Boxcar Children #002 “Surprise Island” – Or how to get rid of your kids for an entire summer

Previously: Some children enjoy being homeless way too much, until one of them gets very sick. It is through this plot contrivance that they discover that their incredibly rich grandfather is also incredibly nice.

Lorraine: I can just imagine how all of you have been on the edge of your seats waiting to hear about the next installment of the Boxcar Children. I mean, first they were homeless… then they weren’t! Helloooo, awesome plot city.

Obviously I cut out some details from the above summary (not many) but not because I was being facetious, but rather because it was so boring that I forgot them.

Lily: But that’s basically all it is. 

Lorraine: I also forgot all of these kids’ names. Let me see… there’s Big Boy, uh, girl… girl… and the small one. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Lily: Just trying to remember their names is putting me to sleep.

Lorraine: That’s pretty much why I stopped trying.

So, we open the book with the ex-hobos running home in excitement because it’s the last day of school and their rich grandpappy has a big surprise for them.

“Tell us grandpa!” they clamor. “You promised!”

Lily: I guess that’s the good thing… they ended up going to school.

Lorraine: Grandpa Moneybags has a little fun at their expense before revealing his big surprise. See when he was a kid, his father bought an island. Oh, wow, is that all? He just bought a whole island? I hope he invested in the additional insurance and lifetime guarantee also, in case it breaks or something.

Lily: I wonder what insurance for an island would go for. Probably a gagillion dollars and 2 cents.

Lorraine: I think you overestimated by at least 2 cents.

The kids share my sentiments and are all, “a whole island?” but Moneybags assures them that it’s a small island and there isn’t much on it; just a house, a barn and a fisherman’s hut. They used to keep horses there and Captain Daniel runs the motorboat and lives in the hut. As I was remembering back to what I read while I typed this up, I accidentally called this dude Captain Morgan. Page 2, and I need a drink already.

Lily: Let’s face it, Lor, a bottle of Captain Morgan would have made the story a WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY more interesting. 

Me and the Captain (Morgan, not Crunch) make it happen!

Lorraine: Ew, my ex was fond of always saying, “make it happ’n capp’n.” Now, I really need some Captain.

Anyways, the kids are excited about visiting the island because it’ll be just like that one time they were homeless!!!!!!!1!!11one.

They clearly had way too much fun being homeless. I would be insulted if I were Moneybags and I took in a bunch of ingrate children who could only talk about living in an abandoned boxcar. They also get all hot and bothered over the prospect of having a stove and cooking for themselves. 

Lily: I bet it was more fun for them when their one sister almost died from eating from the dishes they got at the dump. 

Lorraine:  A little near death experience is totally worth it! I mean, we’re talking having dishes. That’s some exciting shit right there.

They pick up Dr. Moore and his mom from last book and all head out to the ocean. You remember Dr. Lame-o who still lives with his mom, right? Cool.

They get to their private island and see a little yellow house. “Oh grandpa Moneybags,” one kid asks. “Is that where we’ll be living?”

“Fuck no,” Moneybags says. “You’ll be living in the barn.”

The kids jump for joy. I’m not kidding. I have no idea what’s going on here, but they walk into the barn like I would walk into a chocolate factory. They find four empty stalls and naturally think, “yes! bedrooms!” They also get really excited over the prospect of sleeping on straw.

Lily: Oh lord, they should have just had summer vacay in their damn boxcar! Seriously.


Lily: PREACH!!!

Lorraine: Anyhow, Captain Morgan tells Grandpa Moneybags that he has another guest on the island, a young man who is an old friend and has fallen ill. Moneybags thinks this is suspicious (but has no problem with his grandchildren living in a barn, mind you) and sends the Dr. Lame-o to check on the man.

Lily: PS I love that the Captain is now Captain Morgan.

Lorraine: Yeah, if I can’t have a real drink, I might as well just dream about it and type it a lot.

