I've always wanted to live in a boxcar, maybe not share a space with random hobos, but have the freedom to wander the woods, eat beans from a can, and scare myself silly telling ghost stories -- to myself. When Albert Whitman & Company asked me to write The Boxcar Children Guide to Adventure (2014), I was more than willing to move outside for a couple of summer nights and get my adventure on. My husband and five daughters were ready to experiment, try new recipes, and learn from the best -- Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.
The Alden children are an inquisitive bunch. In each book, they're faced with a mystery to solve. While I was tempted to re-enact every ghost-themed volume of the Boxcar Children during my weekend of living dangerously, I narrowed down what made the series special and my book so fun to write.
1. The supernatural. I love a book series that regularly combines zombies, ghosts, and other paranormal beasts to tickle the imagination and, just for just a minute, make kids wonder what was in that casserole they had for dinner. Was there a hint of toes in that tofu? The Boxcar Children books allow fantasy to edge in before they reveal the real monsters -- usually some mixed-up adult with a plan that went awry. While not all of the books have a supernatural element, my favorites made me look over my shoulder more than once. The paranormal was a regular theme in my family's campfire story repertoire as the girls followed my lead on how to tell ghost stories with tips I include in the book. Jessie Alden may know there's no such thing as ghosts, but on a cool summer night in the woods, even the deer look scary on the way to the porta-potty.
2. Friendship. Grandfather Alden is the friendliest person I've ever come across in literature. The kids can't throw Watch without hitting a person Grandfather knows. This makes relaxing vacations impossible, but it does set up great scenarios to help where needed. Have a monster roaming the boathouse? The Boxcar Children are on it. Heirloom jewelry missing after they arrive? Not a problem, it was the blonde walking down the street with a limp -- her shoe was filled with diamonds.
As the Aldens befriend more people, except for the one grumpy red herring, their attitude toward helping wherever needed is infectious. My daughters learned that altruistic behavior often led to something better than watching "Ink Master" on the couch with their grandmother, though with fewer diamonds. Pitching in to help a neighbor rake leaves or collecting books for a book drive helped the girls identify when help was needed and how to follow through on a job. They may have not solved the mystery of what that smell is coming from the drainpipe, but we'll leave that for another day -- and a good plumber.
3. Mysteries are found in the mundane. All right, you may not think that a missing candlestick is important, but to a kid, it could be the ultimate challenge. That and finishing a pizza before his brother does. The Aldens show what teamwork, observation, and a willingness to use Benny as bait could do to solve a mystery. In The Boxcar Children Guide to Adventure, I break down how kids could use everyday objects to track down the whereabouts of things gone wandering, but the real magic was watching the kids use common sense to crack the case.
4. Family always comes first. In the first book of the Boxcar Children series, the Aldens run away to keep from meeting their grandfather, afraid that he would be unkind. Their resolve to work to stay together is the backbone of each book. While their grandfather turns out to be top-notch, their commitment to each other as siblings is revealed in quiet moments throughout the series like when they bolster a fearful Benny or encourage Violet's love of art. It's in these small reassurances that the children not alone that readers feel that they too are part of the Alden family.
In the end, my family failed to solve any real mysteries other than what happens when you sleep on a bag of marshmallows and your hair becomes a glorious bucket of nope in the morning. I'll cherish the hand signals we invented, the sofa forts we constructed, and the use of fake mustaches as eyebrows that summer -- and save up for our own boxcar in the backyard next year.
Stacey Graham is the author of four books, including The Boxcar Children Guide to Adventure (Albert Whitman & Co) and The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide (Sourcebooks). Please visit her website at staceyigraham.com.