Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Lizzie Newton Victorian Mysteries, Volume 2
Hey-Jin Jeon (story) & Kiha Lee (art)
Seven Seas, 2012/2013
978-1935934806 / 978-1937867089
Genre: Graphic Novels, Mysteries
Description: Set in 1864 London (while Sherlock Holmes himself is just a young boy), Elizabeth “Lizzie” Newton leads a bit of a strange life for a young girl (she’s about 19-22 ish). Unbeknownst to society, she is author “Logica Docens” the supposedly male author of the very popular serial in Gentlemen’s Own called McMorning, Private Tutor and Sleuth, a short story series (similar to Sherlock Holmes) about a private tutor (who I think is a girl—it’s not really clear) who solves mysteries that the police fail to crack. Her stories are so successful because of Lizzie’s own deductive skills. Lizzie also loves books (she spends way too much money in used bookstores) and she extends on her late father’s own prize library. She also likes to conduct chemical experiments because they help in her writing. However, everyone around her thinks she should act more like a lady and settle down and marry her long-term fiancé, Edwin White. White was adopted as a young child by Lizzie’s father and molded into his son-he-never-had. White grew up to be a successful lawyer who earned the nickname of “The White Devil of the Courtroom.” Once Lizzie’s father died, he agreed to leave his job behind instead acting as Lizzie’s steward (a much lower class role) to be closer to her. The series revolves around Lizzie and Edward as they try to solve mysteries and how Lizzie is constantly thwarted due to many of the other characters’ (especially the males) sexist attitudes toward her. Chief amongst the supporting characters are Charles Gray, the most competent policeman (who Lizzie tends to foil in his mystery solving skills), and Andrew Kenneth, Lizzie’s publisher at Gentlemen’s Own who despises all women. In the first volume, Lizzie takes on the classic “locked room” mystery when an important political person supposedly commits suicide. In the second volume, Andrew finds a rare book with a coded message and he and Lizzie make a bet—if she can’t solve the code in less than 24 hours he will get five volumes of his choice from her father’s library but if she solves the code she will get his newly acquired autographed Victor Hugo book. The code leads to an important clue to an old mystery shrouded in Elizabethan history.
Opinion: Known as Lady Detective in Korea, this manhwa is a fun new series. Sadly, I can’t tell if there will be more than two volumes. Grrr. I was automatically drawn to this series because (a) it is a mystery manhwa, (b) it is set in Victorian times, and (c) since it occurs before Sherlock Holmes’ time there are a lot of cute references to it that literary readers will catch on to. For example, Inspector Lestrade appears as an officer working alongside Inspector Gray. Since Lestrade is kind of presented in the Holmes stories as an inept investigator he is drawn in this series as a LEGO person (complete with LEGO hands too!). He is rather comical. In the second volume, Professor Moriarty makes an appearance as a student and is usually called James. The stories are really good mysteries that are pretty clean for younger fans. There is a moment in the first volume when Lizzie touches the bullet wound on the victim’s head but the reactions of the police help distract readers from the rather gruesome act (she is doing it to help prove something though—not just out of gross curiosity). One of the awesome aspects of the series is the references not only to the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes but also to the real world. When they mention real world events (especially in the mystery of the second volume) the art includes actual images from history which help ground the events in real time too. Lizzie is a strong female character who doesn’t let society get in the way of her dreams to become a detective. An interesting thing in volume two is the inclusion of a real McMorning, Private Tutor and Sleuth story “Stepmother’s Curse”. It is here that I realized that the main character of the stories appears to be a girl. Readers may or may not enjoy this text story as it does follow the conventions of Victorian writing. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes you’d probably enjoy reading it. I think, overall, it adds to the value of the story. My only complaint is that throughout the books there are a lot of side comments (things characters say that aren’t in the speech balloons) that are actually important to the plot but are written so tiny that you can easily overlook them especially if, say, your hand was blocking the text. A lot of really comical elements appear in these tiny comments so I advise readers to make sure they are looking for these lines as they are reading. Overall, an excellent mystery graphic novel series for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, anything Victorian, and Case Closed.
