Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Boxcar Children

Go To
The Boxcar Children was initially written in 1924, but the version that everyone now knows was published in 1942, and was specifically aimed at young readers. The author of both versions is Gertrude Chandler Warner.

The book chronicles the adventures of a family of runaway orphans, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden, fleeing their grandfather, who they believe to be a cruel man. They eventually find shelter in an abandoned boxcar and make it their home for several months, having various adventures, before eventually being found out and returned to their grandfather's custody. He turns out to be very nice, as well as filthy rich.

After many requests, Warner followed up the book with eighteen sequels, mostly mysteries, over which the characters gradually aged. Benny, 5 in the initial book, was 11 and working as a stock boy in a department store in book #19.

Then in 1991, the Albert Whitman & Co. publishing company decided to cash in on their continuing popularity. There are now over 100 books in the series, and counting. And a cookbook, that somehow takes recipes mentioned in passing in the books and... turns them over to children.

An animated movie adaptation was released in 2014, with a sequel, Surprise Island, released in 2018.

As of 2020, the original edition of the first book is in the public domain in the United States.

In 2023, Albert Whitman & Co. sold the rights to the series to Penguin Random House.

Not to be confused with The Railway Children.

Contains examples of the following:

    open/close all folders 

     In general 

  • Adapted Out: Many characters from the original books, including Mrs. McGregor's husband, Aunt Jane's farmhands, Benny's friend Mike Wood, Grandfather's pilot/former spy friend John Carter and the Beach family next door nearly or completely disappear in the post-Warner books. (Then again, except for the Beaches, they'd pretty much all disappeared during the original series too — Mike, who lives elsewhere, was last seen in book 6 when he joined them for one vacation, the ranchhands/farmhands are last seen in book 7 with it being said that they were going back west, John Carter was last seen in book 10, and Mr. McGregor's only real appearance after his debut was in book 14.)
  • Amateur Sleuth: Although being a series aimed at young children, the "crimes" they solve are rarely very serious.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Every mystery book contained some minor science lesson, such as about plankton, or Captain Cook's voyages, or similar. A noteworthy one: Henry's sage observation that "Mashed potatoes don't smell." in book #8 (The Lighthouse Mystery). Justified in book #6 (Blue Bay Mystery), since they're being tutored while on a trip to a South Sea island during the school year.
  • Animal Lover: Every member of the Alden family is this — Jessie makes friends with Watch when she removes a thorn from his paw in the first book, and all of them are kind to any animal they meet, no matter the circumstances.
  • Arkham's Razor: The real culprit of most of the later installments is invariably whichever suspect is not actually suspected by the title heroes.
  • Artifact Title: The Boxcar Kids live in the boxcar in only one book yet the title sticks throughout the series. They do hang onto the boxcar, and use it as a clubhouse.
  • Big Eater: Benny, whose catchphrase was practically "I'm hungry!"
  • Central Theme: Independence, resourcefulness and making do. As the notes at the end of each book stated:
    [Warner] never thought of them as strictly juvenile mysteries. She liked to stress the Aldens' independence and resourcefulness and their solid New England devotion to using up and making do.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Throughout the series, the four children are almost always associated with green, blue, violet and red (for Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny), which are said to be their favorite colors, when they're each receiving one of the same type of item.
  • Comic-Book Time:
    • Averted in the initial Warner books, where the children do age in "real-time" over roughly seven or eight years: Henry, who starts the series at 13, ends up going away to college, and Benny, who's six in the first story, eventually becomes old enough to get a job in a department store.
    • Played completely straight in the post-Warner revivial. Initially set in the Great Depression, more recent books have included passenger jets, tropical cruises, and the internet (yet the boxcar remains a wood-sided boxcar that would have been retired by the 1950s). The Alden children have a different summer adventure in every book, and they're all still young somehow...
  • Continuity Nod: Book #3 (The Yellow House Mystery) establishes that Mrs. McGregor's first name is Margaret and Alice's maiden name is Wells. Both of these names are mentioned again in subsequent books much, much later in the series.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: If the culprit of whatever mystery they're solving has any decency in him/her at all, he'll be reconciled to the Aldens right away. Averted in books where the culprit is arrested.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Violet, the shy and more feminine of the girls, has to deal with this from time to time, most prominently in book #1 when she becomes sick with a fever, and the other children eventually have no choice but to take her to a friend who's a doctor, even though they know that giving their names means the likelihood that their grandfather will find them. He does, but it turns out for the better. Later, book #8 (The Lighthouse Mystery) sees her, alone among the four children, plagued by mosquito bites.
  • Extruded Book Product: While not originally this, the 1991 revival is one of the most notable examples of this trope within modern literature. Originally published at a rate of eight new books per year (six regular books and two specials), this was reduced in 2004 to just four books per year (all regulars, as specials were discontinued) and as of 2021 the series appears to have been again cut to just two regular books per year, plus a four-book miniseries. In 2023, the series was cut once more to one regular book and the miniseries reduced to two books. Then there are two spin off series; The Adventures of Benny and Watch (1997-2004), and The Jessie Files (2022-present).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Ever-cheerful Benny is Sanguine, shy Violet is Phlegmatic, sensitive and empathic Jessie is Melancholic, and serious leader Henry is Choleric.
  • Free-Range Children: In the first book they live quite alone in the woods. Though they go to live with their grandfather in later books, they continue to move around extremely independently, if to a slightly lesser extent. The children's independence is not only allowed, but encouraged, by their grandfather — Henry and Jessie, the two oldest, are only 14 and 12, but they usually seem more like high schoolers and act basically as parent figures to Violet and Benny, the two youngest — who are 10 and 6, but also act older. Throughout the series, they've done such varied things as camping out, exploring the Arizona desert, and even caving, all without a lick of supervision. This makes sense, since the premise of the series is that they lived just fine in an abandoned boxcar for several months before learning their grandpa wasn't a jerk.
  • Gamebooks: The spinoff series The Boxcar Children Interactive Mysteries, introduced in 2018 with Midnight at the Haunted Hotel.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The siblings, with Henry and Benny (the oldest and youngest) as the two boys and Jessie and Violet as the two girls. Tilted in the girls' direction when adopted cousin Soo Lee comes along for the ride.
  • Harassing Phone Call: During the post-Warner books, the Aldens often receive these from the book's antagonists, telling them to stay out of whatever suspicious business they're investigating. Naturally, it has the reverse effect, inspiring them to investigate even more. (See individual folders for specific cases.)
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Used for books 20-100 (and the 21 special editions released during the same time). Every single title in that timeframe was either titled "The Mystery (noun or phrase)" or "The (noun/verb) Mystery" (with four of the original nineteen also using the latter pattern). After that, the series began mixing things up a great deal more, starting with The Clue in the Corn Maze, though the old naming styles reappeared from time to time.
  • Kid Detective: The titular children, at least from book #2 (Surprise Island) on.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Mrs. McGregor, the Alden family caretaker.
  • Long-Running Book Series: The first book came out in 1924. A shorter, revised version was released in 1942, and the first eighteen sequels came out from 1949 to 1976. Ghostwriters took over in 1991, and multiple books have been released every year since (the only year to not release a book in the original series was 2017, but that's because the five-book spinoff series The Boxcar Children Great Adventures was being released instead).
  • Meaningful Name: Warner was apparently fond of these, as she used them multiple times in the series, with Violet's name especially being one, since she's a Shrinking Violet.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Grandfather Alden really likes his coffee, as noted more than once in the early books (including Blue Bay Mystery and The Woodshed Mystery).
  • Mysterious Note: During the post-Warner books, the Aldens often receive threatening notes from the book's antagonist telling them to stay out of whatever suspicious business they're investigating. As with the Harassing Phone Call cases, it always has the reverse effect, inspiring them to investigate even more. (See individual folders for specific cases.)
  • Mystery Magnet: The titular group trip over mysteries on all of the vacations that they take during their apparently endless summer vacation.
  • No Antagonist: More than half of the Warner-era books have the characters simply solving a mystery about something they found, with no real villain involved; book 1 has a pair of adults who want to send the kids to their grandfather whether they want to go or not, but they're heard to say that they'll give up on the search if they don't find the kids soon and are completely absent from the story after the Aldens find the boxcar, and book 3 has some crooks in the backstory who aren't around to impede the Aldens during the actual events of the book, but beyond that, books 4, 5, 10, 12, 15 and 19 are the only ones from this time period with any human antagonists present and out to cause trouble.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: In the post-Warner books, the kids' ages are slammed back to and frozen at 14, 12, 10, and 6 — the same ages they were in the first book.
  • Promotion to Parent: Henry and Jessie, the two oldest, take on the role of mother and father for their younger siblings Violet and Benny. This is most noticeable in the first book, when Henry has to be the breadwinner because he's the only one who, at 14, is old enough to work. Even after the Aldens realize their grandfather is kind and go to live with him, he's still a father figure to his siblings when they're out on various adventures without adults to help.
  • Raised by Grandparents: The Alden siblings move out of the boxcar and in with their grandfather from the end of book #1 on after discovering he's a good man and not mean like they thought.
  • Retcon:
    • Greenfield is originally identified as being in Massachusetts. It's later said to be in Connecticut.
    • During the initial release, special #1 was released between books 37 and 38, and special #4 between books 43 and 44. Later editions changed the order so that special #1 was set between books 36 and 37, and special #4 was set between books 45 and 46, matching the "one special, three regular books, one special" pattern that had been the norm from special #5 on.
  • Shrinking Violet: Violet. Hey...
  • Sixth Ranger: Or fifth, in this case. Soo Lee, the Alden's seven-year-old adopted cousin, becomes the fifth member of the group on many of their adventures, starting in book #41 (The Mystery of the Hidden Beach).
  • Status Quo Is God: Have you picked up what the most memorable feature of this series is yet? You can read any book past #19 in any order you like.
  • Supreme Chef: The kids are this as a whole, owing to their experience making food in the boxcar.
    • In book #26 (The Mystery of the Mixed Up Zoo), they insist on cooking for their grandfather's friend who owns the zoo in question, and he finds it delicious.
    • In book #33 (The Pizza Mystery), they save a pizzeria by adapting the pizza recipes to the smaller oven when the bigger one is broken.
  • Team Pet: Watch the dog, who technically belongs to Jessie.
  • Twofer Token Minority: The Boxcar Kids' new cousin, introduced in special #1 (The Mystery on the Ice), is an adopted Korean girl.
  • Vacation Episode: Many, many books revolve around the Aldens vacationing in some exotic locale, starting in book 2.
  • Wealthy Ever After: The first book ends this way, with the children moving in with their grandfather, who is described as being very rich and living in a huge house with many servants. The rest of the books by Warner downplay his wealth, with the maids being replaced by a single housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor. In the post-Warner series, the Aldens are an upper-middle-class family (with a housekeeper), albeit one with enough room in their back yard for a boxcar.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Violet receives a kitten, Sugar Cookie, in book 16. Aside from a single mention in book 17 (and then not even by name), he disappears afterward with no explanation; book 22 mentions that they've had multiple pets, but doesn't give specifics.
  • Written-In Absence: More than a few books, usually involving the four kids being on vacation somewhere, often state that Watch is staying at home with Grandfather or Mrs. McGregor to explain why he's not involved in the adventure.

