About the Author
Anthony VanArsdale was born and raised near the beaches of south Alabama and to this day enjoys the warm southern temperatures of the Gulf Coast. He has worked as a professional illustrator since 2004, combining traditional and digital media to create illustrations with a "stylized realism." Among his favorite subjects to paint are animals, people, and illustrations that reflect the natural setting of his home.
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Connecting the Dots
Henry Alden traced his fingers over the colorful patterns painted on the boomerang. He sat with his two sisters, Violet and Jessie, in the comfortable cabin of the Reddimus Society's private jet. The children had just received the boomerang in a package, and they knew it held a clue that would lead them to the next stop on their journey. But none of their clues had been as beautiful and detailed as the boomerang.
Benny, the youngest Alden, was interested in the boomerang, but he couldn't stop looking out the plane window. Below, Bangkok, Thailand, grew smaller and smaller in the distance. He watched the city as it disappeared behind a layer of puffy clouds. Then he turned in his seat to look at the boomerang too.
"There are so many dots," he said.
There really were. Black and white dots formed wavy lines. Other dots were the colors of the sunset, orange and red. The bright red reminded Benny of the Alden's boxcar. Benny knew the boxcar, Grandfather, and their dog, Watch, would all be waiting for them when the children were done returning the seven artifacts for the Reddimus Society. But he missed seeing them. And it had been nice to have Cousin Joe, Cousin Alice, and Soo Lee with them as they traveled through China and Thailand — especially with the archrival Argents constantly trying to throw them off course.
Violet noticed Benny's quietness. As if she knew what he was thinking, she said, "Don't be too homesick, Benny. Cousin Alice told us someone will be waiting for us at our next stop. I wonder who it could be."
The idea that someone familiar would be waiting for them — wherever they were going — gave Benny a warm feeling of relief. He nodded. "Maybe Grandfather?"
Jessie ruffled Benny's hair. "Maybe! We have plenty of friends and family who might be there to pick us up. Think of it as a surprise!"
Benny imagined Grandfather and Watch waiting for them at the airport when they arrived at their next stop. His worries about the Argents faded.
"I can't wait to see who it is," he said. "Let's think about our clue, so we can find out!"
They all looked at it closely to see if there was a hidden message like the previous clues they had received. Violet noticed the figure of a wiggly snake and a fish among the painted shapes. She pointed at one of the animals.
"That looks like a kangaroo. See the long feet and the tail?" she said. "I learned about this style of painting in art class. It looks like Aboriginal art."
"What's Aboriginal?" Benny asked.
"Aboriginal Australians were the first people to live in Australia," Jessie explained. "There are many Aboriginal groups in Australia, like there are many groups of Native Americans in the United States."
"So that means —" Violet began.
"We're going to Australia!" Benny exclaimed. He had learned in school about the animals that live on the continent. Some are so special they can't be found anywhere else in the world. "I want to see kangaroos. And koalas!"
"But where in Australia?" Henry asked. As the oldest, he was not quite as excited as Benny. When he saw the boomerang, he had thought the Aldens might be going to Australia. But he hadn't wanted to say too much around their pilots, Emilio and Mr. Ganert. When the children had been in Thailand, they had figured out one of the pilots was working for the Argents.
The Aldens' friend from the Reddimus Society, Tricia Silverton, had worried someone was giving information to their rivals. That's why she hid all her instructions in riddles and clues. It was like a code only the Aldens could crack. Henry knew they would need to tell their pilots where they were going, but he didn't want to give them any more information than he needed to.
"Isn't Australia an island?" Benny asked.
"Yes, but it's a very big island," Jessie explained. "It's almost the size of the continental United States."
Violet was still looking at the boomerang. It wasn't long before she noticed something.
"Look," she said. "Some of the dots in the pattern have smaller dots inside them."
They all looked closer. Inside some of the red dots were tiny yellow dots. They were hard to see unless the children looked closely.
"Good eyes, Violet," Henry said.
Together, they found all the red dots with yellow centers. Violet drew an invisible line with her finger. The invisible line made letters, which she spelled out loud so she wouldn't forget.
"S ... Y ... D ... N ... E ... Y," she spelled. "Sydney!"
"Just like connect the dots!" Benny said. "Is Sydney a place in Australia?"
"Not just a place, but one of Australia's most exciting places!" came a jolly voice from behind them. "It's the capital of New South Wales and one of Australia's largest cities."
The Aldens looked up. Emilio walked into the cabin. He and the other pilot, Mr. Ganert, took turns flying the plane.
"Ready for a great joke about Australia?" Emilio asked.
"Not right now," Henry said politely. In the beginning, he had enjoyed Emilio's silly jokes. But now that they knew Emilio might be working for the Argents, they wondered if maybe his jokes were part of his disguise. "It does look like we're headed to Sydney, though. Is it a long flight from here?"
"Hmm, from here it's about nine hours. I'll tell Mr. Ganert to set a course right away. I'm glad you figured out the clue, even if you all seem very serious right now ...We'll save the joke for another time."
Emilio winked before he went back to the cockpit. Benny sighed.
"I kind of wanted to hear the joke," he said.
