A series of nine books by Helen Cresswell, in the style of frantic comedy. Written for children, but entertaining for adults, too.

They tell the tale (many tales, actually) of a highly competitive and argumentive family weathering many fantastic misadventures. Almost anything I can tell you about the actual adventures would constitute as a spoiler, so I'll just describe the players.

Mr. Bagthorpe: Father and acting head of the family. He is a scriptwriter for television, and has an explosive temper. He is the most cynical and viciously argumentive of the lot, but is no match for the rest of his family en masse.

Mrs. Bagthorpe: Mother of the family. She is also "Stella Bright", advice columnist, and as such solves problems for hundreds of British housewives. She tries to be the problem solver-cum-peacemaker in her own home, but it's an impossible task.

William: The eldest son. He, Tess, and Rosie take after their father, as far as being competitive and argumentative go. William has a number of strings to his bow (Mrs. Bagthorpes' phrase), including tennis, amateur radio, and drumming. He will sometimes fill in for Mr. Bagthorpe when cynical remarks need to be made.

Tess: The eldest daughter. Specializes in French, Danish, Judo, and playing the Oboe. She also has a strong tendency to use long words when short ones will do.

Jack: AKA Ordinary Jack. Tends to be at the center of the stories, although often more text is devoted to the exploits of Mr. Bagthorpe, Grandma, or Daisy. He has no strings to his bow, although he has tried to fake it. He also tends to stay out of arguments, or at least stick to the facts and avoid shouting. He is the owner of Zero, and spends much of his time with him.

Rosie: Youngest of the four, she plays the violin, enjoys mathematics, and paints. She has a soft spot for Daisy, who is even younger than she. Unfortunately, Daisy prefers to raise havoc with Grandma, but Rosie never gives up trying to interest her in activities more appropriate for a little girl.

Grandma: While Mr. Bagthorpe is only desperately defending his own overblown ego, his mother actually enjoys starting and fueling on anything loud and out of control. She is Daisy's other friend in the Bagthorpe household, and together the two are known as the unholy alliance. They are the source of most of the major mayhem in the household. Grandma is stubborn, self-centered, over dramatic, and a notorious liar.

Grandpa: Almost too much of a minor character to be listed here. He is even quieter than Jack, and is helped by the fact that he is Selectively Deaf. He likes stuffed eggs and swatting wasps.

Zero: Jack's dog. Scorned by all the rest of the family, Jack has to work hard to keep him from becoming depressed (as evidenced by his drooping ears). By the second book, Zero adds a string to his bow, much to the disgust of the other family members.

Uncle Parker: Married to Mr. Bagthorpe's sister, Aunt Celia, and father of Daisy. No one knows what, exactly, he does for a living, but it involves the stock market. He usually finishes his work for the day by ten in the morning, giving him plenty of time to drop by and interfere with the Bagthorpes' affairs. His favorite pastime is goading Mr. Bagthorpe into a towering rage.

Aunt Cilia: Writes poetry, throws pots, and faints occasionally when thing get to be too much for her. She figures in the affairs of the family mainly as a defender of Daisy, as she insists that the poetry of Daisy's soul not be stifled, even if this means letting her draw on the walls, start fires, and create floods.

Daisy: Lives with her parents, but stops by to visit the Bagthorpes often. You should have gotten a good idea of her by now, but her exploits are done out of natural 4-5 year old curiosity, not any urge to be annoying or destructive.

There are others, most notably Mrs. Fosdyke, who comes to cook and clean daily. The Bagthorpes have a lot of eccentric relatives, but you'll have to read about them on your own.

Odds and ends

The books are set in England, and are originally published in the UK. Most have also been published in America. While they are children's books, they are full of vocabulary not often encountered in children's literature; in my opinion, this makes them a good candidate to be read aloud.

There has been a children's comedy television series made off of the books, called The Bagthorpe Saga. I doubt that this is a Good Thing, but I have never seen it. The series was written by James Andrew Hall, produced by Anna Home, directed by Paul Stone, and shown in the UK on BBC1 in 1981. Apparently, in the show Jack can see into the future.

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