And the winner is...
The Happy Hollisters, a million to one.
I had the opportunity to purchase a set of Boxcar Children books for just a few dollars, so I did. We loved the Happy Hollister books so much, and the premise of the Boxcar Children series is very similar. Both books are about four siblings having adventures and solving mysteries together. Here's what bothers me about the Boxcar Children series...
The Boxcar Children have all their adventures away from any parental authority. In one book, the kids were sent by their grandfather to live on an island in a barn for the summer. There was a caretaker in a cottage nearby, but he was not responsible for the children. The youngest kid is six or seven, for goodness' sake, and swimming in the ocean does require some degree of acute awareness. Oy. In another book, the children were sent across the country to be caretakers to their elderly aunt. This just seemed very peculiar to me!
The text in The Happy Hollisters stories has a rich vocabulary with long sections of narrative. The writing is simply better. The Boxcar Children is primarily dialogue, with huge chunks of time snipped out of the narrative. There's no transition, and the frequent "fast forward" effect is irksome. I checked the reading levels for both series. The Happy Hollisters ranges from a 4th- to a 6th-grade reading level and Boxcar Children is considered 4th grade level.
The characters in The Happy Hollisters are a bit more three-dimensional and more fleshed out. You get a much better sense of each child's personality. The plots are also usually better as well.
So... we'll continue to read the other seven Boxcar Children books we have. They're not that bad (certainly not "twaddle"), and the kids find them engaging. Children having adventures is a perennial favorite around here.
Other readalouds we've been enjoying: Sherlock Holmes stories (somewhat edited!), and The Youngest Bride (written by a friend; very charming story about a young Jewish girl who marries a young yeshiva boy to save him from being forcibly enlisted in the czar's army).