The mystery man tells the Dr. Lame-o his story: he went to go find Indian treasure, he fell and broke his arm and lost his memory, he gained his memory back and decided to finish recuperating with some good ‘ole Captain Morgan. The Dr. asks his name and he whispers it so we can’t hear it. Er, read it. The Dr is all, “no way girlfriend! You can’t be him!” and the mysterious man is all, “way.”

We get to call him “Joe.”

Lily: Did he hit his head? Or can we lose our memory by breaking our limbs? If so, damn, I never want to break my pinky while tweeting.

Lorraine:  I stub my toe a lot and people laugh at me. They shouldn’t laugh. I now know that I’m putting my memory in danger with each stub!!

That night, the kids return to the mainland to buy supplies like milk, bread and dishes enough for all of them to eat off. Then Moneybags ships them back to the island all, “BYE! HOPE YOU SURVIVE.” This is grandparenting that our Goosebumps parents would approve of.

They start dreaming big dreams like “building a cupboard” and get really excited when it’s time to wash their own dishes. By 8:00pm they are all knackered out and go straight to sleep in their stall-straw beds. NO SERIOUSLY. WHO THE FUCK ARE THESE CHILDREN?

Lily: Who sleeps at 8pm? Other than newborns and people in nursing homes? Also, WTF?! Why do they need a cupboard in a place they’re not living in 24/7? PLUS, their grandpa can just BUY them one. HATE these kids. And I don’t really hate any one or thing.

Lorraine: If these were a group of Goosebumps children, they would’ve already been eaten by a mysterious island monster. Oh, don’t worry, they would’ve been regurgitated after they tickled the monster from the inside, or something equally ridiculous and contrived.

If these were the Sweet Valley girls, Jessica would be shacking up with mystery man Joe and Liz would be spying on her. Out of concern, naturally, and totally not in a creepy way.

If these were the Stoneybrook kids, they would’ve brought 10-15 other kids with them and charged to run a Mystery Island Day Camp.

If these were real life children, they would’ve been like, LOL. Where do I plug in my Wii? And then they would’ve stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, running amok and nearly killing each other.

Lily: These kids would never survive outside their stupid book world.

Lorraine: Maybe because if they did live outside book world, I would find them and stuff their stupid heads back into the books.

The next morning the Big Boy wakes up and goes back towards their water spring where he finds -oh joy!- a vegetable garden. Mystery Joe comes along and explains that Moneybags had them plant it for Big Boy, but that he can now take over weeding it and tending to it since he know he’ll have ohsososo much fun doing that.

He also lets them know that Captain Morgan goes to the mainland every morning for groceries, and if they’d just give him a list of supplies they need, he’d be happy to get them.

They decide to have peas for dinner. Seriously, that was a big plot point. It went on for a whole chapter about how much they like peas, and how they ate their peas, and how they even cracked and shelled their own peas! Woah there, homeless kids. Getting a little heavy on the excitement, aren’t we?

Lily: Grandpa Moneybags couldn’t spring for some freaking Hot Pockets?! Seriously? Or at least a rotisserie chicken? Most grocery stores have them with like free side dishes. Peas? Fuck peas!

Lorraine: I get that these stupid kids want to cook for themselves, but Grandpa couldn’t at least hook it up with a few more ingredients?! PEAS FOR DINNER. Jeez.

The next day, they start digging up clams. Another chapter is devoted to digging up clams.

Lily: SNORE. I hope they got stung by jellyfish.

Lorraine: As the kids explore the island, they find other island-y shit, like shells, flowers and birds. They decide it would be wicked cool if they collected some of this stuff and transformed the second floor of their barn into a museum. They are going to draw the different animals on cardboard and cut and color them.

As they are hatching this plan, they realize they don’t know anything about animals or shells or seaweed and should probably check out some library books to help them identify the…

Oh! Crap! Sorry. I fell asleep.