Kitchen Princess Omnibus 2
Kitchen Princess Omnibus 3
Natumi Ando (art) and Miyuki Kobayashi (story)
Kodansha Comics, 2012/2013
978-1935429456 / 978-1612620640
Genre: Graphic Novels, Realistic, Romance, School Story
Description: Volume 2 opens with Najika questioning whether or not Sora or Daichi could be her Flan Prince, the boy who saved her as a young child from drowning and then, to calm her down, shared his flan with her. He left behind a Seika Academy spoon which lead to Najika striving to be the best cook she could be and attending the school in hopes of finding her prince. In this volume she faces an evil classmate who tries to use her father’s connections on the school board to close the diner on campus that Najika works at, Najika returns to Lavender House when she hears that Hagio-sensei is ill, she faces Akane’s jealousy again when Daichi appears interested in Najika and buys her a new watch which Akane steals causing Daichi to be mad at Najika, Daichi kissing Najika, and a Kitchen Princess special involving a ghostly girl who cooks for her love to help him move on. In the third omnibus, Najika has to deal with the fact that Daichi seems to like her while she’s in love with Sora who she is certain is her Flan Prince. Najika finds out that Sora and his father, the director of Seika Academy, are in cohoots together (Sora against his will) to make Najika the sob story of publicity for the Academy which she wants none of. The director forces her to participate in a national dessert contest and if she fails she’ll be forced to leave the school. Unfortunately, right before the final stage of the competition, Sora is involved in an accident and HUGE SPOILER HERE actually dies. Losing her sense of taste from shock, Najika barely finishes the competition and, while she ranked high, she doesn’t win. Daichi, because he loves Najika, makes a deal with his estranged father—he will fill Sora’s footsteps and be the director’s heir as long as he lets Najika remain at the school. While Najika is happy she has to deal with classmates that think Sora’s death is her fault and a new student—Seiya—is nothing is not annoying as he is called in to take Najika’s place as the spokesperson for the Academy. Seiya is arrogant and bossy and, unfortunately, looks like Sora’s identical twin. Things get more complicated in their “hate at first sight” relationship as they are constantly pitted against each other in cooking competitions and Sora’s last message before dying to Najika—“it was someone else who saved you”—begins to point to Seiya as her Flan Prince.
Opinion: Volume 2 collects the original volumes three and four while Volume 3 collects the original volumes five, six, and seven. I really like this series! Looks like Volume 4 of the omnibus editions will be the final if it includes volumes eight, nine, and ten (as the series was just ten volumes). I still keep forgetting that Najika is only 12/13 years old! She seems so mature but that might be because she grew up as the responsible one in her orphanage. The most shocking element of the series was in volume six when Sora dies from complications of getting hit by a car. The authors mention in side notes that when this happened they had enraged fans going, “How could you kill Sora? Why? I hate you!” However, they mention that this decision was made long before when the manga was first plotted out. This makes it a very interesting twist to traditional shojo manga which is all about the romance. Very rarely do we see such a dramatic plot element as a main character dying. It puts a whole spin on everything—readers are 100% sure that Sora is the Flan Prince and only to find out that Sora and Najika’s love will be cut short by an accident and that Sora wasn’t the one who saved her is shocking! I totally didn’t see it coming. Clearly, Seiya is her Flan Prince (unless we find out Daichi was blonde when he was young!) so it will be interesting to read the final volume and see how it ends as these two are bitter enemies and rivals. I highly recommend this series to all manga readers (including young ones even with Sora’s death which is handled in a very respectful manner). My only word of warning to libraries—with Volume 3 and (potentially) Volume 4 combining three volumes of the series these books are nearly 600 pages long which puts some major stress on the flimsy binding. Thus, not only is it rather hard to hold and read for the first and the last half of the book for libraries where it will circulate a lot you might need replacement volumes.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Banner Campfire Girls at the White House (Banner Campfire Girls #3)
World Publishing, 1935
*Note on image: While this is clearly not at the White House, I wanted to try and get the dust jacket image I have on my copy. This is the generic image of the edition I have, just swap the title out. : )
Genre: Realistic, Mystery
The Banner Campfire girls consist of five girls: Mabel Chapman, Lenore Rivers, Dolores Rodriguez, Alice Blake, and Anita Brooks. Number three in this series, The Banner Campfire Girls at the White House, opens on the last day of school with the five girls bopping kids over on the backs with their schoolbooks. Alice unfortunately ends up bopping a handsome stranger on accident. Later that night the girls meet at Holly House where their troop leader, Mrs. Florence Evans, has a surprise for them. It turns out they have a guest, a Mr. George Thompson, who happens to be the handsome stranger that Alice bopped! It turns out that George has a mission for the Campfire girls as he is the personal representative of the president of the United States. He is to bring the girls to the White House on a secret assignment of which they have been chosen due to their wonderful prior commitment to the mission of the Campfire movement. The girls spend the rest of the night quickly packing and arrive early the next morning at the airport.
