It will probably shock and amaze all of you to know that when I go antique shopping, I always spend time in front of the bookshelves, scanning titles. There are certain writers I’m always looking for and hardly ever find. And then there are the books that you see over and over again: Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Happy Hollisters. All of these books have one really big thing in common: the Statemeyer Syndicate. As a kid, I read both Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys but I knew absolutely nothing about the Happy Hollisters.
That is, until I wrote this post and got a comment from the grandson of Andrew Svenson aka Jerry West, author of the Happy Hollisters. It seems that these books were being republished. And unlike Nancy and the Hardy Boys, the Hollister family was based on Svenson’s own family. And unlike other pieces of the Syndicate, all of the Hollister books were written by just one person. Intrigued, I checked my library and when they came up short, I asked Mr. Svenson for a copy.
This book is adorable. First, can we talk about the illustrations? Love, love, love the attention to detail in Helen Hamilton’s illustrations. A quickish search didn’t reveal much of anything about her, which makes me kinda sad.
But on to the rest of the book! The Happy Hollisters consist of five kids, their wonderful parents and a dog named Zip. At the beginning of the book, they’re packing up to move to Shoreham, where Mr. Hollister owns The Trading Post, a combination toy and hardware store (what fun!). Along the way, the truck with all the kids’ toys and a few other important things is stolen. Throw in a secret staircase in the new house and a recurring intruder (which only freaks out this single gal a wee bit), and there’s plenty of adventures to welcome them to their new town.
There are some really wonderful scenes and moments in this book. In particular, I love the spontaneous animal parade, complete with a racoon, duck, two hamsters, a turtle and cats in doll clothes. The cats that live at my house wouldn’t stand for such treatment!
These kids also have some freedom to explore that I think is quite foreign to today’s young people. They row out to an Island. They hunt for the mysterious man in the red hat, talking to strangers along the way. They get home to dinner late, and it’s not a big deal.
Most of the characters are delightful, but I do have some issues with Joey Brill. I know he’s supposed to be the “bad kid” but man, that kid is awful! I just wish I knew why he was so terrible. I sincerely hope he isn’t based on a real person. . .
Like many Stratemeyer Syndicate books, there is a bit of a formula at work here to keep the reader turning pages. But it’s a delightful turning. These books are definitely old-fashioned, but you won’t get any complaints about that on this blog. As a kid, I would have totally gobbled this up.
But are these books kidlit history? These books have definitely shaped history. They sold 11,000,000 copies and 1 million kids joined The Happy Hollisters Book Club in the 1950s and 1960s. That’s a lot of young readers! The period details are slim in this one, but this quote about the author makes me think there are definitely elements of kidlit history here:
The Hollister family was modeled on his own family and he often used actual Svenson family events and travels as the foundation for The Happy Hollisters books. He also kept copious newspaper clippings for story ideas, and interviewed hundreds of school children and teachers for additional suggestions. These ideas were then worked into his storylines (from The Happy Hollister website)
Can you imagine being interviewed by a favorite author and then having your ideas appear in the next book? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
The Svenson family has put together a pretty great website about the reissues of these books. Book #2, The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip, is out now and Book #3, The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach, will be available on April 15. Also on the website are some great family photographs and a guest book. Be sure to check out the comments from folks that have loved these books for years–they’re thrilled to be able to share these books with their families. And that’s certainly a big part of the appeal of kidlit history–these are the books that survive and are passed down.
I might have to take a second look when I run across one of these at an antique store. . .