     The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm (2012) 

  • Death by Origin Story: The Aldens' parents, who die offscreen in a car crash (courtesy of another vehicle running a stop sign) near the end of the book, causing the siblings to run away so they won't be sent to live with their only known relative (whom they believe to be mean, thinking he hates them because his son Ben and Ben's wife Kate went to live on Kate's family farm instead of in his house).
  • Down on the Farm: "Fair Meadow Farm", the titular setting of the book. Kate Alden (the siblings' mother) describes it as "my family's farm", and it's some ways away from the nearest town.
  • Family of Choice: Over the course of the book, the Alden and Clark (parents Jake and Sarah, children Meg and William, and dog Joe) families become close, and when the Clarks finally have to leave, they promise that no matter how far apart they are, they'll always be family.
  • Handy Man: Jake Clark, the father of the family that ends up staying with the Aldens at their farm, proves to be one, as he's able to repair pretty much everything that needs it.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Played for laughs when Meg Clark rides Betty, one of the Alden family cows.
  • Parental Substitute: Attempted but averted at the end of the book. After Ben and Kate Alden are killed in a car crash, their elderly neighbors Rubin and Belle offer to take in the Alden siblings. Unfortunately, Sheriff Bowen nixes this, saying they're required to go to a family member, and the only one they know is their estranged grandfather.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: Early on, the Clark family's car breaks down as they're on their way to Jake Clark's sister's home (he's lost his own home because of financial trouble), causing them to have to stay with the Aldens for several months until the part they need to fix the car arrives. Fortunately, Ben and Kate Alden are very welcoming to the family.
  • Prequel: Released sixty-three years after the revised edition of the original book, this book depicts the Alden children's life on their parents' farm, explaining how the Alden parents died and why the children ran away afterward, setting up the start of the original story.
  • The Runaway: Comes into play at the end of the book. Having learned that their parents were killed when a car collided with theirs, and that the law requires them to live with family rather than the neighbors (who would be very willing to take them in if they could), the Alden siblings decide to run away and live on their own rather than be taken to their grandfather. They're responsible about it though, traveling light and ensuring that the family cows are taken care of by said neighbors while they're away.
  • Retcon: If the original 1924 novel is canon (which is debatable), this book changes the fates of the parents. The mom was already dead prior to the events of the first novel and their father is a drunk that dies in the first few pages.
  • Slurpasaur: Played for laughs when the Aldens put on a backyard circus for their neighbors and dress up one of the family cows (and the Clark family's dog) as elephants, using gray blankets on their backs and a pair of stuffed gray socks as trunks.

     #001: The Boxcar Children ( 1924 / 1949) 

  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Watch the dog stays with the Aldens after Jessie shows kindness by removing a thorn from his foot, and prefers to stay with them even when his former owner, who had given him away to another person, comes to try and retrieve him for her.
  • Big Brother Instinct: In the first book Henry wastes no time looking for work to support his younger siblings.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The Alden kids might have avoided living on the streets and the titular boxcar had they met their grandfather and cleared things up sooner. Henry and Jessie are very sheepish when they realize it since Violet probably wouldn't have gotten ill in the woods if they had lived with their grandfather in the first place. When the kids go to live with their grandfather, they find themselves missing the independence, so he arranges to have the boxcar moved in their yard.
  • Don't Split Us Up: This is a concern for the title characters, who assume when their parents die that they'll either be adopted by the grandfather their parents hate and they believe is abusive (which proves not to be the case) or be taken into foster care and split up. The latter proves to be a reasonable concern, as when they stay at a bakery overnight, they hear the owner and his wife (who'd previously agreed to let them stay) talking about how they're going to send Benny to the Children's Home since the baker's wife can't take care of a child who's that young. This prompts the four to run away into the woods, where they find the boxcar that becomes their home.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first book had nothing to do with mysteries, and focused on how the children lived in the titular boxcar.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Warner rewrote the original book in 1942, changing several details from the 1924 version. Among other things:
    • The original version has the father and four children move into town, with one of them stopping at a bakery for bread; during this time, it's established that their mother is already dead and the father a drunk. The next day, he's dead and the two elder children ask the baker's wife to come to their house, which she does, and meets all four children. She later talks to her husband through a window, and they agree the children must go to their grandfather. The siblings wait until the baker is gone, then flee from the house. The 1942 version greatly reduces this to start with the children in front of the bakery, and they stay with the owner and his wife that night until they hear them talking about splitting up the four by sending Benny to a children's home.
    • The family's name is originally "Cordyce", and the eldest daughter goes by "Jess". These were changed to "Alden" and "Jessie" in the revised version.
    • Henry and Benny are thirteen and five, respectively, in the original. The revised version ages them up to fourteen and six. (Jessie and Violet retain their original ages of twelve and ten.)
  • Non-Residential Residence: The boxcar children start the series living in, well, a boxcar.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: The whole plot of the first book, where four orphaned children wander the countryside and work to survive on their own because they don't want their grandfather, their legal guardian, to find them. At first they think they can spend a few days at a bakery, working there, until they overhear that the owners plan to take Benny to the orphanage, because he's too young to work, and interrogate the others about their grandfather. The kids hightail it out of there, and later have to hide when they hear the bakers out looking for them. Fortunately, by the end of the book, they've met their grandfather and moved in with him after he proves to be a kindly father figure.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Twice in this book.
    • When Henry takes part in a free-for-all race at Silver City's annual Field Day event and wins, he identifies himself as Henry James, his real first and middle names.
    • Later, when James Henry Alden meets his grandchildren for the first time (after having found out why they were avoiding him), he uses the name "Mr. Henry" to avoid scaring them off.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The doctor who hires Henry for work in the first book. He figured out that Henry and his siblings were living in the woods and had their reasons for not wanting to reveal that; instead of asking about them, he gives Henry fair wages and as many cherries as he and the others can eat, while checking on them discreetly. When Henry revealed that Violet was ill, however, the doctor dropped the act and drove directly to the boxcar, taking the kids in while treating Violet.
  • Runaway Hideaway: Type 2 (no place to go) — the Boxcar Children run away with no place in mind and eventually discover their boxcar by chance.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Truth in Television at the time the first book was released — social services as we know it really didn't exist, with the exception of orphanages that focused on caring for the children they had, not tracking down runaways. The children are figured out and united with their grandfather in a matter of a few months, though.

     #002: Surprise Island (1949) 

  • Long-Lost Relative: During their adventure on the island, the Alden children make friends with Joe the handyman, who's been living there for a long time. Late in the book, they discover he's actually their long lost cousin, the son of their grandfather's brother.
  • Non-Residential Residence: The children spend the summer living in a barn on the island.
  • Real Name as an Alias: In this book, the Aldens meet their long-lost cousin John Joseph Alden. Before and after the reveal though, he just goes by "Joe".
  • Tantrum Throwing: Benny does this towards the end, which his siblings note is unusual for him, when he's told they can't be on the island when a group of people are going to be blasting the roof off the cave they'd discovered earlier, which will make it easier for them to excavate the Indian artifacts buried in it.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Benny and Mike Wood (the latter of whom is introduced in this book) are friends, but they spend more of their time arguing than getting along when Mike's visiting the island for a day.

     #003: The Yellow House Mystery (1953) 

  • Childhood Friend Romance: Early on, Joe's childhood school friend Alice Wells, who's been away for a long time, returns to work with him on Surprise Island. Just a few months later, they get married.
  • Cutting the Knot: During the events of Surprise Island, the Alden children found a cave full of Indian artifacts, but it was below the tide line, meaning they'd only have had a relatively short time to remove things and get out. The museum people have a quicker and easier solution: blowing the roof off, so as to allow easier access to the artifacts without the risk of drowning. While this event is discussed in Surprise Island, the blast doesn't actually take place until book 3, with the Aldens present and observing after it was decided it was safe for them to attend after all.
  • Death Faked for You: Done not only against the subject's will, they didn't even know about it — while Bill McGregor was away, his brother's "friends" told him his wife had died. He became depressed and went into hiding, while Mrs. McGregor was left to spend forty years completely unaware that her husband thought she was dead until a clue was found that led to the Aldens finding him and telling him he'd been tricked.
  • The Hermit: When the Aldens reach the end of Bear Trail, they find there's a hermit living near the town there, who goes by the name of Dave Hunter. He turns out to be Bill McGregor, the man they've been looking for, under an alias.
  • The Lost Lenore: Margaret McGregor was this for her husband Bill, as he decided to stay where he was and live as a hermit when some "friends" of his late brother lied to him and told him his wife had died in a fire while he was away. Happily, he later learns this was a lie, as the Aldens find him and tell him truthfully that not only is his wife alive and well, she works for their family as their housekeeper, resulting in his happily returning home to her.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Subverted — Bill McGregor is led to believe this was the case, due to his brother's friends (who were searching for the money Sam McGregor had hidden away) lying to him and telling him his old home had burned, with his wife dying in the blaze. He doesn't realize they were lying about both these things until the Aldens find him and tell him the truth.

     #004: Mystery Ranch (1958) 

  • The Con: Of the Real Estate Scam variety. Jane Alden is targeted by three men who attempt this, telling her her land is no good and trying to buy it for cheap because they know the area is actually full of uranium, and they could make a fortune off of it. Fortunately, the Aldens and John Carter discover the uranium too, and realize what the three men were up to.
  • No Name Given: The three men who try to con Jane Alden out of her ranch are never identified by their names in this book, or in its direct sequel.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: The Aldens are used to their grandfather always being cheerful and happily greeting them when he gets home, so when he comes home one day, bangs the door shut and barely says "Hello" to Benny, Benny immediately knows something's wrong and goes to get his siblings so they can talk to Grandfather and see what's wrong. Grandfather confesses that he's just gotten a letter about his estranged sister, including that she wants to see some of the four, thus kicking off the plot.
  • Pride: Jane Alden's main flaw in this book. She's kept up the family ranch by herself for years after her brother went back east, but even though it's been failing for so long, she won't accept help or money from anyone. With time and effort though, her great-nieces, and later Henry and Benny, are able to help her work past this and reconcile with her brother.
  • The Shut-In: When Jessie and Violet arrive, Aunt Jane barely leaves her bed. She gets better by the book's end.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Early on, Jessie and Violet are helped out by a strange man when they get off at the town near their aunt's ranch; Henry is a little suspicious of the stranger when he finds out about the man, since nobody else in town seems to know him. The man is later revealed to be John Carter, their Grandfather's friend and a former F.B.I. agent who still consults for them from time to time, making his debut in the series.

     #005: Mike's Mystery (1960) 

  • Boom Town: In book #4, uranium is discovered on Aunt Jane's ranch. By the time of book #5, the small nearby town has become this trope, home to a massive uranium mine and a thriving population.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Non-romantic version. One of the men who tried to buy Mystery Ranch the year before has escaped from jail, and decided that if he and his partners couldn't own the uranium mine, they'd destroy it. Thankfully, the explosives he set are discovered in time.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The villain in the book tries this. When Mike Wood's dog Spotty growled at him and recognized him as a bad man, the man heard Mike saying he'd know the man on sight if he ever saw him again... so, to prevent himself from being recognized (along with one other reason), he burns down Mike's house, intending to kill the entire family. Luckily, everyone survives.
  • We Need a Distraction: The other reason Mike's house was burned — while everyone was at the fire, the culprit was able to set explosives at the uranium mine, intending to destroy it. Fortunately, they're discovered before they can be used.

     #006: Blue Bay Mystery (1961) 

  • Deserted Island: The island where Blue Bay is located, in the south Pacific (some ways from Tahiti). It's indicated that there used to be people there (as evidenced by a giant statue of a human), but other than shipwreck survivors and the Aldens (who are vacationing there for a while), they've all moved on.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: The presence of a mynah bird that can mimic intelligible words and phrases is a significant clue that the island might not be all that deserted.
  • Robinsonade: The Aldens spend part of book #6 (Blue Bay Mystery) staying on a tropical island with their grandfather and one of his friends, who had himself been shipwrecked for a time on the same island. They also rescue a marooned teenage boy from the same situation.

