Friday, November 9, 2012

Bobbsey Twins; Or, Merry Days Indoors and Out (The Bobbsey Twins #1)

Bobbsey Twins; Or, Merry Days Indoors and Out (The Bobbsey Twins #1)
Laura Lee Hope
Grosset & Dunlap, 1904

Genre: Realistic Fiction, “Tot” Series


The original Bobbsey Twins book is really nothing more than chapter vignettes telling little stories from the lives of the Bobbsey Twins—eight-year-old Bert and Nan and four-year-old Freddie and Flossie. While there is a clear passing of time, most of the chapters are singular events with only minor plot continuity.

The first chapter is the twins’ making shoe box houses followed by going outside to play football and jump rope in the second chapter. On the way to school, Danny, the neighborhood bully, throws powerful snowballs at Bert. After school Bert attacks him and Danny throws a shard of ice. Bert ducks, but the ice breaks a store window. Meanwhile, Freddie and Flossie make a snow house. When Freddie attempts to give the house a window he causes an avalanche and buries himself but he is rescued by Dinah, the cook. Freddie and Flossie get to go shopping for Christmas with Mrs. Bobbsey.  Their mother decides to go looking at rugs and tells them to stay where they are. Flossie gets distracted by dolls while Freddie decides to go back to the first floor by riding the elevator. He soon sees toys and gets distracted and ends up lost. Stuck in a storeroom, Freddie awakes from a nap and it is dark. Soon a security guard finds him. Meanwhile, the town has been frantic. Freddie is alright because he has found a tiny black kitten and is allowed to keep it who he has named Snoop. The family decides to go for a ride in the country. They stop at the home of a friend of Bert's, Bob. The boys decide to drive the horse carriage to see a hockey game. On the way home from a hockey game the boys start a horse race with another young boy and Bert doesn't like it much. They win but the horse doesn't stop running. They get thrown off into the sandpit. Soon it is springtime so the twins decide to fly a kite. Unfortunately, Snoop gets stuck on it. The cat ends up on top of the barn and Bert gets a ladder from Mr. Roscoe. Danny comes along and begins throwing rocks at Snoop. Roscoe sees Danny and comments that he is a very bad boy. At school the next day, Danny confronts Bert complaining that he told about the broken window. Bert denies it. It turns out that Mr. Roscoe had seen Danny break the window but didn't know who he was and after recognizing him the other day finally turned him in. In the end the Bobbsey’s plan their trip to visit their aunt and uncle in Meadow Brook which is a story that would be told in the Bobbsey Twins in the Country.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The original 1904 edition of the Bobbsey Twins is much different from the 1950s revisions that most people grew up with. The original is actually longer (22 chapters compared to 18 and some 50 pages longer) than the revision and, quite frankly, a bit more boring. While the mystery series of the 1930s hit it big and the revision focused on the twins’ solving mysteries like their other series book pals (Nancy, the Hardys, etc.) the original was very much the originator of the “tot” form of series books—those that feature not teenagers but much younger children. It also reflects the time it was written in because it is a very family-orientated story and many books from the early 1900s focused around the home.

This book, because of its time period, is full of such awesomeness!

First, there is the issue of gender. Older twins, Bert and Nan, are described as having a dark complexion, brown hair and eyes, and Bert's voice is stronger than Nan's (for some reason that is an important character trait to mention!). Freddie and Flossie are described as “short and stout” – round, fair, and blue-eyed. Papa calls Flossie his “fat fairy” and Freddie his “fat fireman.” The whole family lives in the large town of Lakeport. Mr. Bobbsey, Richard, is a lumber merchant. Readers finally learn on page 133 that Mrs. Bobbsey's first name is Mary (how typical).

Early on (page 8!) there is an interesting gendered conversation that occurs when Dinah asks if Freddie if he is going to grow up to be fireman. Bert says he is going to grow up to be a soldier. Nan says, “I shouldn't want to be a soldier and kill folks.” Freddie replies with, “Girls can't be soldiers. They have to get married, or be dressmakers, or sten'graphers, or something like that” (stenographers). Good thing to know that these old books were teaching poor girls that they had no decisions in life for what they wanted to be—it’s either typist, wife, or mother.

Next comes what I call the infamous jump rope scene. It is too hilarious. Mrs. Bobbsey sends the kids outside to play. All the neighborhood boys play football while the girls skip rope. Nan jumps rope with Grace Lavine. Grace reaches 40 jumps when her mother calls out to her, “Grace, don't jump so much. You'll get sick.” Grace is described as “headstrong” and a girl who always wants her own way. She doesn't care if jump roping gives her a headache. Grace decides she's going to try to reach 100 jumps and at 97 she falls down “in a heap.” She is white as a sheet and has fainted dead away. The girls think she is dead and Mr. Bobbsey is fetched to call for a doctor. What follows is the best line of narration ever:

“Mr. Bobbsey was startled and with good reason, for he had heard of more than one little girl dying from too much jumping” (p. 14).