As the girls spend some time catching up on their sleep, George receives a message from the president about how the Robinson people are trying to stop the passage of the Coe bill. This bill would have been passed already except for the political pressure put on it by the Robinson Syndicate. The bill would have “materially raised the standards of living among the poor class of people” (p. 51). Once the girls arrive in Washington, they wait for the car that will take them to the White House and learn about their mission and the importance of secrecy. Their cover story is that they were invited as guests to the White House as a reward for some Campfire work they've done. The girls are shown to their rooms, get washed up and dressed, and have dinner with the President and the First Lady.
The next morning the girls are shown the office where they will begin working. They spend the morning making program plans for fellow Campfire girls throughout the United States. Essentially, the girls’ mission is to get other Campfire girls across the nation to spread awareness of the importance of passing this bill that would allow them to “teach less fortunate girls of their age and appreciation of the better things in life” (p. 84). Later that night, George has procured seven tickets to the best show in town. It is a show that actually satires the entire Washington government. What the Campfire girls don't know is that in a small nearby field a plane has landed with five men in it who are briefed that the girls are “leaving the hotel now” and soon thereafter the girls do not notice the small dark car that is following them to the theater. After the show they decide to stop for some ice cream when they hear the roar of a car. Luckily, George shouts a warning and the chauffeur's quick reaction avoids the car from slamming into a big statue in Lincoln Park. Telling the girls that it is just an accident, George takes them to get their ice cream but sneaks away to make a phone call to the president to report what just happened.
June, July, and August pass while the girls continue their work at the White House. Senators and congressmen have been getting reports that the Robinson lobby is starting to lose ground and influence. However, the girls still continue to double their efforts. Everyone assumes that the bill will pass, but Robinson himself will not admit defeat. He decides to take his only weapon left, money, and visits the girls at the White House. There he offers to pay them whatever price they want to stop doing their work against him. Mabel, in polite late 1930s speak for a girl, tells Robinson where he can shove his money. George finally comes clean and tells them about the car accident and how it really wasn't an accident. The bill is going before the House of Representatives the next day so he is going to announce everything about their involvement the press. He also informs the girls that if the law passes it will officially be named after them. The next day he takes the girls to see the passing of the bill which easily moves on to the Senate where it passes again and the girls see the president sign it into law.
School will be starting the next month (September) but since the girls have been busy working the president invites them to stay in the White House for the rest of the month as tourists. One evening when the girls return from a gala at the Russian Embassy they hear that the president needs to see them as soon as possible. It turns out that a few gangsters remain on Robinson's payroll and as a servant was cleaning the girls’ rooms that night she discovered men hiding under the beds. There were a total of three men there but one of them escaped. Thinking about the incident overnight, Alice devises a plan. She wants the president to go on his annual vacation one month early and leave the girls alone in the White House under the assumption that the man who escaped will try to make another attempt to get the girls.
The girls spend two uneventful weeks cooped up in the White House were Mrs. Evans fears for their psychological development because of the effects of confinement. She suggests using their “handicraft” skills to make a symbol that represents the Campfire girls to present to the president and his wife. While the girls decide to go shopping in town for supplies, Anita and Lenore volunteer to stay behind. Lenore decides to spend some time painting while Anita decides take photographs of the gardens around the White House. When everyone returns Anita finds her photos confiscated because no one is allowed to take photos of the White House and a few hours later they are informed that her photos happened to catch the arm of a man hiding in a nearby bush—the man who happens to be the gangster who escaped. They find him and he is promptly arrested.
Now the interesting thing is that it appears that all the Campfire Girls books in this series were actually two separate stories combined into one novel. At this point, the second story, “The Secret Mission”, begins.