     #007: The Woodshed Mystery (1962) 

  • Abandoned Area: The old Alden farm where James and Jane Alden grew up before they moved west with their parents was this for years — people would buy it, but then move away and leave it deserted. It's finally subverted when Grandfather Alden buys back his family's old property and renovates it so Jane can move in.
  • December–December Romance: Aunt Jane and Andy Bean, who marry in their 70s after decades apart. Also a case of The One That Got Away, as Andy had proposed to her unsuccessfully in their youth.
  • Does Not Like Spam: After a long stretch of living off raw eggs stolen from the chicken coop, Andy tells the kids that he's sick of eggs and doesn't want any in the first meal that's being fixed for him in the farmhouse.
  • Literal-Minded: Willie, the Bean family's hired hand, who takes Jane's frustrated shout of "I'd like to shoot Andy Bean!" as a serious threat and not just hyperbole, and goes to warn Andy.
  • Non-Residential Residence: Early on, it's found that someone's living in the old woodshed on the family property. It turns out to be the long-missing Andy Bean, who's come home to see what's happening around the area after finding out the Aldens have bought back their family farm.
  • The Quiet One: Willie, the Bean family's hired hand, who rarely says more than one word at a time.

     #008: The Lighthouse Mystery (1963) 

  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Tom Cook, who refuses to support his son Larry's interest in science or to let him go away to college, even though it's what Larry wants. By the end of the book though, after nearly losing Larry in a storm, he changes his mind.
  • Meaningful Name: The mystery they find involves cooking, and their main suspect's name is Larry Cook.
  • Mosquito Miscreants: The wind direction shifts from the sea to the land one night, prompting mosquitoes to fly in through the unscreened windows — and cover Violet's face in bites.
  • Pride: Tom Cook's main flaw in the book. He's too proud to let his son work to help support the family, insisting on doing everything himself (though it later comes out that he's plenty able to afford what they need all on his own), or to let Larry go away to college, since Tom himself had done just fine without it.

     #009: Mountain Top Mystery (1964) 

  • Long-Lost Relative: During the events of the story, the Aldens meet an elderly Indian woman, Lovan Dixon, and help her reunite with her grandnephew David, whom she'd thought had died as a baby.

     #010: Schoolhouse Mystery (1965) 

  • The Bet: Benny's friend Max starts an unofficial one with him — there's no actual wager, but he says he's sure that even an Alden, adventure-prone as they all are, can't find a adventure in the sleepy fishing town of Port Elizabeth where Max's father works during the summer. Naturally, he's proven wrong.
  • The Con: The villain of the book, a Mr. Fred Willet, is a smuggler who pulls this on the people of Port Elizabeth and other towns, buying antiques from them for far less than they're worth and reselling them.
  • I Have Many Names: The villain of the book, a Mr. Fred Willet, also goes by Harold K. Frederic, Mr. North and Mr. Bensen.
  • Old School Building: Befitting a New England fishing town, there is a one-room schoolhouse that has gone unused until the Aldens take it upon themselves to teach the local children.
  • Save Our Students: Played with in that when the book starts, there aren't any students, because there's no teacher to operate the school.
  • Schoolmarm: The reclusive Miss Gray takes on this role when it's time for the Aldens to head home when their vacation ends.

     #011: Caboose Mystery (1966) 

  • Berserk Button: Early on, the Beaver Man reacts angrily at any mention of Caboose 777. It's later revealed that his friend the Thin Man had had to run away from the circus that the caboose belonged to after his coworkers believed he stole the missing diamond necklace from his fellow performer Chi-Chi before her death, and Beaver Man blames the caboose for his friend's troubles. It's never stated if he got over this after the Thin Man's name is finally cleared by the end of the story.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The day that the Aldens board the caboose to start their trip, they meet a postman, Sid Weston, who wants to have a look at the caboose before it goes, but is told there isn't enough time. Later in the book, he returns, and turns out to be John Mann — the Thin Man, whom the Aldens have just proven innocent of the theft he was accused of.
  • Clear Their Name: When Chi-Chi the tightrope walker died, her diamond necklace was found to be missing. The last person who was seen with it, John Mann (AKA the Thin Man), is suspected of having stolen it; he insists he gave it back, but nobody believes him, forcing him to run away and hide until the Aldens discover he had indeed given it back and that Chi-Chi had put it in her usual hiding place, which nobody but herself knew, afterward (she'd left a postcard with a riddle about it for her husband Cho-Cho, but he never saw it). When the Aldens announce the discovery over the radio, Mann is able to come out of hiding and reunite with Cho-Cho.
  • Disney Villain Death: Non-villain example — it's explained that the tightrope walker Chi-Chi fell to her death when she slipped on a wire one night during a performance.
  • Exact Words: Chi-Chi's riddling message to her husband Cho-Cho about her diamond necklace reads "If you are a clown / Be on the lookout / For things in a crown." The key is the middle phrase: she wasn't telling him to keep an eye out for the necklace, she was literally telling him to "be on the lookout"—that is, the mattress in the lookout of Caboose 777, where she hid the jewels.
  • Formerly Fit: Used for a plot point with Sid Weston. He was once the circus's Thin Man—an extremely skinny performer—but after fleeing the circus to avoid being accused of a crime he didn't commit, he gained a good deal of weight. It helped him disguise himself from his former friends, but it's also implied to be at least partially Post-Stress Overeating (he remarks that "mostly I just sat around and ate" after running away).
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Chi-Chi concealed her diamond necklace inside the mattress on the lookout of Caboose 777.
  • Meaningful Name: In book #11 (Caboose Mystery), the train conductor is named Mr. Carr.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Mr. Carr, who runs the train, mentions that he hears a lot of jokes about his name. Fortunately, he has a good sense of humor about it.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Benny does not go to the glass factory with the rest of the family, instead going to see the local talking horse and saying he'll have a nap afterwards. It takes rather a bit of travel before they realize he didn't make it on board.
    • Chi-Chi the tightrope walker left her husband a coded message about where to find her apparently-stolen diamond necklace. Unfortunately, the code was so obtuse that he couldn't figure it out and thought that his friend John Mann was a crook. Had she been more direct, none of the drama would have occurred.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: Benny does this at one point, yelling "I'll tell you in the morning!" while asleep and waking up Henry and Grandfather, though he himself sleeps right through it. It's never explained just what he meant by that.
  • Ventriloquism: When Cho-Cho the former clown is introduced, it's revealed he had a talking horse, who could answer questions through body language (nodding, shaking his head, pawing the ground or sitting or laying down). Later though, when Cho-Cho and Major are reunited, it turns out Cho-Cho is also a master ventriloquist who can make it look like Major is literally speaking English.

     #012: Houseboat Mystery (1967) 

  • Auction: The Aldens attend one in this book. During the event, a small gold vase goes missing; the Aldens later discover it was hidden in a box of clothes, which the thieves paid a local boy to buy for them, allowing it to be smuggled out of the auction without anyone realizing it.
  • Blackmail: One of the crimes done by the crooks in this book. They tell one man, Sam, that his brother Jeff is guilty of something, and threaten to go to the cops unless he gives them half of every paycheck. They then tell Jeff that Sam is the guilty one to get money from him for the same reason.
  • I Have Many Names: In book #12 (Houseboat Mystery), Mr. Rivers tells the family that the houseboat he rents out is set up so renters can give it any name they want, by swapping out letters on a special rack. Past names have included Rock and Roll, Moon Rocket, The All Inn, and The Blue Heron; the Aldens swap out names on it every day, naming it after all the members of the family (including Mrs. McGregor) in turn, ultimately catching the attention of the police who've heard about "the houseboat with many names". (Thankfully, they're understanding when they find out why it keeps changing.) The last name they give the boat is Captain Kidd, for Benny, prompting Mr. Rivers to crack up laughing when he sees it.
  • Meaningful Name: In book #12 (Houseboat Mystery), the owner of the houseboat the family rents is Mr. Rivers.
  • No Name Given: The two men who are responsible for the crimes in this book, the theft of a valuable vase and tricking two locals into paying them a lot of money not to go to the cops, are never named.

     #013: Snowbound Mystery (1968) 

  • Secret Ingredient: Part of the plot revolves around the Aldens finding a recipe that's been carved into the wooden shelf of the cabin they're staying in, which has a ? for one ingredient. When the Nelson family (who run the general store a few miles away) come up to the cabin and find out, they explain that it's a bun recipe that was used by Tom Nelson's father and grandfather, but neither ever told Tom the ingredient before they died, though his father indicated that the answer was in their old cabin (which had since been sold to the local Sportsman's Club) with his dying breath. Their family's been trying to figure out what the missing ingredient ever since, and finally succeed when a bedroom roof caves in, bringing with it a squirrel nest containing blue cards... each with a recipe, including the bun recipe with its secret ingredient. It's never identified in-story, but according to the tie-in cookbook that was published in the 1990s, it's cinnamon.
  • Snowed-In: Happens to the Aldens while they're staying in the cabin, due to a sudden blizzard that takes them all by surprise. With the help of the Nelsons (who struggle their way through the snow up to help) and a helicopter that was sent by their grandfather with emergency supplies, the Aldens manage just fine until they can be dug out and taken home.

     #014: Tree House Mystery (1969) 

  • Meaningful Name: In book #14 (Tree House Mystery), the Aldens' new neighbors who live in a house near the beach are the Beaches.
  • Secret Room: The Aldens and their new friends Sammy and Jeffrey find one in the attic of the pair's house, which turns out to have belonged to a young boy who was visiting his grandmother. After much research, they find she sealed it up because he'd gone home and, since she was going with him and would be renting the house out to another family, she couldn't bear to have their children playing with his things while he was away.
  • We Used to Be Friends: This turns out to be the case with John Beach and his older brother Max, who were never as close after their spyglass went missing and each thought the other had taken it. When John and his family move back to the house he grew up in, his sons discover it had been placed in a hole in the tree where their old treehouse used to be (and the man who did so forgot to tell them), allowing the brothers to make up and reconnect again.

     #015: Bicycle Mystery (1970) 

  • Continuity Nod: During the Aldens' bicycle trip to their Aunt Jane's farm, they point out the road leading to the houseboat they stayed on in book 12, and even stop at the town of Second Landing on the way to and from the farm. Later, they pass by the lighthouse they lived in in book 8.
  • Frame-Up: During their trip, the Aldens have two run-ins with a suspicious couple who try to get them to give up "Shadow". The Aldens always refuse, so the couple (who happen to be dog thieves) put an article in the paper that makes it look like the siblings are the ones who stole "Shadow". Fortunately, almost nobody falls for it, least of all his rightful owners, who knew both that "Shadow" had escaped on his own, and that the Aldens were good people from meeting and being helped by them the day after he went missing and a day before the siblings found the dog.
  • No Animals Allowed: A motel the Aldens stay at doesn't normally allow pets, which is a problem since they have Shadow, but the manager makes an exception since he's well-behaved (though he tells them they'll have to go if he makes noise and the other guests find out he's there). Shadow's presence proves to be a blessing when he alerts the Aldens and the manager to a fire, letting them catch it before it burns the motel down.
  • No Name Given: Twice, the Aldens have a run-in with a suspicious couple who see them with their temporary dog companion Shadow. The pair's names are never revealed.
  • Pet Contest Episode: In the last chapter of the book, after "Shadow" is successfully returned home, it's been revealed that he's actually Smokey, a show dog, and is back just in time to enter a local dog show.
  • Tropey, Come Home: During the Aldens' bicycle trip, they have to stay in an abandoned house overnight and are found by a strange dog, whom they name Shadow, and start asking around to see if anyone knows his owner. The last few chapters see him reunited with his family, who reveal he'd wriggled his way out of their car while it was parked and ran away until he found the Aldens, who then cared for him until they could find his rightful owners.