Jump rope can KILL you! That is the most important message learned from the first Bobbsey Twin book. The only remote medical explanation given is from Danny who says, “Rope jumping brings on heart disease” (p. 16). This is his reply to another girl who says that jumping rope is just as physically demanding as football. Clearly football, a sport for boys, is safe and jump roping, a girls’ hobby, is not. Clearly, girls should avoid strenuous activity.

Nan gets scolded for turning the rope for Grace when her mother told her not to jump. After the doctor comes it says, “Grace was resting quietly in an easy chair and the doctor had ordered that she be kept quiet for several days. She was very much frightened and had told her parents that she would never jump rope again” (p. 19). Later in chapter 16 the twins attend a party at Grace’s house and readers learn of her eventual fate: it was “now quite certain that when her mom told her to do a thing or to leave it alone it was always for her own good” (p. 127).

Other examples of gendered messages occur when walking home from church one day, the boys start a snowball fight while the girls act more dignified and wash each other's faces with fresh snow. When Bert has trouble sleeping because of his guilt at the broken window that Danny broke, he thinks he sees a white figure in his bedroom. He decides that he could call out to Nan but she might “call him a 'fraid cat—something he despised” (p. 38). Later on, when Nan admits to seeing Bert’s “ghost” she admits to being nervous but says that she tried to poke it with an umbrella. Bert laughs at her foolishness but Mr. Bobbsey, in an unprecedented way of standing up for girls, says, “It was more than you tried to do” (p. 154).

Gender is expressed in the tales of shopping. During the first trip to the mall, Freddie has $.25 and so does Flossie and they both want to pool their money to buy something for their mother. Flossie suggests a doll and Freddie suggests a car. However, Nan says that they should get her cologne and a handkerchief (p. 71)—more appropriate gifts for a woman and very gendered. Later when asked what they want for Christmas, Freddie wants a fire truck, a railroad track, blocks and picture books. Flossy wants dolls and clothes, the red trunk, slippers, and card games. Nan just wants a set of furs. Bert wants some books, games, a pocket knife, a wagon, and money (p. 115). The children all pool their money to buy presents for their mother, father, and Dinah and Sam. Mr. Bobbsey receives a cravat, Mrs. Bobbsey gets some flowers, Dinah gets an apron, and Sam get some gloves (p. 115).

Lastly, a few other instances include a story of one night before Christmas when the children are alone and decide to bake some cakes. The narration reads, “It was Burt who spoke about cake making first. Queer that a bully should think of it, wasn't it? But Burt was very fond of cake, and did quite some grumbling when none was to be had” (p. 106). In another story, with the latest snowfall the lake is iced over and everyone enjoys skating on it. Bert is a better skater than Nan. However, Bert would like to learn some fancy moves. Nan says that skating is like dancing, but Burt says it is actually better because he “did not care for dancing at all” (p. 67). Finally, when Freddie gets lost in the mall and Mrs. Bobbsey can’t find him we see a line of narration that describes how incompetent women must be just because they are women. Even though she’s supposed to be the one in charge of the household and the children she can’t even handle losing a child in a public place. The chapter ends with, “Almost frantic with fear, Mrs. Bobbsey telephone to her husband, telling him of what had occurred and asked him what had best be done” (p. 78). Clearly, losing her child has caused her brain to fry and she can’t think logically about what she should do.

The other important thing about this original Bobbsey Twins book is the fact that is it extremely racist. Dinah and Sam are the two main African-American characters in the story. Dinah is the family’s cook. She speaks in horrid vernacular and dialect: “Well, I declar' to gracious! If yo' chillum ain't gone an' mussed up de floah ag'in” (p. 6). (“Floah” in this case being “flour”.) When readers are introduced to Sam, he is described as the “man of all work.” He and Dinah live in “pleasant rooms” above the stable (p. 21). One of the few illustrations in the book (done in nice glossy format) depicts the scene of Dinah rescuing Freddie from his caved in snow house. She is drawn in a horribly racist way. One might confuse her for Aunt Jemima—she's wearing a dotted dress, a headscarf, and apron, and is depicted as having a very large nose and puffy lips.