Mystery Joe volunteers to go check out the books for them, and it’s supposed to be a big damn deal that he doesn’t even have to look around or ask for help. He knows exactly what books he needs. At their clam dinner that night, the kids catch onto the fact that Mystery Joe sure does know a lot about island shit for a handyman.

Also, let it just be noted that the kids invited Mystery Joe to dinner on the condition that he would wash his own dish.

Grandpa Moneybags is kind enough to send his grandkids some sweaters. Oh, grandpa. Look at you worrying about your abandoned children catching hypothermia! So thoughtful. I mean, the sweaters aren’t much help when it starts raining and water is leaking into the barn and Henry can’t sleep because he has to make sure the kettles they put under all the leaks don’t overflow, but y’know, sweaters are cool too.

The kids do more ‘sploring and find a shell pile and a cave. They crawl into the cave and find an Indian arrowhead and axehead. While they are in there, digging around, the tide comes in so that they almost drown. Obviously, them almost drowning has been my favorite part of the book.

Lily: No kidding. I didn’t even read the book, and I’m cheering for the tide to win!


They manage to swim out, though, and they find Mystery Joe and are all, “holy shit! We almost drowned, yo!” and Joe is all, “yeah, yeah, yeah. TELL ME ABOUT WHAT YOU FOUND.” When they show him the artifacts, I’m pretty sure he uh, “social occasions his pants,” if you know what I mean.

The Little Boy says he’s never going in that cave again and Joe tells him not to be such a pussy. Almost drowning should really have no bearing on whether you go into caves or not.

Lily: Look, Joe, now, I don’t like these kids either. But I mean… you can’t call the kid a pussy if you’re not almost drowning too. Now, go break your other arm. 

Lorraine: Lose some more memories while you’re at it!

Joe goes with them to keep digging and they find other stuff that’s all old and Indian-y. Plus, they find a skeleton. Little Boy is basically playing with a femur when Mystery Joe notices what it is. I’m telling you that that cannot be sanitary. Joe digs out the entire skeleton and tells them that it appears that this particular Indian was shot with an arrow. Oh, well that’s lovely.

Lily: Does that kid almost die too?! How awesome would that be!?

Lorraine:  Too awesome to ever happen. 🙁

One day, Moneybags decides to come and visit the grandkids. The kids show him the upstairs museum they made and even named after him. He’s really impressed and wants to show them something over on the mainland and oh- what do ya know! Moneybags happens to to be the owner of a real life museum! Special.

Lily: Yawn. We get it. Grandpa Moneybags owns one of everything. Yet, he can’t equip his grandchildren with proper island gear.

Lorraine: Or food better than peas.

The kids go back to the island. These things happen: Other Girl starts taking violin lessons from Joe, the kids notice Joe is too smart to be a handyman because obvs handymen are dumb, the kids invite some friends over to the island, it’s Benny’s birthday and all he wants is blueberries and cream like Peter Rabbit. Benny is even dumber than a handyman.

Lily: If I had a rich grandpa, I’d ask for something cooler than blueberries and cream. I’d ask for a [insert something cool here] – Like Kanye Wests’!

Lorraine: At the end, the BFD is that Joe actually turns out to be John. He reveals to the kids that he runs a museum and he actually wrote all those books he gave them from the library. That’s not all, he runs Moneybags’ museum because he is in fact John Alden, their cousin.

Lily: Oh wow, John, you are so awesome! Go break a leg now. 

Lorraine: On their last night on the island. Moneybags comes to visit and they are scared to tell him that Joe is John and John is alive and didn’t actually die while digging up Indian treasure. Benny tells their grandpa that sometimes people have funny veins and that too much good news will make them drop dead. Their grandpa is like, “…okay.”

I feel like maybe I have funny veins, and one day, all of this terrible kiddie lit is going to make them explode.

Lily: If they haven’t already. 

Lorraine: Anyhow, after Grandpa Moneybags assures them that his veins are perfectly capable of handling good news, they are all, “ta-da! Cousin John is alive! He’s been here on this island the entire time you thought he was dead, pretending to be a handy man named Joe.”