     #016: Mystery in the Sand (1971) 

  • Beachcombing: Early in the book, the children meet Daniel Lee, an older man who likes walking up and down the beach with his metal detector and finding things that he can return to their owners. When Benny first gives it a try, all he finds is a bottle cap, but the second time he finds an old locket, setting off a quest to find whom it belongs to.
  • Beach Episode: This book revolves around the Alden siblings spending a week or so at the beach during the summer, relaxing in their great-aunt and uncle's mobile home after the two suddenly take off for another vacation spot, though once again they wind up finding a mystery.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Miss Mary Smith, who lives in the Tower House in Beachwood, has a reputation for being one; rumor says she has a hundred cats. She's actually the housekeeper and friend of the house's actual owner, who only has ten cats.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Late in the book, Violet receives a kitten, Sugar Cookie, for a present. When she brings him home, he and Watch meet for the first time, and quickly become friends.
  • Reclusive Artist: In-Universe, Ruth Lane, a painter who lives in the Tower House with her housekeeper and ten cats, and rarely interacts with people other than her housekeeper. She only goes out at night, for walks on the beach, to the point where hardly anyone knows she lives there.
  • Theme Initials: An interesting variation. When the locket with the initials "R. L." is finally returned to its owner, she reveals that three generations of women in her family have all had those initials, but the names themselves never repeated.

     #017: Mystery Behind the Wall (1973) 

  • Concealing Canvas: The Aldens and their new friend Rory discover the mystery when they find an old cloth coin case inside the closet wall, along with a related journal and the first clue to where the coins themselves are kept. Later, Stephanie Shaw's long-lost coin collection, the Blue Collection, turns out to be hidden inside a picture of her house, where the Aldens now live.
  • Linked List Clue Methodology: Book #17 (Mystery Behind the Wall) has the children discovering a treasure hunt of this type that was set up decades before by a now-deceased girl, and setting out to solve it.

     #018: Bus Station Mystery (1974) 

  • Archnemesis Dad: Jud and Troy, the two environmentalist boys at the bus station, turn out to be the sons of Mr. Pickett, the man whose paint factory is polluting the river and sky in the town where it's located.
  • Artistic License – Law: Pickett's plan below to buy up land around his opponent's house and block entry would not work; by law, since the only access point would be across Pickett's land, he would be obliged to grant an easement.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: In the matter of Pickett's Perfect Paints versus the environmentalists. Pickett is right in that his factory brings work to the area, which is a benefit, but his sons and Frank Timmons are also right in that it's ruining the land by dumping dirty water and releasing chemicals into the air. Fortunately, the disagreement is resolved when Grandfather Alden explains how his own factories used to have the same problems until he found solutions to fix them up without closing down entirely, which can be implemented in Pickett's factory too.
  • Green Aesop: The focus of book #18 (Bus Station Mystery), where Grandfather Alden educates a paint factory owner on ways to cut down on water and air pollution and helps reconcile him with his environmentalist sons.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mr. Pickett starts off as not caring about causing pollution and seeking ways to shut down those who oppose him, but quickly changes his ways after Grandfather Alden steps in and offers to teach Pickett ways to improve his paint factory so it won't pollute anymore, which Pickett accepts after hearing him out and realizing he can indeed fix things.
  • Mood-Swinger: Frank Timmons, the bus station manager, who goes from gruff and angry one minute to polite the next, depending on who he's talking to or what he's talking about.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Mr. Pickett certainly thinks he can buy any land and pollute all he wants because he's rich, and has been plotting to drive away one of the men who's most opposed to him, buying all the land around his house to keep him from getting to it if he feels the need.
  • Supreme Chef: Frank Timmons, the bus station manager, is a very good cook, preparing a big dinner of stuffed fish for the Aldens as a way of thanking them for their help in the matter of the paint factory.

     #019: Benny Uncovers a Mystery (1976) 

  • Five-Finger Discount: Discussed, as Mr. Furman warns the Alden brothers to be on the lookout for shoplifters.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Fogg, the first floor manager, is generally cranky and doesn't hold back when dealing with customers. But he's also a hard and dedicated worker.
  • King Incognito: One of the recurring and more irritating customers (who's always offering unsolicited advice and asking difficult questions about the merchandise) at Furman's Department Store, Maggie Douglas, turns out to the store's new owner who's deliberately acting this way to check out the employees and their work habits without their realizing it.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: During one incident, the night watchman discovers a dress dummy in the display window, which he didn't remember being there, and later sees was gone. It turns out to have been their new boss, who was sneaking around after hours on business of her own.
  • Real Name as an Alias: One of the customers at Furman's Department Store is Miss Maggie Douglas, who's been getting on the first floor manager's nerves by offering unsolicited advice and asking difficult questions about the merchandise. In the final chapter, she turns out to be Maggie Douglas Squires, or M. D. Squires, the store's new owner.
  • Samus Is a Girl: When Henry and Benny get jobs at Furman's Department Store for the month, they learn the place has recently been sold to a new owner, M. D. Squires. Per the trope, the supposed "Mr." Squires turns out to be a woman — Maggie Douglas Squires.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Mr. Fogg, one of the store managers, is convinced that the Alden brothers just got their jobs on the strength of their family name. It turns out he's only half right — the new owner does know and is known by James Alden, but the boys are hired because they're good people and hard workers.

     #020: The Haunted Cabin Mystery (1991) 

  • Harassing Phone Call: Cap Lambert reveals he had his phone disconnected because he was getting strange calls where all he could hear was heavy breathing. It eventually turns out to have been his long-lost son Jason, who was calling him but couldn't get up the nerve to actually say anything.
  • Not Me This Time: When Cap Lambert discovers his neighbor's children have been digging holes on his property and swiping things from his garden and the eggs from his henhouse, he accuses them of taking his prize red hen Rhoda, who'd also gone missing. They swear more than once that they never took a chicken, which is proven to be true when Rhoda and her new clutch of chicks return home not long afterward.
  • Pirate Booty: It's widely believed that there's treasure buried somewhere near Cap Lambert's cabin. The two children who turn out to be behind the mysterious noises and lights at night turn out to be digging for it (along with swiping fruits and vegetables from the garden and orchard and eggs from the henhouses), since their mother's job only pays their mortgage and she can't afford food.
  • The Runaway: Cap Lambert and his son Jason had a falling-out years ago. Jason wanted to follow in his father's footsteps as a sailor; Cap wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer. Jason finally ran away from home, but what he's wanted for a very long time, more than anything, is to be able to come back, though he was afraid he wouldn't be welcome. When Cap informs Grandfather otherwise, Grandfather (who's been writing back and forth with Jason for the past year) tells him Jason is actually in town, and goes to get him, resulting in a happy reunion.
  • Snap Back: Over the course of the first nineteen books, the children aged at least five years. In this book, they're suddenly back to their original ages of 14, 12, 10, and 6, and haven't aged since.
  • Surprise Litter of Puppies: During the course of the book, Cap Lambert's prize red hen Rhoda goes missing, and is believed to have been taken by a fox. In the last chapter, she returns home with a number of chicks in tow, to Cap's happy surprise.

     #021: The Deserted Library Mystery (1991) 

  • Break-In Threat: Late in the book, the villain breaks into the house while the kids are sleeping and tears up a chair (which Violet actually hears him doing, though she thinks it's just her imagination until they find the chair the next morning).
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: Book #21 (The Deserted Library Mystery) has the Aldens working to clean up an old library in the town of Rock Falls so it can become a historical landmark, and in the process discover the hilt of an old Civil War sword, plus a letter explaining its origin. The rest of the book features them hunting for the other two pieces (the middle and point) so it can be reassembled and displayed as a historical treasure.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: One evening, while Jessie's outside filling a water pitcher, she hears a prowler. Henry promptly goes after them with a cast-iron skillet in hand, though they escape before he can catch them.
  • Missing Mom: Miguel's mother died when he was seven, leaving he and his father alone.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Book #21 (The Deserted Library Mystery) introduces the Aldens to a boy named Miguel, who's terrified that he's become an orphan after his father is lost in a storm (his mother had already died three years before), and will have to deal with this, especially after the news comes in that his father's boat was confirmed wrecked and only two of the three men in it were rescued. Very happily for Miguel, his father turns out to be one of the two.
  • Would Hurt a Child: During the story, the Aldens are living in a house by themselves for a week or so, with the closest adult being two miles away, but have found out there's a hostile criminal in the town. During their last night in the house, he proves to be an example of this trope when he comes around and physically attacks Jessie while she's outside getting water from the pump; luckily, Henry chases him off in time.

     #022: The Animal Shelter Mystery (1991) 

  • Animal Lover: Clara Newcombe, founder of the Greenfield Animal Shelter, who not only started the shelter to help animals in need but owns and cares for several pets of her own.
  • Harassing Phone Call: During the time that the Aldens are looking for the missing Clara Newcombe, they receive multiple hang-up calls whenever Grandfather or Mrs. McGregor answers. Finally, when Violet answers, the person on the other end tells them to stop looking for Miss Newcombe, or else.
  • Mysterious Note: During the time that the Aldens are looking for the missing Clara Newcombe, they find a threatening letter from the book's villains in their newspaper, warning them to stop investigating.
  • A Plot in Deed: Actually subverted. The book revolves around the Aldens trying to prove that the land where the Greenfield Animal Shelter is located is the rightful property of the shelter's founder, Clara Newcombe. The subversion is that while the deed they found is legitimate, it isn't enough to prove this; they also need to find her father's will, which will confirm that he left the property to her, and get both documents to the state Land Records Office in time. Very fortunately, Ms. Newcombe already has the will in her possession when she's found, and despite the villains' best efforts, she and the Aldens succeed in their goal.
  • Saving the Orphanage: The book revolves around the Aldens trying to save the Greenfield Animal Shelter; it turns out it was built on land owned by a man who died just under fifty years ago, and unless a deed transferring the property to someone else is found and filed in the state Land Records Office before fifty years to the day after the last known owner died (which is just a few days away), the land will go up for sale. And to top it off, a demolition company has tricked the rightful owner into thinking they've already bought the land. Luckily, the Aldens find the deed and the daughter of the man whom the property was sold to, who has a copy of his will proving he left it to her; with both deed and will, she's able to prove the land with the shelter and her house is rightfully hers.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: The men working for the Wolf Demolition Company do this twice, first draining the gas from Grandfather's car and tampering with the gas gauge so he won't realize the problem until it's too late, and then trying to slash his tires. Both are meant to delay him from getting to the Land Records Office in time to keep the men from claiming the land they're after. Fortunately, the cops catch them in the action the second time, and the one damaged tire is replaced in time to let Grandfather deliver Clara Newcombe to the office before the deadline.

     #023: The Old Motel Mystery (1991) 

  • Cat Scare: Late one night, while trying to sleep, Violet sees a shadow going by her window, waking up the others in her panic. Then they hear noises on the roof and see a pair of glittering yellow eyes... which turn out to belong to Willie, the owner's cat, much to their relief.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: While the Aldens deal with the physical saboteur, the real mastermind behind the plot is Mr. Warner, the manager of the Great Adventure Hotel chain, who told them what to do to try and shut down the motel so the hotel chain could buy it up and build one of their own hotels in its place.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: One of the suspicious happenings at the motel is that Kay isn't getting any reservations from visitors. It turns out the saboteur has been stealing them from her mailbox, but hands them over at the end.
  • Plot Allergy: One character in the book is allergic to cats. This same allergy later exposes them when they're trying to flee in disguise.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Or the motel, in this case. Its owner Kay Kingsley has been pressured to sell out to a larger hotel chain, but the Aldens work to fix the place up so she can keep it, despite the chain's efforts at sabotage.