It is now October and the girls are back at Holly House busy doing homework. A number of students have been missing school lately due to a really bad influenza outbreak. When Anita arrives home that night she finds out that school has officially been closed because of the flu. Mrs. Evans begins calling all the girls to inform them that their good friend, George, is coming back into town and she wants the Campfire girls to plan a party for him. Anita, while excited, is sure that there is some purpose to his visit. She finds out on the radio later that night that Vincenzo Maricopa, public enemy number one, has escaped from jail. After George's party he talks to the girls and admits that because the girls did such a good job in the White House during the last visit the government is seeking their help again with this escaped con. This man is very, very clever and knows all the secrets of the G-men. They want the girls to attempt to locate him and they will do the rest. The girls leave town immediately under the pretense of escaping the flu.
The girls land in Boise where they discover the gangster supposedly has a secret location in a confectionery shop. The girls pose as the six Fenton sisters who are from Chicago and down on their luck. The old man in a candy store tells them that he has some apartments upstairs and that they can talk to his son-in-law about getting a job at the nearby factory. All the clues seem to be lining up to suggest that the son-in-law, who likes to stir up riots in the labor movement, is the gangster they are looking for. To make their stories seem realistic they go to the nearby furniture shop and buy some furniture to be shipped to their rooms above the candy store. Unbeknownst to them, when the furniture is delivered they do not see a mysterious man hop out of the truck and go into the building. They also fail to hear downstairs in the store the sounds of yelling and of the old man being beaten nearly to death. When the movers finally leave everyone hears a door slam downstairs and glass break. They happen to see a shadowy figure ran into the alleyway and soon discover the old man. The old man tells the ladies that his son-in-law killed his daughter and has beaten him in the past. His son-in-law, Vincent Martin, was mad that he rented the rooms and the old man admits to hiding him from the police but says that Vincent said he's going to be headed to Honolulu. Knowing that they are now on the trail of their gangster since Vincent Martin was one of Maricopa’s aliases, Mrs. Evans realizes that someone must've overheard them talking and tipped him off to their presence. They suspect their cabdriver and fear something happening to them. Evans jabs her lipstick into the drivers back, pretending to be a gun, and commands him to stop and they are shortly rescued by some of the G-men who have been tailing them. Vincent is going to be going to Honolulu and there is only one boat from San Francisco that can get him there so the girls must quickly board a train to make sure that they are also on the boat.
At the San Francisco terminal the girls are picked up by two men from the government who found out that Vincent is hiding in Chinatown disguised as a Chinaman. The girls are to go see one of their informants, Wah Lee, the man who knows everything there is to know about Chinatown. The girls visit him and are directed to the gambling establishment of his friend, Ah Sing. A young Chinese girl who speaks in a “confusing mixture of Chinese and pidgin English” (p. 213), Chao Nan, takes them to Ah Sing. Turns out, Chao Nan is a friend of Mrs. Evans. She happens to be a Campfire Guardian from China. At the gambling house, one man asks the girls if they want to see a special game being played. He takes them upstairs to a room and locks them inside with him. They attacked him with a chair and flee out a partially hidden door which unfortunately leads to another locked door. He follows them in but the girls ambush him and end up locking him in the hallway. In the main room they set up a trap to get him. Mabel whacks him with a chair pretty hard and they discover that the man is Vincent in disguise. A huge fight ensues and the room nearly catches fire. Luckily, the window breaks and the girls yell their code word and eventually the G-men show up.
Later on back at their comfy hotel room, the girls see George and bombard him with questions. Vincent is in the hospital and will face murder charges among many other things. They all head back to Washington and make a side trip to George's house to visit his wife. Back in Oakdale they end up having a surprise party inviting the girls back to town. There is a very odd little side story about a famous musician that Mr. Evans has hired to play at the party. This man, Mr. West, and had some legal troubles with some contracts and hired Mr. Evans as his lawyer. One of the men that he had upset, a Mr. John Hart, had threatened to kill him. After the party, West disappears and Evans goes to search for him. In between two cars in the parking lot he finds a bloody handkerchief and eventually finds Mr. West slumped over in the garage. A doctor comes and examines him and says that he's just a very deep sleep. Dolores finally wakes him up by splashing water in his face. Mr. West says that the red bloodstain was actually from some gargle that he uses to help train his voice and that he must just be very, very tired. Later on the girls receive a letter from George that informs them that the original thief from the White House who was arrested actually escaped again and, as it turns out, he is Vincent. He will now face even more charges and the girls will receive certificates of valor and merit for all their hard work.
Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research
In researching the Banner Campfire Girls I have come across conflicting information about how many books are actually in the series. According to the dust jackets of my edition of this book there were supposedly four books in this series. However, it appears that there may have been as many as six to eight books are that later on they were possibly combined as two stories in one to make four books. Or it could be the other way around and they were actually two stories in one and later on were broken up in later editions of six to eight books. My overall impression of this Campfire Girl series, as there are many, many, many Campfire and Girl Scout related series books, is that if it were the 1930s and I was a girl forced to go and be a Campfire Girl I would want to be part of this Oakdale group. The fact that it is 1932 and the president of the United States, who at this time would've been Herbert Hoover, is actually asking for the help of some 16-year-old girls is an astonishing plot point for the time in which the book was written. Most of the Campfire Girls books did actually focus on Campfire activities and were meant to express the mission and values of the actual organization. Of course, a few of them ended up going the way of the mystery series and clearly the Banner Campfire Girls is part of that group. However, what I find most astonishing is the fact that instead of presenting a message that girls are only good for cooking and cleaning and growing up to be a wife and a mother here we have five young girls who are actually, though unrealistically, really doing something with their young lives besides sitting around sewing and playing with dolls. I have been able to locate another copy of a book from the series which happens to have what appears to be the first story of them at Holly House and the story of them flying all over the country. Once again, these sound like excellent plots showcasing very strong female characters for girls to look up to in the 1930s.
On one historical side note, Hoover's wife, Lou Henry Hoover, was indeed the National President of the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1922 to 1925. She served as president again after she left the White House from 1935 to 1937. So while the timing doesn't quite equal real-life, Mrs. Hoover is probably the inspiration for the president's wife in the story.
The first thing that strikes me most about the books is the banter that occurs between the characters—the girls among themselves, George among the girls, and even Mr. and Mrs. Evans. The banter between the girls can seem cruel at times and typically has to do with the girls’ physical characteristics. While the stereotyped character of the “tubby” sidekick is often played out in series books (especially prior to the 1960s), it is usually a boy sidekick. The first thing that caught my eye with the Banner girls is that poor Mabel is constantly referred to as being the plump girl who can eat like an entire city that was starved for a year.
In general, the girls are briefly described in the beginning. Mabel is running and the narration reads “because of her excess weight was still panting from the exertion of running” while Lenore is called the “red-haired madcap” and Dolores is “taller than the rest with dancing, dark eyes that belied her dignified carriage”. Anita is just called “merry little Anita” while Alice is described as having bobbed, golden hair which is a perfect setting for her “small, delicately chiseled features” (p. 13-14). We learn early on that the five girls are part of the 20-member Wa-Wan-Da Camp fire group of Oakdale of which “young and pretty” Florence Evans was Guardian. Readers are told that “the girls have gone through many exciting adventures together in connection with their Campfire work, their most recent escapade taking place at Holly House where they discovered a secret tunnel and a pirate chest. Holly House, where all Campfire meetings were now held, had been given to the girls during the past winter as a token of esteem from the town of Oakdale for turning over to charity a reward given the Campfire Girls by the United States government for the apprehension of a smuggler” (p. 15-16).
When the girls met George, they all tell him various nicknames he can give each girl if he so chooses. Lenore says he can call Mabel “Mabel, Fat, of course, or Tubby.” Mabel says he should call Lenore “Red” while Alice says “lanky or Slats” would fit Dolores. Dolores tells him Alice should be called “Darling or Angel” and it seems no one cares to give poor Anita a nickname as she is left out (p. 46-47). There was a minor accident that ended up with Anita falling into George’s lap and she says, “Well he ought to be glad that it was me at least, instead of Mabel. If she had landed on you, Georgie, even your own mother wouldn't have been able to identify you” (p. 47).
Toward the end of the case when the girls’ efforts are covered in the news, each girl comments on what the papers said about her: “Laughing and teasing one another over the amount of publicity each had received, the girls merrily accuse each other of having obtained more mention than the rest combined.” The passage reads (p. 107-108):
“Delores must've paid the reporter for this,” announced Mabel, pointing to her paper, “he calls her the captivating, the beautiful Miss Rodriguez. I always heard you can never believe anything you read in the newspapers and now I know it.”