"I've got a joke that has to do with Australia," Jessie said. "What do you call a lazy baby kangaroo?" She paused and looked at her siblings. "A pouch potato!"
Benny imagined a baby kangaroo lazing about in its mother's pouch, and it made him laugh.
"A pouch potato! That's a good one, Jessie."
The four children were getting used to long flights, so the trip to Australia was not bad at all. Jessie spent the flight reading about Sydney on her laptop. Henry played checkers with Benny while Violet drew dot animals like the ones on the boomerang. She drew animals they had seen in their travels: a camel from Egypt, a giraffe from Kenya, and an elephant from Thailand.
By the time the Reddimus plane began to descend, all four Aldens went to the windows. Sydney looked like a big city, and it stretched right up to the coast. There were many little islands in the bay and a big arched bridge. The children could see boats going back and forth between the ports.
"What's that?" asked Benny, pointing to a building that looked like a white seashell.
"That must be the Sydney Opera House," Jessie exclaimed. "I was reading about it. It's a very famous building where all sorts of performances take place."
"Operas? Like singing?" Benny asked.
"Yes. They also have a ballet, a theater company, and an orchestra."
"It would be so wonderful if we could listen to the orchestra," Violet said as the opera house passed out of sight. The airport came into view, and Mr. Ganert's grumpy voice came over the speakers to tell them they were going to land soon. Henry checked on the three remaining Reddimus boxes. To keep the boxes safe, the Aldens had put one in each of their three remaining camera cases. The fourth case belonged to Violet. But they had used it as a decoy in Thailand to help them figure out if one of their pilots was working for the Argents. Now they had three cases left, one for each Reddimus box.
When the children exited the plane onto the tarmac, they were surprised to see a familiar face waiting for them. It was Grandfather's sister, Great Aunt Jane! She was dressed up in a splendid yellow dress and blue hat. She even had a string of pearls around her neck. She gave them all hugs when they met her.
"My, look at you all in your fancy private jet!" she exclaimed.
"Aunt Jane! It's so good to see you," Jessie said. "You look very fancy yourself! What's the occasion?"
"The four of you, of course. Your grandfather called to chat the other day and told me what you have been up to. Then this morning, I got a call from Mrs. Silverton asking if I had any interest in visiting Australia! She said her granddaughter Tricia believed I was the perfect person to meet you. I couldn't tell you why, but I'm glad to be here! She even booked tickets for the five of us to see the orchestra and tour the Sydney Opera House! That's why I'm all done up like this. It's a very special occasion."
Violet and Benny exchanged looks and jumped with joy. They calmed themselves when Emilio and Mr. Ganert joined them on the tarmac. Henry introduced Aunt Jane but did not say anything about the tour or the orchestra.
"Be sure to call and let us know when you find the next clue," Emilio said. "I'm sure Trudy will be glad to know we're one step closer to returning all the items."
Trudy was Mrs. Silverton's other granddaughter and Tricia's sister. While Tricia secretively left the clues for the Aldens to follow, Trudy was the Silverton the Aldens talked to most. She helped them make travel arrangements.
"Don't dawdle," Mr. Ganert added gruffly.
The Aldens said good-bye to the pilots and went with Aunt Jane to check in with their passports. After that was taken care of, Aunt Jane called a taxi, and the five of them left the airport. Violet was especially glad to see Aunt Jane. She sat next to her in the taxi. When they first met Aunt Jane, she was unfriendly, but as the children spent more time with her, Aunt Jane had grown to like them. After a little while, she mended her relationship with Grandfather and became close to the family again.
Violet told Aunt Jane about their travels so far. Henry, Jessie, and Benny sat with their camera cases on their laps, keeping the precious Reddimus boxes in sight at all times. Even if they had left Emilio and Mr. Ganert back at the airport, their journey to Sydney was probably not a secret by now. Anna Argent, who had been following them all over the world trying to get the Reddimus boxes, could show up when they least expected.
"The opera house is a very special place, but I'm afraid we didn't bring any fancy clothes to wear to the show," Jessie said. "We probably can't go and see the orchestra in our jeans and T-shirts after traveling all over the world in them."
"The opera house doesn't have a formal dress code, but even if they did, your grandfather took care of that as well. He is always thinking, that brother of mine."
They got to the hotel just as the sun began to set. It was a tall building right on the bay, and from their room they could see the lights of the city twinkling off the water. The opera house was lit up with white lights so that it almost glowed.
Laid out on the hotel beds was a dress for Violet, a blouse and some slacks for Jessie, and trousers and dress shirts for the boys. There was even a necktie for Henry. After they were dressed, they all looked at one another.
"Henry looks so handsome," Aunt Jane remarked. "And Benny! Very dapper."
Jessie combed her hair and smoothed her blouse. Dressing up was one of the best parts about going to the orchestra. Once they were all ready to go, Aunt Jane called the front desk to order a taxi. While she was on the phone, Benny turned to Henry.
"What will we do with the Reddimus boxes?" he asked.
"Look," Jessie said, pointing to a metal box in the corner. "Our room has a safe. We can store them there while we're at the opera house."