     #024: The Mystery of the Hidden Painting (1991) 

  • Ageless Birthday Episode: The plot of the book is kicked off when the children decide to prepare for their Grandfather's birthday. His age is never given though.
  • The Atoner: Lorraine Newton, feeling guilty for her son's crime and her own cover-up of it, ultimately returns the property he stole to its rightful owners years after her son's death.
  • Easily Forgiven: The Aldens all accept Lorraine Newton's apology for her actions in continuing to hide their grandmother's necklace, and Grandfather Alden himself, after his own acceptance, declines to prosecute the family since the actual thief has been dead for years and he can understand Lorraine's reason for hiding his crime.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Years ago, someone stole a valuable necklace belonging to Celia Alden (Grandfather Alden's now deceased wife). When his mother found the stolen item among his things, she took it and donated it to a museum, where it's eventually discovered after being loaned out to a friend of hers, who appears in a news article wearing it.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Lorraine Newton admits that she did what she had to do — taking the stolen Alden necklace and hiding it — to protect the real thief, her son, so he wouldn't go to jail for the crime and his children wouldn't find out he was a thief.
  • The Lost Lenore: Grandmother Alden's portrait is kept in the attic because Grandfather is still in mourning. After the events of the book, her portrait is hung in the house again.
  • Rejecting the Inheritance: Played with. Jessie does not take her grandmother's necklace home with her, instead letting it remain in the museum it was donated to — with herself listed as the donor instead of Lorraine, and with the understanding that it will be made available if she ever wishes to borrow it.

     #025: The Amusement Park Mystery (1992) 

  • Bribe Backfire: Variant — the villains bribed a supposed expert to claim the copies of the stolen merry-go-round horses were the real deal. It's not the person being bribed who turns on them, but the fact that they did this in plain sight, where the Aldens could see it, as it makes them realize that of their suspects, these two are the real crooks.
  • The Bus Came Back: This book marks the first in-person appearance of Joe and Alice Alden since book 3 (and their first mention since book 9).
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: The Aldens receive one, a warning to stay away from the amusement park and quit investigating, at one point. As with the Harassing Phone Calls they've gotten, it has the opposite effect.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Late in the book, one of the villains shuts off the Ferris Wheel at the park, leaving the Aldens stranded at the top. For her husband though, this is a step too far, as he fights her off and restarts the wheel to bring them down.
  • Hall of Mirrors: The amusement park has recently had a House of Mirrors installed, and Karen, the owner's daughter, is always encouraging people to go for it and more modern attractions. The Aldens actually do try it out once, but Jessie nearly gets lost inside, causing a small panic until she finds her way back to her siblings. Later, one of the villains escapes into it to try and evade capture, but fails.
  • Harassing Phone Call: The Aldens get more than one of these over the course of the book, always telling them to stay away from the amusement park. Naturally, it has the opposite effect, as they continue to investigate.
  • Replaced with Replica: The villains of the book have been stealing valuable merry-go-round horses from the amusement park (with the intention of selling them and getting rich), and replacing them with copies, each of which had some flaw that led to their being exposed as fakes.
  • Villain Ball: During the story, two of the villains make the colossal mistake of paying off one of their helpers out in plain sight, where the heroes can see them — confirming their suspicions that the two are behind the mysterious happenings at the amusement park. They even acknowledge this at the end.

     #026: The Mystery of the Mixed Up Zoo (1992) 

  • Animal Lover: Edward Marlowe, owner of the titular zoo. And not just zoo animals, but regular ones too — after the villain is arrested, Edward adopts his dog, who was being neglected.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The villain of the book. He neglects his dog, did the same thing to the zoo animals, and then went out of his way to cause trouble for them, from stealing their food and medicine to draining the seal pool and tampering with the temperatures in various exhibits, which could have made them very sick if it wasn't caught in time. Happily, no lasting damage is done.
  • Big Eater: The larger animals at the zoo, naturally. One bear's dinner alone consists of three oranges, half a pound of cabbage, half a pound of carrots, five apples, a pound of beef mix... and all mixed together with honey. Meanwhile, Zelda the Bengal tiger eats ten pounds of meat every day.
  • Evil is Petty: Mac Thatcher in book #26 (The Mystery of the Mixed Up Zoo) was fired because he wasn't good at taking care of the animals. So he uses a duplicate set of keys to break in, start sabotaging the place, and kidnap Amos the monkey to sell him at a pet shop for moving-away money.
  • Idiot Ball: Someone is sabotaging his zoo — right after he fired a disgruntled employee — but Edward doesn't think to have any locks changed.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Helen Brooks, a member of the town council, has been wanting to shut down the zoo, and plans to bring it up at the next council meeting. However, when she talks to some of the other members and they tell her they'd never support shutting down the zoo, she knows she's beaten and gives up.
  • Men Can't Keep House: For all that he loves his animals and does a good job of running his zoo, Edward Marlowe's a pretty poor housekeeper — the place is covered in dust and cobwebs and the sink is full of dirty dishes. He admits to this lack, stating that "An old bachelor like me doesn't pay much attention to the house", and is very grateful when the Aldens offer to fix things up for him.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: Long before the events of the book, Edward Marlowe served in a World War II fighter squadron and eventually adopted their wildcat mascot Billy, who became the first animal in Edward's zoo. When asked what happened to him, Edward explains that Billy lived to a ripe old age before dying in his sleep.

     #027: The Camp Out Mystery (1992) 

  • Camping Episode: While not the first time the Aldens have gone camping out, this is the first book dedicated to it, with them staying at the campgrounds in Blue Mound State Park.
  • Green Aesop: The troublemaker in the book has been chasing away campers partly because they're so careless with their trash, leaving mess all over the place. When this is explained, the people running the campgrounds make plans to install extra cans for trash and recycling to help keep the place clean from then on.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hildy, the grouchy sister of the woman who's in charge of the Blue Mound State Park. She doesn't like people, and yells at the Aldens for daring to come near her property, but she also goes to investigate when she gets suspicious of the real culprit who's behind the strange events.
  • Loud of War: One of the troublemaker's methods of chasing away campers is to go by their campsites with a radio playing loud music. It works on some, but not the Aldens.
  • Mysterious Note: While the Aldens are out looking for Grandfather (who'd gone out the day before and never came back), someone changes their "Went hiking. Back soon." note to read "Went home. Back never.", and pins it to a tree with an arrow. Given that it was meant for Grandfather, and he knows they hadn't gone home (since they'd gone to find and, as it turns out, rescue him), it doesn't fool them for a minute. Another set of campers, however, also get a strange note and decide it's the last straw, prompting them to leave.
  • Road-Sign Reversal: One of the first things the troublemaker did to try and keep campers away, reversing the sign so it leads to a dead end instead of the ranger station.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The troublemaker in this book is one, attempting to chase away campers who can't respect the peace and beauty of the forest, leaving messes and playing loud music. He turns their own methods against them, stealing food and lanterns and playing loud music of his own at night, and ultimately leaving threatening notes. He's ultimately persuaded to turn himself in and is made to perform community service in return, educating campers on what to do and what not to do.

     #028: The Mystery Girl (1992) 

  • The Klutz: Nancy Baldwin, the titular mystery girl, is always dropping things when she's nervous.
  • My Beloved Smother: A full family variant. Nancy loves her family, but has gotten tired of them always controlling her life, deciding everything for her, even what college she's going to. It got to the point where she ran away from home to escape it.
  • The Runaway: Nancy Baldwin, the titular mystery girl, who's revealed to have run away from home so she could live her own life without her parents deciding everything for her.
  • Secretly Wealthy: Nancy, the titular mystery girl, who comes from a rich family but has run away from them so she can live her own life.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: One of the characters in the book, a Mrs. Edwards, earns the suspicion of the Aldens. In the climax, it turns out she's a private investigator who's been looking for Nancy on her family's behalf.

     #029: The Mystery Cruise (1992) 

  • Affably Evil: The culprit actually befriends the Aldens and his motives have nothing against them personally, but his actions do inconvenience the entire cruise line and are directly connected to Max Greene's situation.
  • On One Condition: Max Greene, a new friend the Aldens make on their cruise, learns that he'll inherit his great-aunt Edith's property and money, but only if he's physically present at the official will reading. If he isn't, everything will go to his cousin Carla, who's a mean and selfish person who would undoubtedly sell off everything and have the house torn down. Thankfully, despite attempts at delaying the cruise ship he's on, he makes it home in time to meet the condition.

     #030: The Disappearing Friend Mystery (1992) 

  • Anonymous Benefactor: Early on, the Aldens start a helper service to raise money for Greenfield Hospital's new wing. They also learn that an anonymous wealthy donor (whose identity is never revealed in the story) has agreed to match any donations made.
  • Identical Twin Mistake: Early on, the Alden children make friends with new girl in town, Beth Simon. Later that night, they see her again, and talk to her... except it was actually Beth's twin sister Heather, who goes on to cause trouble for them while pretending to be Beth.
  • Key Under the Doormat: When hired to feed the cats of a woman who will be out of town for two days, the Aldens are told the key will be under the mat, but can't find it when they arrive. Fortunately, they find another way into the house; shortly after their friend Beth leaves, they discover the missing key by a flower pot, where they know they'd searched before. It turns out this was one of the times that Heather had impersonated her sister and swiped it to cause trouble for them on purpose.
  • New Friend Envy: Inverted with Beth Simon. It's not any of the Aldens' friends who get jealous of their friendship with her — it's her own twin sister Heather, who proceeds to try and break up the friendship by playing nasty pranks while disguised as Beth. And apparently she's done this in every town they've lived in, because she's jealous of how easily Beth makes new friends.
  • Really Moves Around: The Simon family, since their parents are consultants and often move around to work for new companies. The story begins when they've just moved to Greenfield.
  • Red Herring: During the story, the Aldens suspect two different people of being behind the troubles at their helper service, but both end up disqualifying themselves.
    • One, a doctor who felt Silver City needed a new hospital more than Greenfield Hospital needed a new wing, ends up hiring them to babysit because she really does need the help, and begrudgingly admits that while she'd still rather have the new hospital, the new wing is better than nothing.
    • The second, a man who does the same kind of helper work as them and whom they think might have been sabotaging the competition, disqualifies himself as a suspect when he not only hires them to wash his truck, he tells them there's plenty of work for both sides, and he actually recommended them for some of it because he was too busy to help all his customers.
  • Twin Switch: Early on, the Alden children make friends with Beth Simon, a new girl in town. When her twin sister Heather finds out about this, she proceeds to pretend to be Beth, allowing her to get close to the Aldens and mess up their work, making them think Beth might be the one responsible. And it's explained during the big reveal that this isn't the first time she's pulled this.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: As one of the pranks Heather pulls, she let the air out of the tires on Benny's bicycle while he, his siblings and Beth were in town.

     #031: The Mystery of the Singing Ghost (1992) 

  • Cranky Neighbor: Mr. Carter, who lives next door to the Roth house with his wife, is pretty darn cranky and upset at the idea of anyone moving into the house, saying he doesn't want any new neighbors. It turns out he and his wife want to buy the house themselves, and he's annoyed at the prospect of anyone getting there first.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: In two directions. When she ran away to get married, Celia Roth left a letter in her father's desk, but it ended up behind a drawer and he never found it. Later, he placed an ad in a Boston paper addressed to her; she only sees it years after the fact, learning he had forgiven her.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Robert Roth tried this with his daughter Celia, saying she was too young to get married (she was seventeen). Ultimately, she ran away and married her beloved George anyway, before he went off to fight in Europe during World War I.
  • Precocious Crush: Charles Farley admits that as a child, he had a crush on his next door neighbor Celia Roth, who was ten years older than him and disappeared when he was seven and she was seventeen. He actually admits this to her face when they meet again late in the book, and that part of the reason he wanted to believe her ghost was haunting her house was so he could pretend she was still there.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: The house that Joe and Alice are moving into is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Celia Roth, a young girl who lived there years ago. Turns out she's alive and well, and comes to visit them at the end of the book after the Aldens track her down.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The "singing ghost", which turns out to just be a tape-recorded song, plus someone sneaking roses and an antique dress inside to make it look like a ghost was around. It turns out one set of neighbors was trying to keep the house empty so they could buy it for themselves eventually.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Charles Farley may be rather obsessed with ghosts, but when an artist who's been doing a painting of the Roth house and doesn't want its looks to be changed (which would spoil his hard work) tries to bribe him to watch the Aldens and report their movements to said artist, he refuses.