The last form of racism is expressed in Flossie’s doll obsession. Flossie loves dolls. She has five of them, one good, one okay, two that are missing parts, and one called “Jujube, a colored boy, dressed in a fiery suit of red, with a blue cap and real rubber boots. This doll had come from Sam and Dinah and had been much admired at first but was now taken out only when all the others went too” (p. 57). When Flossie has friends over, she tells them, “He doesn't really belong to the [doll] family, you know. But I have to keep him, for Mama says, there is no colored orphan asylum for dolls. Besides I don't think Sam and Dinah would like to see their doll child in an asylum” (p. 57). Lastly, the poor Jujube’s home is described as: “The dolls were all kept in a row in a big bureau drawer at the top of the house, but Flossie always took pains to separate Jujube from the rest by placing the cover of the pasteboard box between them” (p. 57).

The New Girl (Fear Street #1)

The New Girl (Fear Street #1)
R.L. Stine
Archway, 1989

Genre: Horror


Corey is your average all-American boy at Shadyside High. He's on the varsity gymnastics team, is a daredevil and a goofball, and pretty popular. However, his life suddenly changes when he sees the new girl, Anna. Soon Anna is all Corey can think about. His best friend, Lisa, isn't all that impressed with Anna and thinks that Corey is becoming more and more obsessed with her. Of course, this could just be her reaction to the fact that she has been in love with Corey for years and he's been completely oblivious.

Corey usually isn't shy so he tries his best to get a hold of Anna and get to know her better. However, getting close to Anna is revealing more secrets than anything. The first time he tries to call her and go visit her at her house on Fear Street he is told both times that Anna is dead. But this can't be the case because she's walking around looking perfectly healthy. Corey even attempts to find out information about Anna by accessing her school records since he has a clerical job in the school office. What he finds though is that she doesn't even have a file.

One night he receives a call from Anna who is terrified and asking for his help. He drives to her house and she tells him about her brother, Brad, who is dangerous and very possessive. Meanwhile, Lisa has been doing some research on her own and has found out that Anna is supposedly dead and has newspaper clippings to prove it. Conflicted in his feelings towards Anna, he accepts Lisa's invitation to the school dance. Shortly thereafter Lisa starts getting threatening notes and phone calls that she is sure are from Anna.

At the dance they get into an argument over Anna and Lisa storms off only to be pushed down a flight of stairs by Brad who runs away mumbling about how he's made a terrible mistake. Corey takes Lisa back home and promises to go and confront Anna and then go to the police. Anna tells Corey the horrible story about Brad. He fell in love with a girl named Emily but she died in a plane crash and he's never been the same since. Shortly thereafter he started calling their other sister Willa Emily and saying that Willa was the dead one. One day Anna came home to find Willa dead at the bottom of the basement stairs. Brad appeared to get better but soon started calling Anna Willa and she fears for her life.

He goes to Anna's house that night and sees her arguing with Brad. He intervenes, knocking Brad unconscious and Anna, grabbing a letter opener, attempts to attack Corey. He fights her off until Brad regains consciousness and they both subdue her. Brad explains that he'd just been trying to scare Corey away from her because she is not Anna. She is actually Willa who killed Anna in a jealous rage because Anna was the sibling that had it all.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

R.L. Stine's Fear Street series began publication in 1989 and ran for 45 books, not counting the various trilogies, subseries, super chillers, and extra books. Fear Street truly set the ball rolling for the horror genre in teen literature. It was soon followed by the popularity of other authors, such as Christopher Pike and the horror books of Caroline Cooney, along with many other knockoff series that were trying to latch on to the popularity of Fear Street, such as Scholastic's Point Horror and Diane Hoh's Nightmare Hall.

I remember being in fifth or sixth grade when I was first introduced to the series. One of my friends, Taryn, brought the first book in the cheerleader trilogy to school one day and everyone went crazy over it. There appeared to be some kind of aura of naughtiness about reading a horror book that many of us could tell our parents weren't too thrilled about. Luckily for me, I had a grandmother who firmly believed in never denying a child the book and she would buy me whatever books I wanted regardless of their “appropriateness” for my age. (For example, while my friends were being introduced to Fear Street I actually was already reading the horror of Edgar Allan Poe.) My grandmother quickly went out and got me the cheerleader trilogy at our local independent bookstore, The Little Professor, and quickly got me the rest of the books in the series.

At the time I remember some of them being kind of scary but I was more entertained at finding grammatical errors in the books. When I began my research, I knew I was going to have to get the Fear Street books. The funny thing is that I really thought there were more books than there are in the series.  I acquired most of them in an eBay auction that was $35 for 45 books. It was only missing a few of the core titles and a few of the spin-off books. At the time, I thought it was a good deal for a big chunk of the series. I didn’t realize until I was writing down the books I received that it actually was most of the series!

