is abandoned, possibly because it is in the middle of a swamp, no one has removed any of the books.

5 - The bookshelf Benny is hiding behind is not in anything remotely resembling a sensible position.

6 - Despite being only six years old and not over-intelligent, Benny is on the avant-garde of fashion, getting into the Referee Pants Craze of 1993 a whole two years early.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

9 - Mountain Top Mystery

When did Henry become Spider-Man? I mean, how else would he climb a mountain in those shoes? How else is he not getting pulled off the damn cliff by the weight of Benny? And he has horrible dress sense, just like 1970s Spider-Man. (John Romita was a fine artist, but I am unconvinced Peter Parker is a "fringed leather vest" kind of guy.)

I'm not even sure you can have a mystery on a mountaintop anyway. I mean, how many suspects can you possibly have? "There's two climbers and one sherpa and a diamond smuggler. Now let's figure out who's been smuggling these diamonds!" It's ludicrous. This is probably "The Commercial Hiking Trail Mystery" and they just decided to sexy it up. Still doesn't explain Henry's penny loafers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

8 - The Lighthouse Mystery

Ah, for our first solo cover, we get Henry, who has toned down his recent stellar wardrobe choices in favor of a Gorton's Fisherman jacket. It does seem to be plaid-lined, but we've seen what the boy can do with a plaid, and this doesn't hold up. As far as the cover, it leaves me cold. It's clearly supposed to create an air of danger, but he's like two feet from shore, he's well-armed with his exploding flashlight, and he's far enough from the lighthouse that the mystery may not even have anything to do with it. It's the lighthouse-adjacent mystery. Compare this to a cover from further down the same shelf.

BAM. Choppy water, jagged rocks, oil lamp - That's a lighthouse mystery I could get into. Sure, there's no lighthouse on the cover, but it's easy to imagine she's on her way to light it, to save a ship from said rocks. Actually, that might even be what this is about.Even if not, this is still the superior lighthouse mystery by a long shot. That is not my hand, by the way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

7 - The Woodshed Mystery

First of all, Henry, way to aggressively defend your trophy. It took me a long time to find anything else to talk about on this cover, because my eye kept getting drawn right to that magnificent shirt. Props to Violet, too. For the first time, one of them is pointing at something, and I feel like they might actually be drawing people's attention to something new. Of course, the fact that it's clearly dark down there helps. This is the first appearance of the flashlights, which we'll see a few more times. Even as a little kid, I was fascinated by the flashlights on these covers. The artist chooses for some reason to portray flashlight beams as short, opaque bursts of orange and yellow, making them look not like a beam of light so much as an EXPLOSION. Seriously. Look at it again. Those are clearly some kind of firework. This helps nicely to set up the next book, "The Mystery of Why the Woodshed Burned Down."

Monday, November 7, 2011

6 - Blue Bay Mystery

See, this is the kind of thing I was talking about with #1. The four kids all together, someone pointing at what everyone's already looking at, and the clothes... Ooh de lally. I think Henry takes home the trophy here for the first time. The popped collar, the cuffed shorts, the sensible brown shoes... It makes Benny's two-tone pants look staid and dignified in comparison. I wish there was more to say here, but other than the clothes, this is pretty unremarkable. Just the standard book about four kids being way too excited about finding a tiki bar.

Friday, November 4, 2011

5 - Mike's Mystery

First of all, awful title. Who the hell is Mike? This tells us nothing about the mystery. It seems to involve dogs. By the way, great job on the younger ones, pointing at where everyone is looking already. Real helpful guys. I will say though, Mike is really showing up the Aldens in the clothing department. While three of them are wearing what appear to be unusually colored prison uniforms, and Henry is dressed like the youngest retiree ever, Mike has opted to go with a shirt from the Joker's golf collection and the ever daring black pants/white socks/black shoes option. Nice work, Mike. Why am I not reading about you? I guess that's the mystery.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