“You’re absolutely right, you can't,” agreed Dolores, “the ignoramus that wrote this calls you the sweet tempered and lovable Mabel Chapman. Of all the drivel I have ever read, that's the worst. That reporter must be deaf, dumb and blind as well as crazy.”
“Look,” giggled Lenore, “it says here I'm the Titan haired, statuesque Lenore Rivers. I'll have to look that up when I get home. Maybe that reporter has a punch in the eye coming to him. And Alice, according to this, is the demure, blue-eyed blonde whose ceaseless efforts spurred her comrades on to victory. Such a fibbing!”
“This paper calls Anita the trim and efficient Miss Brooks,” tittered Alice. “I guess that's because she must've trimmed the reporter pretty efficiently.”
“And I'm the young, charming, strategic and courageous source of constant loyalty and inspiration,” laughed Mrs. Evans, reading her paper.
But shocking most of all is the treatment given throughout to Mabel’s weight. On page 27 when the girls are invited to Washington with all expenses paid, Lenore says, “If the government is going to pay Mabel's food bill the national debt will be materially increased. You'd better wire the hotel to lay in an extra supply of groceries. You don't know the girl’s capacity. Once you get started, there's no stopping her.” On page 35, in response to some playful ribbing from Mabel Anita lightly punches “Mabel's well padded ribs.”
When the girls get on the plane to head to Washington they didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast before heading out and Mabel and Captain Martin (who is flying the plane) have this conversation (p. 56):
“When do we eat? I'm so hungry I could eat this plane! Hasn't anyone got a few sandwiches or something in their pockets? I'll even settle for one sandwich and a piece of cake.”
“Perhaps I can help you out. I've got some concentrated food tablets here. Two of them ought to satisfy your cravings for a while at least. There are enough calories and vitamins in them to keep a normal person alive eight hours without other food.”
(Lenore sneaking in) “They won't do her any good then, Mabel isn't a normal person. Anyone who eats as much a she does, couldn't be normal.”
“Pills! Vitamins! Calories! Bah! I want food, real food, something to sink my teeth into! I want something to eat!”
Mabel also appears to be super clumsy as well as she loses her balance in their room and falls into a servant. The scene is described humorously poking fun at her weight yet again (p. 76-77):
“This time, however, in effort to maintain her balance, she lunged forward at the same time that one of the servants stepped directly into her path. The result brought howls of laughter from the other girls and Mrs. Evans while the unfortunate servant’s coworkers discreetly placed white gloved hands over their very undignified grins. Butting him squarely in the middle, the flying Mabel threw the astonished servant across Mrs. Evans' bed and crashed down on top of him. The sudden onslaught was more than the delicate Chippendale bed could stand and with a resounding crack, it collapsed burying both the servant and Mabel in its sorry wreckage.”
At one point when George is giving the girls a tour of the White House grounds he looks at Mabel and says, “. . . and for Mabel's information the children here have a habit of rolling eggs on the lawns here every Easter. We'll look around later and maybe she can find a few leftovers to stave off the ravishing pangs of hunger until dinnertime” (p. 88).
During the “Secret Mission” storyline when the girls quickly leave their party and head on an airplane again, there is a pretty humorous story of how Mabel was going to be prepared for a long flight this time (p. 153-154):
“As she spoke, Mabel removed her coat and with it a large package which she had been concealing under it. Holding the bundle on her pudgy knees, she carefully untied the string and as the amused Mrs. Evans and the others watched, Mabel triumphantly held back the paper, revealing all the untasted leftovers from the party neatly tied up in a napkin. The farsighted and ever hungry Mabel had even thought to fill a large vacuum bottle with hot coffee and as she spread out her feast on the floor of the plane, her appreciative and really hungry friends gathered around to partake of the spoils. Some sandwiches, cake and coffee were passed through the opening in the glass partition to Mr. Thompson who grinned and nodded his thanks while pointing a questioning finger at Mabel. That rotund individual had taken everything edible she could lay her hands on so that when all had eaten their fill, there was still enough left over for another substantial snack.”
Mabel only really gets two cracks back at the other girls when they go swimming and she tells Lenore, “If you wore a yellow bathing suit at least, they'd think you were a freak banana and let you alone” (p. 135). On page 20, she scolds Dolores saying, “How many times must I tell you to take a bath before appearing in public?”