     #032: The Mystery in the Snow (1993) 

  • Frame-Up: When things are sabotaged, items belonging to other people are found near them, implicating that person. However, the Aldens — and later the other competitors — catch on quickly.
  • Parental Neglect: Downplayed. Jimmy's parents are always dropping him off at Snow Haven Lodge and taking off on their own vacation for the winter, because they think he likes being independent and having time without them. However, he admits that he feels abandoned, and tried to sabotage the winter events so they'd have to close up and his parents would have to take him with them. By the end of the book, they learn about this and promise that they'll take their next vacation together.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: One of the methods used by the saboteur to try and close down the lodge — he let the air out of the tires in the owner's personal vehicle.

     #033: The Pizza Mystery (1993) 

  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The lady with the red hat reveals that she's been wanting to learn how to make pizzas and sending the kids on deliveries because her family restaurant is failing, and she is worried about her parents going bankrupt. The Piccolos bluntly ask why she didn't tell them, since they would have been happy to help without the subterfuge. They immediately start her on cooking lessons that she can pass on to her parents, for which she is eternally grateful.
  • Evil is Petty: It's eventually revealed that the perpetrator behind the sabotage at the pizza place is a middle-management business executive at the company next door. When the kids bring him a free pizza as a peace offering, he eats it while gloating he thinks the Piccolos are old enough to be retired and the restaurant would serve better as a work cafeteria. Fortunately, he left the intercom on long enough for his boss to overhear, and she fires him on the spot while apologizing to the kids.
  • Mean Boss: Maxwell Irons, manager at the Mighty Muffler factory, who's seen yelling at his secretary when the Aldens visit him. He's also mean enough that his secretary's fiancé thinks she'd be fired if Irons knew said fiancé was working for a business he didn't like.
  • Not Me This Time: While Laurie Baker admits that she came to work for the Piccolos under not-so-honest reasons, and that she called the health inspector on them because she thought that way they'd have to teach her now to make new supplies to replace what would have been thrown out, she honestly denies being behind the other sabotage events like cancelling their gas line repair and the prank calls they got.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: A number of the customers at the pizzeria, who go by things like "The Lady in the Red Hat" (whose real name is revealed partway through), "The Man With the Walking Stick" and "The Woman with the Earmuffs" to the Piccolos.
  • Person with the Clothing: The Piccolo family identifies most of their regular customers by a signature piece of clothing or accessory, such as "The Lady in the Red Hat". Zigzagged when she gives her real name and becomes an employee shortly afterward.
  • Prank Call: The villain behind the book, as part of their campaign to drive the Piccolos out of business, makes calls where they don't say anything and hang up, and later to make a "Is your refrigerator running? Well, you'd better go catch it!" joke. They also get orders for empty addresses over the phone.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lydia Sturgis, the owner of the Mighty Muffler factory, is much nicer than her manager Maxwell Irons; she considers the Piccolos to be friends, and fires Irons for trying to drive them out of business.

     #034: The Mystery Horse (1993) 

  • Barn Raising: During the siblings' stay on Sunny Oaks Farm, one of the events they take part in is a barn raising at a neighboring farm, which takes all day to assemble the frame and sides before they're actually raised up into place. It's also noted that the farm's owners will put on the roof later.
  • Heroic Bystander: In book #34 (The Mystery Horse), the kids learn that the horse the family is boarding is a race star called Wind Dancer. Benny and the kids find thieves trying to steal Wind Dancer, and Benny uses his pouch full of roofing nails to stop them with a flat tire.
  • Series Continuity Error: Book 34 is set on a farm, which is said to be the first time the Aldens have ever been on one. Not only does this contradict how they've been to their Aunt Jane's farm (which, admittedly, isn't a working farm by the time she moved there), it would be contradicted by the prequel published nineteen years later, which would reveal that the Aldens grew up on a farm before they ran away after their parents died.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Jed Owens, a man the Morgan family hires as a farmhand, turns out to be an undercover agent working for Wind Dancer's owners, whom they sent to keep an eye out for the people trying to steal him.

     #035: The Mystery at the Dog Show (1993) 

  • Cheaters Never Prosper: The villain in this book is a competitor in a dog show who stoops to cheating in order to knock out some of the other entrants, up to and including kidnapping one of his chief rivals and dropping her off at the vet's office for a day or so. Naturally, when Sunny shows up at the final round after being rescued, he reacts with disbelief and accidentally exposes himself as having been the one who stole her, which gets him disqualified.
  • Gentle Giant: While out walking some beagles for one contestant, the Aldens meet a massive Great Dane, named Berries, whom Benny's a little nervous around at first from his size. He turns out to be a great big sweetheart though.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Zonker the dalmatian and a similarly black-and-white cat named Spike are best friends, according to their owner.
  • No Name Given: Zonker the dalmatian's owners are never identified by name. Nor is the suspicious man the Aldens see many times, who turns out to be a reporter poking around for a good story.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Two of the dogs, a golden retriever known as Sunny and an Old English sheepdog called Plum, are registered under longer names but go by shortened versions most of the time — their full names are Champion Gold Doubloon's Morning Sun, and Burger Plum Pudding, respectively.
  • Pet Contest Episode: As the title says, the book revolves around a dog show, with a visiting friend of the Aldens entering her prize-winning golden retriever Sunny.
  • Series Continuity Error: The Aldens say this is their first dog show, having apparently forgotten the one they attended in book 15.
  • This Cannot Be!: This is the villain's reaction when the dog he stole shows up in the final round, and in doing so, he exposes himself and gets disqualified from the competition.
  • Uncatty Resemblance: During the dog show, the Aldens notice this to be true of some of the contestants, like "two full-coated collies being walked by a stately man with long, flowing golden hair, and a bulldog being walked by a thickset old man with a mashed-in nose". Invoked by Sunny's owner Caryn Teague, who tends to dress up to match Sunny's coat, and by Zonker the dalmatian's owners, who both also wear white-and-black spotted clothing to match him.

     #036: The Castle Mystery (1993) 

  • Passed-Over Inheritance: The crook's motivation. He turns out to be the son of the late Mr. Drummond's niece, and feels that the man's priceless violin rightfully belongs to him instead of in a museum, since Mr. Drummond had left in his will that his castle was to become one and the violin was to be one of the exhibits.

     Special #001: The Mystery on the Ice (1993) 

  • Insurance Fraud: For a little while, the Aldens wonder if this is the reason behind the theft of the jewels. Grandfather, however, assures them that the Murpheys are very wealthy and had just made a large donation to a cause, so they have no need to pull this trope off.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Ollie, the Starlight Troupe's skating clown. He's always cheerful and goofy on and off the ice, and very friendly to everyone he meets.
  • Series Continuity Error: There's a moment where the Aldens are reminiscing about how they fixed up Joe and Alice's current house in book #31, and mention how one of the stairs broke when Joe stepped on it. It was actually Henry whom that happened to.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Marcia Westerly, the thief, has been faking an injury that requires her to use crutches. When the Aldens see her moving just fine without them, it's the final piece in the puzzle that makes them realize she's the thief.
  • Tricked into Signing: Benny finds a perfectly innocent way of narrowing down who could have written notes in green ink: ask everyone for their autographs.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Carl, one of the skaters in the Starlight Troupe, surprises his girlfriend Alex by hiding a diamond ring in the hand of his mermaid ice sculpture.

     #037: The Mystery of the Lost Village (1993) 

  • Ghost Town: The titular lost village, which its occupants abandoned because of a drought, and was eventually buried by the earth. The plot of the book revolves around searching for evidence it was there, so the area can be marked for as a site for historical preservation and excavation, rather than letting a developer build houses over it.
  • Heel–Face Turn: During the climax, one of the suspects — who works for a developer who wanted to build houses on what's quickly revealed to be a historical site that needs to be preserved — reveals he's quit his job and comes to work at the dig, since he couldn't hurt his own people.
  • I Am One of Those, Too: Early on, one of the suspects poking around claims to be of Navajo descent and to have come to research his roots, but he manages to know nothing about their background, not recognizing key pieces of their culture and claiming his ancestors were from New England when all the Navajo lived in the southwest. Naturally, he's a fraud.
  • Mysterious Note: Unusually for the trope, it's one of the suspects who gets one, warning them to stay away from the dig, and she suspects the Aldens did it. The last chapters reveal that it was in fact the village storyteller Kinowok, who knew she was up to no good and was warning her off.
  • Unholy Matrimony: The active villains of the book turn out to be husband and wife, who are just interested in the titular lost village as a source of "treasure", and don't care about its historical value.

     #038: The Mystery of the Purple Pool (1994) 

  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: One of the employees at the Plymouth Hotel, a man named Malcolm, proves to be very good and intelligent at his job. His boss, in fact, thinks he's too competent, and might be able to figure out that said boss is behind all the trouble at the hotel, so he fires him. When said boss is himself fired, the actual manager mentions she'll hire him back and now has an opening for an assistant manager.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Malcolm, a very competent employee at the Plymouth Hotel, was wrongfully fired at one point for supposed incompetence. When it turns out his boss fired him because he considered Malcolm to be too competent, the manager not only says she'll hire him back, but into the assistant manager position that just got vacated when she fired the man who fired Malcolm.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: At one point, the Aldens overhear one of the hotel maids Lucille talking to a man named Malcolm about how he was fired and how she was going to do something about it. It leads them to suspect her, up until they find evidence pointing directly at the actual troublemaker... and during the summation, when the Aldens tell her what they overheard, Lucille explains that by "doing something about it", she meant she was going to talk to the hotel's manager and discuss Malcolm's firing with her.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: During the events of the book, the Aldens see a man a few times in a hat, glasses and coat, or a robe and sunglasses the one time he's coming away from the pool. However, he has a distinctive hairstyle and nose. In the final chapter, they see him again and those features allow them to recognize him. It turns out that he's Frederick Astor, identified as one of Broadway's biggest stars — they just weren't familiar enough with him to recognize him. A little while later, a woman in a similar disguise turns up in the hotel, but this time someone else does recognize her as a celebrity in a poor disguise.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Subverted. The villain of the book turns out to be setting his boss up to look like one of these, pulling all sorts of pranks (such as dumping purple dye in the pool, swiping random hotel things like phones, pillows, shower curtains and the like from the rooms, switching around the salt and sugar in the dining room and cancelling guests' reservations) to make said manager look incompetent and thus get fired so he'd get their job.
  • Similar Item Confusion: Done deliberately by the villain, who switched the contents of the salt shakers with those of the sugar bowls.

     #039: The Ghost Ship Mystery (1994) 

  • Cassandra Truth: Although recorded in a book about Captain Coffin's talking parrot, the phrase "Capsick" was argued by one of Coffin's defenders to be gibberish. It turns out he had been suffering from malaria during his ship's last voyage.
  • Treachery Cover Up: Inverted. After one character has spent so long trying to paint one long-deceased man as a villain, then discovers evidence that he wasn't, they try to hide the truth. Specifically, Prudence Coffin has long been claiming, based on what evidence they had at the time, that Eli Hull, first mate of the Flying Cloud, had led the crew in a mutiny against her great-grandfather, Captain Jeremiah Coffin, before the ship sank. She even wrote a book about it. During the events of the story, a logbook from the ship turns up that reveals Eli had taken charge of the ship...because Captain Coffin was feverish with malaria, and had to be confined to his cabin because he kept ignoring his illness and trying to order his crew to go back to sea when all they wanted was to get him help. Eventually, they decide to admit they were wrong and publish the truth.