4 - Mystery Ranch

More like Depressing Ranch. Oh, and look, it stars Jessie and Violet. The boring ones. This is no comment on the characters themselves, really. We all know that every children's book series has to, over the 50-3,000 books, ALWAYS spend a chapter detailing the personalities of the main characters, so the readers would get indelible impressions of them. So every Animorphs book will spend the first or second chapter getting the following information across:

Jake = Leader, sports, whiny

Rachel = Pretty, gymnastics, punching

Marco = Wiseacre, asshole, horny

Tobias = Moody, asshole, is a bird

Cassie = Animals, preachy, animals

Ax = Spock

Or the Babysitters Club:

Kristy = Leader, sports, whiny

Claudia = Flake, artistic, dumb

Mary-Anne = Nerd, father issues, boyfriend with dreeeeeeamy southern accent

Dawn = California, hippie, spinoff

Mallory = Glasses, one thousand siblings

Jessi = Black, sign language, ballet


But the Boxcar Children never really had that, so what little personality they have tends to be vague in the memory. Henry was the smart one and the take-charge guy, but that's mainly because he's the oldest, and Benny was the youngest, so he gets to be curious and inquisitive. As I recall, Jessie and Violet were "sensitive" and "artistic", the two vaguest and most stereotypically feminine traits possible. I even tend to forget which is which.

Anyway. Mystery Ranch. Looks pretty boring.

3 - The Yellow House Mystery

Finally, a mystery that looks like a mystery and has the common decency to tell us up front that it's a mystery. I'm not so sure what the mystery is, but it appears to be inside that yellow house, so that part of the story checks out. Could be abandoned jewels. Could be that a shady developer is using the ugly house to drive down property values. Could be squatters. I hope it's squatters. The awkwardness when Benny looks in that window and sees them on their dirty rug taking hits off a bong they made out of a discarded Mr. Potato Head would be sublime. Actually, based on their body language, I think the other three already know about this, or at least it's gossiped about in the town. But Benny thinks he's going to see diamond smugglers or something, and the others don't have the heart to tell him that it's just that weird school janitor that got fired, and his common law wife, Moon Child. Jeez, guys. Get a boxcar.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2 - Surprise Island

See, now this is a little strange, because it occurs to me that there's nothing on this cover that indicates it is a mystery. And unlike every other book for the next 60 years or so, that goes for the title as well. Imagine you're a kid when this is published, you had read the first book and were considering this one. What would you be thinking? I'd assume it was about the Boxcar Children going to an island, where they have some manner of surprise. Maybe it's another boxcar. Maybe they live in it until another wealthy grandfather comes to get them. Maybe the whole series is them living in an endless series of boxcars in various locales until they are retrieved by an endless series of grandfathers, each kindlier and richer than the last.

Maybe I sound like an idiot for thinking that, but it's 1945. I'm 10 years old, and given that it's 1945, I'm pretty stupid by modern standards. The world's in pretty rough shape, and my dad took some shrapnel at Omaha. He'll be okay, just a slight limp, but still, it makes you think. All I want is a little escapism in my literature, not to be confounded with mysteries. Here's your surprise, 1940s idiot me. The surprise is that the world is full of diamond smugglers or pirate gold or whatever, and not even train-dwelling ragamuffins can escape it.

What I'm getting at here is she could have said "Mystery Island" or something.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1 - The Boxcar Children

Ah, first in the series. It's so bizarre that this book, about four homeless orphans and how they survive in an abandoned boxcar in the woods, wound up being the series it is today. It was about 20 years before the first sequel came out and the kids started solving mysteries. Warner wrote 17 more books after that over a course of thirty years. Then in the '70s, she died. In 1991, someone started making more, and in the 20 years following, there have been more than 120 new books added to the series.

The classic books also got new covers, in a '90s-riffic style. Here we see several hallmarks of covers to come. All four kids crammed onto the cover, someone gesturing urgently, and truly ridiculous pants. The inside of the book still takes place in 1924, by the way. It's pretty good, but contains no mystery. There is no indication that the kids will become amateur sleuths, and the boxcar or their time in it doesn't really feature in any of the coming books. So I guess the real mystery is... What the hell happened? Let's find out.