Bathing suits are also discussed in the first story and seem to be a pretty racy style for 1932: “The bathing suits worn by the Campfire girls and their young leader were of the modish, abbreviated type, backless and cut away at the sides and as their lithe young bodies flashed through the air from a springboard or cut through the water in a race, an artist, had one been privileged to witness the scene, would've found a perfect composition for his brush and canvas” (p. 17-18).
In terms of living conditions there is only one part that really stuck out to me which was the description of Mr. and Mrs. Evans’ sleeping conditions: “Early the next morning the telephone’s loud and insistent summons roused Campfire Guardian Florence Evans from a dream in which she was initiating the president of the United States in the ways of Campfire. Sleepily opening one eye in the hope that she would be rewarded with the sight of her husband getting out of bed to answer the phone, she sighed as she saw that he had resorted to his favorite trick of pulling the pillow over his head and pretending not to hear. The telephone stood on a small table between the twin beds . . .” (p. 29). This quickly brought to mind the images of prim and proper husbands and wives who slept in twin beds and not together.
In terms of other parental elements, there is at least a brief mention of the parents’ anxiety about letting their girls go off to Washington. However, since parents rarely get a prominent place in series books, their fears are quickly dispelled: “Five proud fathers were summoned from their places of business to drive jubilant daughter and tearful mothers to the Oaks Hotel and thence to the airport. As the six cars bearing the adventures drew up in front of the modern, new building that housed Oakdale's only hotel, anxious parents gathered in knots on the sidewalk to compare notes and confer with one another on the advisability of allowing their daughters to undertake such a mission” (p. 34).
I was pleasantly surprised to see the effort in explaining airplane technology and travel to the anxious parents. Since flight was still something that many Americans had not had the chance to partake in during the 1930s it was interesting to see how it was handled in this story as the girls fly twice (and in previous volumes had already undertaken a flight around the world). A long passage on pages 39 and 40 detail this:
“Airplanes and airports were no longer a matter of curiosity to the girls. A year before, the national headquarters of the Campfire organization had sent them, together with Mrs. Evans, on a trip around the world via plane and they were as accustomed to that mode of travel as the most experienced pilot. Mr. Thompson too, seemed to be as familiar with airplanes as his friend Captain Martin but to the parents of the girls, such close proximity to plane was in itself a novel experience so, partly to occupy the remaining time but chiefly to satisfy their curiosity, the girls, obtaining Captain Martin's permission, took their folks into the roomy cabin of the big plane. The girls were delighted with exclamations of surprise when their mothers and fathers discovered the many conveniences and comforts possible in air travel. Next, the curious parents crowded around the cockpit were Captain Martin explained the various instruments and their uses. Their amazement knew no bounds when the captain showed them and explained the many safety devices with which the plane was equipped. The rocket flare system, the automatic control device, the mechanical course finder and many other features, all of which received careful daily attention, brought a chorus of surprised comment from the curious group. Captain Martin was as pleased as a little boy showing his newest toy to an admiring audience and the audience was open in their admiration as a little boy would believe them to be. As they left the plane at the end of Captain Martin's brief lecture on aeronautics, Mrs. Chapman, Mabel's mother, expressed the views of the other parents as well as her own thoughts on the subject of flying, which, until now, she'd always considered highly hazardous. “Now that I know something about it,” she remarked to Captain Martin, “I don't believe it is dangerous as I thought it was. In fact, I wouldn't mind trying it myself one of these days if I had the opportunity.”
It goes on to say that “Shining eyes and broad smiles were eloquent testimonials and high praise of flying. Aviation had 10 new converts that day” (p. 42).
Technology is also briefly touched on with a scene about radio listening, which was one of the big family pastimes prior to the 1950s. On page 144 it reads, “Switching on the radio, Dolores turned the dial to the wavelength of the station in a distant city and as the girls listened to the music that came through the loudspeaker, they sank back in their chairs in utter enjoyment and relaxation.”