The things that stuck me the most about this book were gendered comments. It was interesting that, while in most horror forms, the “victim” of this first entry in the series wasn’t a helpless girl but a boy and the threat came from a girl. This was an interesting role reversal. I also liked that Corey was presented as a gymnast. Boys are supposed to be sporty and athletic but male gymnasts seem to get the most teasing among all the different types of sports one can participate in because it is seen as more of a girls’ sport. However, Corey is still presented as being popular and good at his sport.

There are gendered descriptions of characters throughout the text. Anna is the blonde that is perfect and more sexualized than the other main girl, Lisa. When Corey first sees Anna he says, “She was so pale, so blonde, so light, so beautiful, at first she thought he was imagining her.” When he starts receiving threatening phone calls he decides to think about Anna instead and “Those clear blue eyes as bright as a doll’s, the dramatically red lips on a pale ivory skin.” When he receives a phone call from Anna begging for his help, he describes her voice as sounding frightened but “her tiny, breathy voice also made her sound very sexy.” As his relationship with her grows and he gets more and more confused about the truth he laments that “He felt angry at himself for becoming involved with her and her sick, crazy brother. He also felt sorry for her. And he was frightened for her. And . . . and . . . he was still terribly attracted to her, to her old-fashioned prettiness, to her teasing sexiness, to her . . . differentness.”

Lisa, Corey’s best friend forever and the girl next door (they are always the nice ones, not the sexy ones—the girls that the boys’ moms want them to marry but not the ones the boys are actually interested in), is described early on as having “dark good looks, long black hair, and black almond shaped eyes.” Lisa has clearly had a crush on Corey for a long time and has tried to show hints that he is just oblivious to, such as holding his arm, asking him out, being upset about his interest in the new girl. One night, shortly after seeing Anna for the first time, Corey is trying to hang out with Lisa, who is still trying to make the moves on him by sitting close to him, touching their knees together, and playing with his hair, but Corey is all about Anna so Lisa kicks him out. After he begins to doubt his interest in Anna because she’s just too confusing, he finally notices Lisa in a new light: “She laughed again and she dragged him toward the den. He liked her laugh, he decided. It came from so deep in her throat. It was a sexy laugh. She looked cute, he thought. She was wearing faded cutoff jeans and an old Shadyside high sweatshirt with the collar ripped and frayed. She pulled harder, and he bumped into her. Her hair smelled of coconut. She must have shampooed it earlier. He inhaled deeply. He loved that smell.”

Surprisingly, for a book that is supposed to be scary there really isn’t much violence or details. There is history given of Fear Street and scary and violent deaths people met on the street but the details are sparse. Most of the “horror” of the novel is really a long standing building suspense—is Anna dead or what? Even the few acts of extreme violence, Lisa being pushed down the stairs and Anna attacking Corey with a letter opener, aren’t given many details. It literally is a sentence or two like, “Anna attacked him with a letter opener.” The most “violent” scene is when Lisa is first threatened by Anna. As Lisa and Corey are stopping by her locker after school, she opens it to find a scary sight: “A dead cat flopped out of her locker and dropped on her white sneakers. The locker was splattered with blood. The cat’s stomach had been split open.” Attached to the dead cat’s throat was a note written on white paper that said, “Lisa you're dead too.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A New Beginning!

My blog, In All Series-ousness, was originally created for my Materials for Tweens class. I loved the format of it and didn't really want to redesign a new blog for my thesis research, so I decided to incorporate the old version into my new professional blog.

So a lot of the older entries you'll see are book reviews aimed at tween books (9-13) that I read for the final blog project of my Materials for Tweens class. You will also see a lot of teen books popping up soon too because, once again, I don't want to create another blog for my current Materials for YA class either so I just will post them to this blog. The other big purpose of this blog will be highlighting the series books I read for my thesis, “A Socioeconomic and Political History of America as Seen Through the Pages of Youth Series Fiction, 1899 to the Present Day.”

Therefore, since there technically are at least three purposes to this blog—tween books, teen books, and series books—you might notice that the elements for the blog posts different and this is due in part to the requirements of the classes and professors themselves. You can find certain books by searching the labels if you so need too. These include genre labels, format labels, and other labels like Tween, YA, Series (New) and Series (Vintage).

Since I am a Young Adult Librarian, I will also try to blog about certain aspects of my work that others might find interesting and educational. For example, my teens are starting a Media Club this year and they want to help me make more Dinosaur Book Trailers so when we start making videos I will post links here to them and talk about other exciting news!

Until then, please bear with me on the multiple uses of this blog now that it is changing from a project for my Materials to Tweens class to a multi-use blog. I hope to start getting into updating it frequently so that it is exciting, entertaining, and enlightening to others.