My son Daniel loves the Boxcar Children. Seriously LOVES them. We’re either reading them together, or he’s listening to them on audiobook format or through our Scribd subscription. We buy them in the bookstore, borrow them from the library, trade them with other kids and have even picked up a few at yard sales. It’s a serious obsession at our house to find out what mystery the Alden children will help solve next! Naturally, then, we just had to create our own for his birthday: They Mystery of the Missing 7-Year-Old. (Spoiler alert: The 7-year-old is missing, because now he’s EIGHT!)
Months before the big day, the birthday boy and I did a search on what foods are mentioned in Boxcar Children book titles. The Boxcar Children website gave us lots of options to get us thinking.
Next we started the plan for building a boxcar in our back yard. Not being overly handy, I got the idea to transform a wooden bunk bed into a boxcar. Thanks to an online auction site, we found one for $30. It was a little worn, but hey… it would become an old box car, so a few nicks and dings would add to the character!
We assembled it as per the instructions, but to make it extra safe, we brought out my Kreg jig to secure each joint for added support, then had 2 x 4s cut to its length so we’d have a roof. The whole thing was painted with an exterior paint/primer in an antique red color. We chose one of those OKed by the historical society to make it look super authentic.
Fine mesh vinyl screening was then wrapped around it and secured with staples. I used the same paint to loosely sketch out the outline of board slats, and then accented them with black and brown for more depth and realism. The pièce de résistance was the four plastic lid tops we screwed onto each of the corners for the wheels. (My son insisted that four was the proper number for our boxcar since he once saw an illustration for one of the first original Gertrude Chandler Warner books, and IT had just 4 wheels from what we could see in the picture, so to be authentic….)
For the party we began with a mystery! The kids had to go on a type of scavenger hunt. Clues included having to use a cipher to read a location, various code puzzles, and they were even required to use the metal detector Daniel’s grandparents sent him as a present to dig up yet another clue (like geocaching in The Box That Watch Found). It took about 45 minutes for the gaggle of kids to traipse from one end of our neighborhood to the other on the hunt for all the clues and to unravel the code sentences (pictured at right).
The very last clue led to the food table, where everyone (who was now acting the part of Bennie—always hungry) got the prize of some fun snacks and treats.
I of course had to get a little creative with some of the foods, though we did have a great start on the list. We served chocolate alligators as an homage to The Mystery of the Alligator Swamp and had lemonade as mentioned in The Boardwalk Mystery. My “Boxcar Brie” was the hardest to fit into the Boxcar world! After much searching, however, I found a quote from the original Boxcar Children book where “Jessie… cut the loaf of bread into five big pieces. The cheese was cut into four pieces.” OK, so she wasn’t talking about brie and habanero pepper relish wrapped in croissant dough, but the grownups wanted some treats for them, too!
The star item was, of course, delicious desserts from Gigi’s Cupcakes, Orlando. Not only did we have adorable cupcakes with fondant books on them (in birthday-boy-approved flavors!), but an 8″ round with a scene that came right out of The Boxcar Children books! They even made gluten free cupcakes for those at our party with gluten sensitivities. Everyone enjoyed how cute AND delicious they were. For the record, the cupcakes were Double Stuff (with a cute little Oreo on top), Italian Cream, and Miss Princess, a white cake baked with fresh strawberries, topped with a cream cheese frosting. Italian Cream was my pick. I LOVE that one!
We had lots more activities… some of which we even had time to do! We printed out little fingerprint ID cards for little guests to check in with upon arrival (one never knows when a guest might turn into a suspect!), and printed out the great word find puzzle available from the Boxcar Children website.
Some of the kids were familiar with Boxcar Children before the party, but ALL learned about them through the course of the afternoon. Daniel was happy to share his passion about the world of the Aldens, and the mysteries they uncover. What we uncovered was fun, friendship, food and fiction… from a great series of children’s series we highly recommend.