GpaMoMoney is all, “WHAT THE FUCK,” which I can’t blame him because why wouldn’t you send a little letter or something that maybe just says, “not dead! See you soon!”

Lily: This is a theme in this family, right? Hiding for the rest of the family and pretending to be other people? I don’t like this family.

Lorraine: Joe/John says he wanted to make sure he was totally better before he stopped being dead. Like if everyone would be like, “oh God, you’re broken? Why couldn’t you have just died?”

Lily: Right, Joe/John, what ever you want to be called. I don’t like you. I have my eye on you. 

I bet he was faking his own death to hide from creditors… 

Lorraine: We end this book with Joe/John telling the kids that he’ll be working on the island excavating the caves and blowing shit up. The kids say goodbye to him and their island of faux-homelessness and head home to Moneybags. They tell him that Joe/John will keep staying with Captain Morgan and will NOT move into the yellow house.

Gpa is all, “duh,” and when the kids ask why the hell they were just on an island for two months living in a barn when there is a house on the mother fucking island, Gpa just says, “that’s a story for another time.”

Oh, you know, like next book.

Lily: So not looking forward to it. Like really.

Lorraine: Basically, I’m convinced that the Boxcar Children was invented to try and brainwash kids into being low maintenance, cheap labor. “Wow! These kids sure do love living outside, washing their own dishes, growing their own food, eating peas and going to bed at 8pm! I am suddenly very sleepy…”


Next time on The Boxcar Children: The kids find out that Bill, the man who built the yellow house, went missing many years ago. Will the find out where he went and what are the odds that he’s homeless? Find out in  #3 – The Yellow House Mystery.

Marines (all posts)

I'm a 20-something south Floridan who loves the beach but cannot swim. Such is my life, full of small contradictions and little trivialities. My main life goals are never to take life too seriously, but to do everything I attempt seriously well. After that, my life goals devolve into things like not wearing pants and eating all of the Zebra Cakes in the world. THE WORLD.

Lily (all posts)

I’ll be covering The Box Car Children franchise. I first read these books when my idiot brother brought them home from school. I read one of them because I had nothing better to do since our dad said we couldn’t watch cartoons until him or my mom got home from work. And since then, I’ve had an irrational fear of homelessness and freight trains… and sometimes forests (thanks a lot, Frank!). This is probably why I still live with my mom while I’m engaged. Because the fiancé and I are very careless, might end up popping out babies and then they’ll have to live in the forest and no one would want to adopt all eleventy of them.

Did you like this? Share it:

  • Lor, there should be Captain Morgan this weekend. OH YES THERE SHOULD!! Or, you know, better booze. But Captain seems appropriate.

    Also? I may have had a moment of "Oooooh, I wonder if Grandpa Moneybags could give me a job at his museum?!?!" before coming to my senses and realising that I'd die of boredom in Boxcar Land *sigh*

  • Nugs

    Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to not like any surprises on my island. That just leads to arguments and messy gynecology bills.

  • You know, if Captain Morgan HAD been in the Boxcar children books, they would have been so much better.

  • Pingback: Boxcar Children #3 “The Yellow House Mystery” – Or This Is What Happens When You Do Drugs()

  • Pingback: Boxcar Children #001 “The Boxcar Children” – Or Snoozefest Galore!()

  • I loved these books so much when I was a kid. Know what I love now? You guys. I fucking love you guys. Totes.

  • Katie P.

    It is depressing and telling that even now, when someone mentions The Boxcar Children, I immediately think of ALL OF THEIR NAMES. I REMEMBER THEM ALL. My brain is all, “Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny!!” and I’m like Shit, this is my actual life? Also I remember being genuinely spooked by the “mysteries” and super into the idea of being homeless and living on a rundown island and making my own museum, because homelessness is fun (also, museums)! The brainwashing totally worked, except I was too smart to fall for the part about doing the dishes.