     Special #002: The Mystery in Washington, DC (1994) 

  • Benevolent Boss: Molly Parsons, after discovering that her employee at her Bed and Breakfast had been stealing money and other things from her because he wasn't able to pay for his current semester of college, is understanding and responds by giving him more hours to pay back for what he took and promising to take him to the bank to arrange for a loan.
  • Stealing from the Till: The culprit has been doing this, and admits that he stole from his employer because he needed money to pay for his current semester of college.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Throughout the book, the Aldens and their new friend Amira have been watched by two men in suits and sunglasses. The final chapter reveals that Amira's father works for the Egyptian embassy, and the men are actually her bodyguards.

     #040: The Canoe Trip Mystery (1994) 

  • Continuity Nod: On their way out of town, the Aldens stop at Piccolo's Pizzeria, previously the setting of book #33 (The Pizza Mystery).
  • Riddle Me This: Early on in the trip, the Aldens find a riddle written on a stone. It turns out to be a clue leading them to a stolen coin collection.
  • Stereo Fibbing: Two criminals posing as forest rangers simultaneously say different colors when asked what their uniforms look like. They temporarily compensate for the gaffe by claiming that they have different uniforms for different seasons.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: During their trip, the Aldens meet several suspicious people, including a man named Rob Wilson. He turns out to be a private detective, hired to find the stolen coin collection by its owner Mr. Withington, and already on the trail of the real thief.

     #041: The Mystery of the Hidden Beach (1994) 

  • Series Continuity Error: The kids' grown cousin Joe (the son of Grandfather Alden's brother) and his wife Alice are referred to as their aunt and uncle in this book.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: During their stay at Camp Coral, the Aldens meet Nick Simon, who claims to be a marine biologist (and that his friend is a fisherman), but evidently knows nothing about fish. He turns out to be an undercover police officer, investigating the coral thefts.

     #042: The Mystery of the Missing Cat (1994) 

  • Continuity Nod: The events of book #22 (The Animal Shelter Mystery) and #35 (The Mystery at the Dog Show) are referenced as times when Dr. Scott, the Aldens' veterinarian, helped them with mysteries they had to solve.
  • Harassing Phone Call: During the events of the book, the Aldens receive one of these, once again telling them to stop snooping and quit trying to solve their current mystery (finding a stolen cat). Once again, it doesn't do the culprit any good.

     Special #003: The Mystery at Snowflake Inn (1994) 

  • Continuity Nod:
    • The events of book #26 (The Mystery of the Mixed-Up Zoo) are referenced when the Aldens and the other guests see a porcupine, and the one from the zoo is mentioned.
    • The events of special #1 (The Mystery on the Ice) are referenced when the Aldens explain how Jessie can skate so good.
  • Not Me This Time: In the climax, when the troublemaker confesses, they deny being responsible for the mouse in the wastebasket in Jessie and Violet's bedroom. Two of the other kids in the inn then admit to having done that one as a joke.
  • Secret Room: There's one in Snowflake Inn, which dates back to the Revolutionary War and was used to hide people who'd been spying on the British. It's also got a second entrance that opens into the kitchen.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Greta, the cook at Snowflake Inn, walks off the job after one too many problems in her kitchen.
  • Underground Railroad: The real-life version is discussed in the book, when a secret room that dates back to the Revolutionary War is shown, and it's noted that it was also used as part of the Underground Railroad to help slaves get to safety.

     #043: The Mystery on Stage (1994) 

  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Mr. Bellamy, father of Sarah Bellamy, the girl playing Dorothy, strongly disapproves of her desire to be an actress, since her mother was also one until she died during a performance. He changes his mind after being exposed.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Early on, director Jim Maynard gets one warning him not to go on with the show. It's the first sign that something strange is going on.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: At one point, Richard, the actor playing the Wizard, has been recruited to work with scenery, but isn't too happy about it until, after letting out a yelp in pain, he finally calls it quits with the following line:
    "You can tell Jim I am not, and I repeat not working on scenery any longer! I'm an actor, not a carpenter."

     #044: The Dinosaur Mystery (1995) 

  • Driven by Envy: Dr. Skyler, who runs the planetarium at the Pickering Natural Museum, admits in the climax to being envious of the new dinosaur exhibit and trying to delay the Aldens from doing anything to help it via keeping them busy in her section of the museum, while also trying to get rid of the posters advertising the exhibit.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Late in the book, the culprit in the theft of the dinosaur bones reveals they hid each of them in a block of plaster, but there are several in the room and now they can't remember which one the last bone is inside. Fortunately, Violet quickly figures it out.
  • Publicity Stunt: The "theft" of the dinosaur bones. Dr. Pettibone, who found them in the first place, swipes and hides some of them to drum up interest for his "Dino World" exhibit at the museum.

     #045: The Mystery of the Stolen Music (1995) 

  • Forgetful Jones: Victor Perrelli, the conductor of the orchestra visiting Greenfield, is rather absent-minded. He claims he can't remember most things because his mind is so full of music. In fact, the initial disappearance of the titular stolen music is because he'd put the score away in his tuxedo and forgotten about it... before it was stolen for real by someone who found it in there.

     Special #004: The Mystery at the Ballpark (1994) 

  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: It turns out the aunt of one of the players doesn't approve of her playing baseball, which is why she's been trying to sabotage the team to make the girl quit.
  • No Sense of Direction: Chuck, the assistant coach, admits to being lousy with directions, which nearly makes the Bears late for their first game.
  • Not Me This Time: When the mystery is solved, it turns out the main culprit was not responsible for two of the items that disappeared or turned up. Benny's bear Stockings, it turns out, was taken by a little girl who picked him up and took him home, and the assistant coach slipped a fake glove into Jessie's locker after her autographed one was stolen because they felt sorry for her loss.

     #046: The Chocolate Sundae Mystery (1995) 

  • Benevolent Boss: Mr. Brown, the new owner of the Ice Cream Shoppe, who's very understanding with his employees even when they mess things up. When he finds one of them has been letting people in after hours so they can have some food (since their family can't afford much; their late-night visits are sometimes the only meal they're getting in a day), he not only keeps the worker on (though he does dock their pay for a while), he arranges to let the hungry kids have the leftover sandwich fixings from each day.
  • Stealing from the Till: The culprit in this book is revealed to be an employee who's been letting some close friends come in to eat ice cream after hours. Justified because they can't afford much and this is sometimes the only meal they're getting in a day.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: One plot thread, involving an angry customer who turns out to be a former employee who got let go apparently before the new owner bought the Shoppe, never gets resolved after the Aldens overhear his talking about it with someone else.

     #047: The Mystery of the Hot Air Balloon (1995) 

  • Living Drawing: In the opening chapter, it's revealed that Benny likes to pretend the animals on his wallpaper are this, who come to life and play when humans aren't around to see them.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: A short-lived case. Benny's been bored, but his siblings are all busy with their own things. Then he comes into the living room saying something's landing on the lawn. For a moment, they think he's just saying it to get attention, though they don't say so aloud... but then the shadow he saw makes the room get dark, and Watch starts whining, making them realize he's telling the truth and they all get up to see what it is. It turns out to be a hot air balloon that got blown off course and is coming in for a landing in their yard, which is what kicks off the plot.

     #048: The Mystery Bookstore (1995) 

  • Auction: The Aldens attend one in New Orleans in this book. Benny bids on and wins an old toy boxcar, but one of the biggest attractions is an old bookstore and its contents, which a mystery writer and friend of the Aldens wants to buy (having also been friends with the late former owner), as does another mystery writer, both bidding fiercely until the end... when, with their friend unable to go any higher, a third person suddenly jumps in and makes a Whammy Bid of 100,000 dollars that wins them the bookstore. It's Grandfather Alden, who then arranges to rent the store to their friend until she can pay back what he paid for it, much to the children's delight.
  • Whammy Bid: In book #48 (The Mystery Bookstore), bidding on an old bookstore and its contents starts at 50,000 dollars and, in just seven bids, quickly hits 80,000. Then a final bidder outdoes everyone and wins by jumping the price to 100,000 dollars. It's Grandfather Alden, who bought the bookstore as an investment and rents it to one of the earlier bidders, who happens to be a friend of his, allowing her to turn it into a mystery-themed bookstore like she wanted.

     Special #005: The Pilgrim Village Mystery (1995) 

  • The Illegible: Eric, the young man who runs the print shop at Pilgrim Village, has very poor handwriting. Later, the Aldens receive a note supposedly from him, but realize too late that it was a forgery, since they can read it without any problem.
  • Not Me This Time: When the culprit behind the strange events at Pilgrim Village confesses, they deny being responsible for the mishaps in the kitchen. Pilgrim Village's chef admits that that was entirely his fault, since he hasn't been able to keep up with things lately and made a few mistakes as a result.

     #049: The Mystery of the Stolen Boxcar (1995) 

  • Plot Allergy: While trying to figure out who stole their boxcar, the Aldens realize that one of their suspects couldn't have done it — he's severely allergic to dogs, and could barely stand to be around the boxcar because Watch has been inside.
  • Spoiled Brat: Becky Jennings, a little girl who, on seeing the Alden family's boxcar, immediately starts screaming and throwing a tantrum about how she wants it. More than a few people comment on her bad behavior on seeing this, and again later.
  • Tropey, Come Home: When the boxcar is stolen, Watch disappears along with it. The siblings are all very afraid for his safety until he returns on his own, much to their relief.

     #050: Mystery in the Cave (1996) 

  • Only Known by Their Nickname: During the story, the Aldens meet a man who's been in the caves too, whom Benny nicknames "Joe Caveman". When he finally reveals his story — that he's a caver who comes down for some peace and quiet so he can read and relax — he never does give them his real name.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: The culprits prove to be two men looking for a stash of money hidden in the cave by a bank robber before he was caught ten years before. After they're arrested and it's revealed what they were looking for (since they hadn't found it yet), the cops start laughing and explain that the bank had only given the robber counterfeit money, so it wouldn't have done them any good anyway.

     #051: The Mystery on the Train (1996) 

  • Passed-Over Inheritance: The true villain of the book turns out to be motivated by this — his parents cut him out of their will, so he's trying to trick his niece out of some valuable items that were left to her parents and that he feels should have been his.
  • Series Continuity Error: This book claims that the Aldens are going on a train for the first time, ignoring three train trips they took in the Warner books (in books 4, 5 and 11).

     Special #006: The Mystery at the Fair (1996) 

  • Ageless Birthday Episode: As with book #24 (The Mystery of the Hidden Painting), the plot of the book is kicked off when the children decide to prepare for their Grandfather's birthday, but his age is never given.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Early on, Benny says that "I'm just not hungry anymore." At his sister's surprised reaction, he replies, "No, now I'm starving!"
  • Big Eater: Michael, a little boy introduced in this book, turns out to have just as big an appetite as Benny's, which helps inspire their friendship.
  • Competition Freak: Susie Martinelli, who's entered three out of four competitions in an effort to finally win something this year (having entered each year during the past eight years but never won). It also leads her to sabotage in a desperate attempt to win something before her family moves away in a few weeks, since this is her last chance.
  • Disqualification-Induced Victory: The final contest at the fair is decided when it's revealed that the winning entrant cheated by sabotaging other entrants; the second-place winner becomes the first-place winner as a result.
  • Frame-Up: When the cheating contestant gets spotted, they swipe the prizes from another contest and hide them in the spying person's bag, making it look as if they were the guilty one and casting doubt on any testimony they'd have entered.
  • Stage Mom: Kristie Stephen's mother is always pushing her daughter to win in her art competitions, when all Kristie wants is to just paint for fun. She also goes poking around for excuses to disqualify other competitors.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Throughout the book, the Aldens have been seeing a man in a baseball cap, taking notes. He's revealed in the climax to be Steven Pearson, whom the fair officials had hired to investigate things around the fair and figure out who was behind the trouble.

