Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Happy Hollisters Haul Leads to My First Read in Too Many Years to Count, Plus Some Memories and Interesting Iceland Facts.

Several months ago, one of our second hand buyers brought in some Happy Hollisters books. While I guess I had spotted these at various second-hand stores and fundraiser book sales over the years, I hadn't seen quite so many in such good shape since I discovered them in the basement of my childhood friend Stuart B. This was as opposed to my Uncle Stewart, who could be distinguished from each other in many ways, but the most fascinating to me was the spelling variation. This was in the decades before ten different ways to spell most common names, and really the only other issue I'd had before this was two classmates named "Janine" and "Jeannine."

When I look back now, I realize they actually could have been new. The Happy Hollisters was developed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the same operation that came out with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Bobbsey Twins (one of many series that did not survive). It went from 1953 to 1970 and like all Stratemeyer series after the first few (thank you Wikipedia), the characters did not age and the book was written under a pseudonym, to allow for continuity

Like most Stratemeyer titles, the books were shunned by public libraries as trash. I remember my branch in Queens wouldn't carry them (I asked) and if you think about it, it's really quite interesting how different the library's mission is today. Hardy Boys are evil, comic books are evil--now most librarians are happy when a kids is reading anything.

I noticed that our copies were "book club editions" and sure enough, this series was originally distributed by Doubleday, book club style. Doubleday back when it was an independent company had a huge book club operation based in Garden City. It was sort of the A word of its day, supplying the market with incredibly cheap books printed on their own presses--many of which printed Doubleday's bookstore books as well. Who can't forget a classic Doubleday title, lighter than air?

Unlike some series, the Hollisters were based on real people, the family of the actual writer, Andrew Svenson, who wrote as Jerry West. It turns out that the Svenson Group (I'm assuming his family) acquired the rights to the books and now publishes them, though it seems to be limited to web sales only.

So of course I thought I can't write a post about the Happy Hollisters without rereading one. After a little contemplation, I decided on The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of the Midnight Trolls. What Wisconsinite doesn't love trolls? In this episode, the Hollister kids get a letter in Braille from Gram, and she invites them to stay wither her and Gramp in Canada while Mr. and Mrs. Hollister fly to Iceland to test his seaplane.

Here is what I learned in this story.

a. The world is a very small place. It turns out the little blind girl, Helga, staying with Gram and Gramp is the daughter of the inventor of the sail plane (it's sometimes called a glider, but we learn that this is not really the correct name) that Dad is testing.

b. There's nothing like a good theme or two. Iceland is a running theme in the story. We learn how Icelandic people name their families, and how the country was founded and governed. And we learn a bit about being blind, not just from Helga, but from a new neighbor back home in Shoreham. The Icelanders are very good at filigree, by the way, and this seems like a good time to mention that there's a third line of Filigree journals coming from Paperblanks, this time tinted Maya Blue. Let us know if you want to see them when they arrive at the bookstore.

c. The world is a very dangerous place. There's a lot of thievery going on. A local bully steals the Hollister letter. A strange man tries to take their package. Gram and Gramp's home is broken into. Even little Pete, gets into the act--he steals a horse. And yet the family lets five Hollister children, ranging from ages twelve down to four, take a bus by themselves to Canada. And later on, the kids trail a set of thieves with nary a scolding.

d. One of the clues in the book is an Icelandic candy wrapper called "Snaefell Stikki." I am always keen to learn about candy. I couldn't find info on this bar, but I di find the Freyju Rosa Dramur, which is apparently milk chocolate with licorice inside. Not to get your hopes up that this is like the chocolate covered red licorice I used to tout, I suspect from our friend Alex's report that this is likely black licorice, or anise flavored. Yes, if we just said it was anise, all the people who didn't like the flavor would not be tricked and would just give it to those seven or so people who enjoy it and everyone would be the happier.

For those who love Iceland, we have an Iceland-themed event this fall. Of course we do. It's Hannah Kent's,  Burial Rites and it's a historic novel based on a fascinating story in Iceland's history. I've already read it and now Jane is engrossed. Our event is Thursday, September 24, 7 pm. Filigree it up for this event. Did you notice that the book jacket for Kent's novel is the same shade of Maya blue?

e.  And one does really learn a bit about trolls, although most of the lore is learned from young Olaf (Pam's crush), who tells us they turn to stone in the daytime. But the trolls the Hollisters spot are scene in the bright of day. Sounds like another mystery. This one isn't quite so believable as the three bad guys with no weapons who keep getting tripped up by seven year olds, but it's not like this adventure was ripped from the headlines.

f. I'm still working out the genetics of the family, or if perhaps some of the kids are adopted. Three variations of blond(e), a redhead, one brunette. Is that possible? Or perhaps it's along the lines of a book that Stacie and I recently read and the characters were outside for a month, it wasn't a desert (there were several rivers and lakes) but it never rained. For some things, you just have to turn off part of your brain.

And that's the end of the story. Really! I inadvertently decided to read the very last original Hollister adventure. The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of the Midnight Trolls was #33 in the series, when they all wind up staying in Iceland and working in a filigree studio, changing their names to Pamela Johnsdottir, and riding ponies in Viking reenactments. Not really--if I'd been reading the series when it came out, I would have been primed for #34.

Just one more link, to the Happy Hollisters Facebook page. They sort of celebrate every occasion with a Happy Hollisters reference, from Mother's Day to Dance Like a Chicken Day. We have about ten different Happy Hollisters titles at the moment, including The Secret of the Lucky Coins, The Mystery of the Golden Witch (pictured), and The Mystery of the Little Mermaid. They are all priced at $4.95 and are in better condition than you'd expect.

So today I'm off to Worcester to celebrate my mom's 90th birthday in Worcester with my siblings, nieces and nephews. There was a time when were were known as the Giggling Goldins, but that's another story.

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