Henry and Jessie read the instructions to open the safe. They placed the Reddimus boxes inside and locked the door. There was no way Anna Argent or the other Argents could get to them now. After a few minutes, Aunt Jane told them it was time to go, and they all went down to the hotel lobby and met their taxi.
By the time they arrived at the opera house, the sky was dark enough that all the city lights seemed more fantastic than ever. The sail-shaped structures of the opera house soared over their heads. All around them, people admired the building from the outside, taking photos with their cell phones and cameras.
"The tour is first. Then we'll get something to eat before we listen to the orchestra," Aunt Jane said. "There are all kinds of venues inside, not just theaters. They have restaurants too!"
Benny's stomach growled.
"I love the Sydney Opera House!" he declared.
Riddle behind the Scenes
The opera house tour was led by an energetic young man with curly black hair. The Aldens walked along with the rest of the tour group. They got to see inside the main concert hall, where the orchestra was preparing for the evening's performance. They even got to see the greenroom, where the theater staff and performers gathered before and after shows. Their guide answered everyone's questions with precise detail.
"How many tiles are there on the roof?" asked one guest.
"There are one million fifty-six thousand and six sail tiles!" replied the guide with a big grin.
"He probably gets asked that a lot," Violet said. She had seen the tiles on the roof from outside and had wondered how many there were too.
"It would take a long time to count them all," Benny added. He liked to count, but more than one million tiles would probably make his eyes cross. "How long would it take, Henry?"
"I'm not sure, Benny. Probably a long, long time." Henry seemed distracted.
Benny and the girls paused, letting Aunt Jane and the rest of the tour group move ahead a little way.
"What's wrong, Henry?" Jessie asked quietly.
"I'm just worried because we haven't gotten another clue yet," he said. "Remember when that fake message told us to go to Thailand? We got all the way there before we found out we had been tricked."
"Don't worry, Henry," Violet said. "We are on the right track. Aunt Jane wouldn't have met us here if we weren't."
"And don't forget. We're a step ahead of them now," Jessie added. "We know that one of the pilots is telling Anna Argent where we are —"
"But they don't know that we know!" finished Benny.
Henry sighed again and nodded, but this time he looked relieved.
"You're right. I hope we get the next clue soon. In the meantime, we should also think of a plan to find out which of the pilots is working for the Argents. If we can figure that out, we can ask the other pilot for help."
"Returning the items would be much easier if we didn't have to worry about this," Jessie agreed. "We will all think. I'm sure that we can come up with a good plan together."
The Aldens rejoined their group and the tour guide took them through many areas of the opera house. Jessie saw many people dressed in jeans and T-shirts, but she was still glad they had gotten the chance to dress up. It was a fun change from the sometimes-rugged traveling they had done.
When the tour ended, the Aldens went with Aunt Jane to their dinner reservation. The restaurant was impressive, with candle-lit tables set under one of the opera house's swooping arches. They could see the night sky through the windows in the ceiling.
Their dinner was served in three courses. The first course was a salad of delicious greens. While the others enjoyed their food, a second waiter with a purple bow tie came up to Jessie and tapped her on the shoulder. She was surprised because she hadn't ordered anything else, but then she noticed his bow tie. Purple was the favorite color of the Reddimus Society.
"I believe this is for you," the waiter said. He slipped a little white envelope out of his sleeve and onto the table. "Bon appétit."
Jessie looked at the envelope. It was plain except for the Reddimus logo on one side, an R in a circle made of swirls. A drawing of a smart-looking owl sat on top of the R. The Aldens had grown to love seeing the Reddimus owl, and it was a good sign to see it printed on the envelope. After the waiter left, Jessie showed the envelope to Henry with a smile. It had to be the clue they were waiting for.
"See? We're on the right track after all," she said.
"I'm glad," said Henry.
"Open it up!" Benny exclaimed. "Let's see what it says!"
Jessie unfolded the note and gave it to Violet, who read it quietly to the others:
I am known throughout the world.
"Sails?" Benny repeated. "Maybe we're looking for some kind of ship or boat."
"That's a good guess, Benny," Violet agreed. "Australia is an island, and there are lots of ships around. But the riddle said I do not sail the sea. What kind of boat stays on land?"
Jessie had an idea. She remembered what the opera house looked like when they had seen it from the outside. "Do you remember what the tour guide said about the tiles on the roof?" she asked. "He said they were called sail tiles."
"The opera house does look like it has sails," Violet said.
"I think it looks more like a seashell," Benny said. "But I guess it could look like sails on a boat too. It's big and white and sort of triangle shaped. And I don't think it can go out to sea."
"I am filled with song, though I do not sing," Henry repeated from the riddle, thinking. "There are all sorts of musical performances that happen here. Like the orchestra and the opera."
Excerpted from "The Boxcar Children"
Copyright © 2017 Albert Whitman & Company.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Connecting the Dots,
2. Riddle behind the Scenes,
3. The Coin in the Box,
4. A Curious Acrostic,
5. Dingoes on the Loose!,
6. Owls and Penguins,
7. The Mysterious Continent,
8. Shackleton's Semaphore,
9. Returning the Sixth Artifact,
10. The Man in the Red Hat,