     #052: The Mystery of the Lost Mine (1996) 

  • Continuity Nod: The Alden's trip to Camp Coral in book #41 (The Mystery of the Hidden Beach) gets referenced when they're reminded of how hot it can get in Arizona.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: Jake, the old prospector, wakes up to find one at his campsite one morning. The thing is, it was written in Spanish, so he has to ask the Aldens for a translation. They can't help, but their friend Luis does, and tells him it means "This path is dangerous".
  • Stolen Good, Returned Better: Benny's lump of fool's gold disappears, only to be "found" by Jake, who the Aldens had helped with a lunch bill earlier. The returned item, however, is instead a lump of pure gold.

     #053: The Guide Dog Mystery (1996) 

  • Canine Companion: The Greenfield Guide Dog School is all about training dogs to serve in this role for blind people. One of them, Ginger, is specially trained throughout the book to be a companion for Anna, a blind girl who's getting ready to go off to college.
  • Recognizable by Sound: Anna, the blind girl who's attending the guide dog school in this book, has learned to recognize people by the sound of their footstep... which is how she's able to identify the thief in the climax.

     #054: The Hurricane Mystery (1996) 

  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Over the years, there've been plenty of legends about the Ashleigh family having a secret pirate treasure, but the family themselves haven't found it. It turns out the gold he had was melted down and concealed inside the Pirate's Gate, the special gate door that Mr. Ashleigh, who was believed to have been a pirate, had made for the house he built for his wife.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Early on, the Aldens see Mrs. Ashleigh arguing with a man who's been trying to convince her to sell her house and move. After he's gone, Benny asks, "Who was that mean man?" He gets this reaction when Mrs. Ashleigh tells them the "mean man" was her grown son Forrest, and immediately apologizes.

     Special #007: The Pet Shop Mystery (1996) 

  • Bad Boss: Well, bad second-in-command, at least, but the Aldens have to answer to him when his boss is away — Mr. Fowler, the grouchy new manager of Mrs. Tweedy's Pretty Bird Pet Shop. He's proven to be incompetent, mixing up orders, claiming the people who made them are the ones who ordered the wrong thing, and not wanting any help from the Aldens when Mrs. Tweedy hires them (claiming he can handle everything on his own). He's also only interested in selling more expensive parrots for the shop to make it more money. Mrs. Tweedy is content with things as they are though, and declines to let him bring in more expensive animals. It turns out he's been running a criminal sideline business, illegally selling imported wild animals in the shop, and purposely mixed up orders to make things difficult for the Aldens.
  • Gender-Blender Name: While the Aldens are out delivering papers, Jessie points out a female golden retriever to Soo Lee. The thing is, the dog's name is Cody — traditionally a male name.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: One of the regular customers is Mrs. Doolittle, who's constantly nagging the Aldens to do their jobs right, and tries to blame them for anything that goes wrong simply because they aren't adults and therefore aren't competent. In the climax though, it turns out she's been sneaking in with a spare set of keys to keep the animals company on Sundays, since the shop is closed that day and the manager isn't in.
  • Meaningful Name: One of the animals who turns up at the shop is a South American Macaw named Rainbow, who is indeed a rainbow-colored bird.
  • Never My Fault: Throughout the book, Mr. Fowler — the new manager at the Pretty Bird Pet Shop — has been mixing up orders, but always blames the customers and the store's other employees for what's gone wrong. It turns out at least some of these were deliberate mixups on his part, to try and get the Aldens fired by making them look incompetent so they wouldn't catch on to his criminal activities.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Mrs. Tweedy, owner of the Pretty Bird Pet Shop. She's willing to listen to the Aldens when they tell her about all the strange things that have been happening in the shop, stops an illegal sale of wild animals when she catches the culprit in the action, and calls the cops on him to boot. When she also finds out that one of the younger customers who'd been in regularly — and also caused some trouble — just wants to prove he could do the work, she's kind to him and agrees to hire him.
  • Tropey, Come Home: The plot gets kicked off when the Aldens discover a parrot, Grayfallow, who's escaped from the pet store where he lives (as a display only, not for sale). During this same time, they find a local boy, Arthur Byrd, who claims to be out looking for his missing cat (though it eventually comes out he was lying).
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: When Joe, Alice and Soo Lee stop in for dinner early on, they reveal that Soo Lee's pet hamster Squeaky, recently acquired from the Pretty Bird Pet Store, has turned out to be a pregnant female rather than the male they planned on getting; the manager made similar mistakes with other customers as well. End result, Benny gets a pet hamster he names Pipsqueak (and the other babies will be given away to other neighborhood children as well).

     #055: The Mystery of the Secret Message (1996) 

  • Artistic License – History: In-Universe. The plot revolves around a statue of Josiah Wade in the town square, which has him dressed up as one of the Minutemen who fought in the American Revolution. In truth, Josiah was just twelve when the war started, and Rick Bass (the town's new historian) reveals that he was actually one of George Washington's secret messengers. The sculptor, however, was a good friend of Josiah's in Josiah's later years, and sculpted the statue to show him as a soldier; Rick figures that either Josiah stretched the truth, or the sculptor made his statue that way deliberately as a prank on the town.
  • Cat Scare: On the last page of one chapter, Violet bumps into a large, hulking shape and is too afraid to move, thinking it's a monster of some kind. In the opening page of the next chapter, the man she and her siblings had come into the room with turns on the lights, and she's relieved to see that the "monster" is just a cape thrown over a coatrack.
  • Covered in Gunge: At one point, someone does this to the recently cleaned statue of Josiah Wade, smearing red paint all over it. Fortunately, it washes off easily.
  • Greed: This turns out to be the motive behind the crime. Sylvia Pepper had learned that a treasure was supposedly hidden in the statue of Josiah Wade, and wanted to steal it and sell it to a collector for a lot of money.
  • Harassing Phone Call: At one point, the Aldens get a threatening call telling them to "Tell the town council to put the statue in the museum, or else!". When the Aldens identify the culprit, it turns out they did it to throw suspicion on another person.
  • Red Herring:
    • At one point, when Jessie goes back to the town square to get her notebook, she sees the siblings' new friend Dawn near the statue of Josiah Wade, and is a little suspicious when Dawn looks around and runs off. In the climax, Dawn confesses that she'd seen the real culprit behind the trouble poking around the statue and was trying to find what they were looking for, but when Jessie came around, Dawn thought it was said culprit returning and fled to avoid being caught.
    • The whole plot of the book is that supposedly, a treasure was hidden inside the statue of Josiah Wade in Greenfield's town square. When the statue is examined, they find that there's nothing inside and figure that the whole legend was just another prank by the statue's maker... then the granite base gets damaged again (it's been crumbling slightly for years), and it turns out that that's where the treasure — a button from George Washington's coat — was hidden.

     #056: The Firehouse Mystery (1997) 

  • Cat Up a Tree: Variant — at one point, the fire crew gets called to save a kitten that's fallen down a sewer grate. Benny even lampshades it with "I've heard of firefighters rescuing cats stuck up in trees, but not down sewers!"
  • Fire Alarm Distraction: A variant — someone's been calling in false alarms to the firehouse, reporting fires where there really aren't, as a distraction so they can sneak into the building and steal some valuable items.
  • Hey, That's My Line!: At one point, it's almost lunchtime, and Henry says "I'm hungry." Benny protests — "Wait a minute! That's what I was going to say!", making the others laugh.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Janet Lerner from the Greenfield town council, who seems bound and determined to have the old firehouse torn down. It turns out the idea made her miserable, but she couldn't see any other choice... until her associate Rebecca Wright showed her a design to improve the firehouse by adding a new, larger wing, matching the style of the rest of the building, rather than outright replace it.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: At one point, the Aldens hear architect Rebecca Wright saying something on the phone about making a lot of money. In the final chapter, they mention this, and she explains that she was talking to her husband about how her job, designing the firehouse, would be her big break and make them a lot of money to help pay their bills.
  • Post-Injury Desk Job: Steve, one of the employees at the fire station, is introduced wheeling himself onto the scene in a wheelchair. He explains he was injured on the job and left unable to walk, so he's been handling records, schedules, payroll and such in the office ever since.
  • Red Herring: The Aldens initially suspect Janet Lerner from the Greenfield town council and architect Rebecca Wright of being behind the thefts of some valuable antiques, thinking it'll give them an excuse to have the Greenfield firehouse torn down. It turns out they weren't, and the Aldens catch the real thief with the stolen goods.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Firehouse, in this case. Greenfield's town council thinks the old firehouse is too old and outdated and needs to be replaced, so the Alden children dedicate themselves to renovating it and proving it can still serve its purpose.

     #061: The Growling Bear Mystery (1997) 

  • Bears Are Bad News: Part of the plot involves the Aldens being warned about bears in Yellowstone, and picking up bear bells to ring in order to chase them away if they come near. As it happens, the one time they hear a bear, it turns out to have been another person trying to scare them away with a tape recording.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Samuel Jackson Crowe, AKA Sam Jackson for short, and his sister Emily Jackson Crowe, who work at the local inn and as a park ranger in Yellowstone, who turn out to be the closest the books have to villains — they're searching for the supposed treasure in the lost cabin, because they think their ancestor was one of the miners who left it.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: Book #61 (The Growling Bear Mystery) revolves around a hunt for lost gold in an old miner's cabin in Yellowstone National Park. In the end, the Aldens find the cabin, but they find out that the "treasure" isn't gold — it's just a sack of the yellow stones that give the park its name.

     #062: The Mystery of the Lake Monster (1998) 

  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: At the very end, after the mystery is solved and the fake monster is exposed, the Aldens hear the sound of an unfamiliar animal, indicating Lucy the lake monster might really be out there.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The titular lake monster, which turns out to be made up by a teenage boy who thinks that if he can scare people with signs of a monster being around, it'll make his parents decide to take him home; he used fake feet and a pre-cut paddle that made it look like a monster had bitten it.

     #070: The Mystery of the Pirate's Map (1999) 

  • Worthless Treasure Twist: Played straight in book #70 (The Mystery of the Pirate's Map). The children find the last piece of a famous treasure map and try to get to the treasure before a greedy millionaire, who's spent his whole life trying to find it and stepped on a lot of people in the process. As they're digging for the treasure, they tell him that he can have whatever they find. The treasure chest contains a single coin, and a note from the pirate about "real treasure."

     Animated films 

The films include examples of the following:

  • Adaptational Dye-Job: Jessie is shown as being brunette like her siblings in the books cover art, but in the animated movie she's a redhead.
  • Animated Adaptation: One was released in 2014, and is a straight up adaptation of the first book. It was reasonably well received, currently having a user-rating of 7.5 on IMDB. A sequel, Surprise Island, was released in May 2018.
  • Mythology Gag: In the first animated movie, the bakery they visit is called "Chandler's". In the sequel, Violet mentions her teacher Miss Warner.
  • No Flow in CGI: Neither animated movie shows a lot of movement in the final results, as evidenced by the lack of movement in longer hair.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: In the movie, Henry specifically looks a lot like his dad based on an old photograph. It's also easy to tell that the Boxcar kids are related when all four of them are in a group.
  • You Don't Look Like You: In the animated version of Surprise Island, Henry, Violet, and Benny were redesigned. Jessie is the only one of the four Alden kids to look the same in both movies, though her eye color is changed from brown in the first movie to green in the sequel.

Alternative Title(s): Boxcar Children