Also interesting for a girls series book was the attention given to the political background of their visit to Washington. An interesting passage occurring on pages 51 through 54:
“It was to the financial interest of Samuel Robinson and his vast Corporation that such standards be kept at a low level. Raising them in a large outlay of money, which they could more than afford, in improving their far-flung properties but greed and avarice dominated the group and they were loath to part with their money for the betterment of the large part of the nation. The president, however, was determined to bring about the success of the measure and to that end was summoning the campfire girls to his assistance. Through them, he hoped to reach girls of their age whose families were at the mercy of the Robinson Syndicate, through economic necessity. By teaching these girls, with the aid of the campfire organization, an appreciation of the better things of life, the president believed that they would soon reject their present mode of living and insist upon improved standards. The Robinson Syndicate, through its various companies, owned the houses in which their families lived, controlled the stores from which they purchased their daily necessities and dominated by directorships the factories and shops in which they worked. In this way, the unfortunate people had no alternative but to accept what was given them and so long had they been held under the yoke of economic oppression that they blindly accepted their condition. Such blind acceptance was not necessary for, had they only known it, organized refusal to accept such conditions would have brought immediate changes for the better since the Syndicate owed its very existence to the people it was oppressing. The Coe bill would have forced the Syndicate to make these changes but as long as the people these changes would benefit had, as yet, made no protest, Samuel Robinson saw no reason for spending so much money. The president knew the bill would be defeated unless some opposition to the Robinson lobbyists could be found. After many conferences with his close advisers, the president of the United States finally accepted his wife's plan to enlist the aid of the campfire organization, of which she was national commander, to combat the influence of the lobbyists. If the plan succeeded, the protests of those dominated by the Syndicate would easily defeat the lobby and the bill would quickly pass a both national legislative bodies, the House and the Senate and would become a law as soon as the president signed it. Almost every city and town in the United States boosted one or more camp fire groups composed of 20 girls and the Guardian. It was to be the duty of these groups throughout the country to carry out the plans and programs laid down for them by Alice, Dolores, Mabel, Anita and Lenore under the direction of their leader, Mrs. Evans for the social and economic rehabilitation of those unfortunates who are being held under the thumb of the powerful Robinson Syndicate. While the nationwide project was underway, the five girls and their leader were to live at the White House as guests of the president of the United States and his charming wife. There they would receive monthly reports from campfire groups all over the country and send out their plans, programs and suggestions. Their mission in Washington and their residence at the White House were to be kept secret as much as possible since, if the Robinson Syndicate were aware of the plan before the project was started, they would stop at nothing to block it. Once the project was started, however, the Syndicate would be powerless against it.”
The president himself even gave a very impassioned speech to the girls about the importance of their mission (p. 70):
“The Robinson people must be defeated and I am depending on you girls and your able and charming leader to do it. You must succeed. You cannot, you dare not fail. I'll put the Army and the Navy and the Secret Service department at your disposal if you want me to, but you got to lick that bunch of crooks. The attorney general's office and the Department of Justice have been unable to get one scrap of evidence against them. They're too clever to be caught that way. Our only hope lies with you. United States of America expects you to do your duty and you must not fail! If you want my help or device at any time, you can reach me through George here and if I'm too busy, as I'm afraid will be the case more often than not, he'll advise you or put you in touch with the proper person.”
Later on readers get to see a private moment into the thoughts of the president (p. 74):
“The Campfire girls were his last hope in his fight against the powerful Robinson Syndicate and as he sat there, he prayed silently but fervently for their success, further victory meant the victory of the people over corruption and oppression that went into the grip of unscrupulous men on the throw to the nation. The Coe bill, once it became law, would materially reduce poverty and unemployment, the handmaidens of crime, and the president of the United States had pledged himself to an unrelentless war against all three ugly evils. He had already done much to wipe their glaring blocks from the escutcheon of the nation of which he was chief executive but one large, hideous stain remained and that stain was the one owned by Samuel Robinson who also numbered among his questionable possessions dishonest politicians who could wield great power. The Coe bill would crush them forever they were fighting with all their powerful influence against it.”
There are, of course, moments of stereotypical girly things but, at the same time, moments of pure amazement that would have had girl readers in 1932 staring at the book and the five Campfire girls in awe. We learn that “Among other things, the girls had been taught typing at school and soon the busy clicking of six typewriters going at full speed filled the room as each girl mapped out her plans and programs for camp fire groups all over the country to follow” (p. 79). When Robinson himself stops by their office to attempt to bribe them to stop their lobbying the girls present very unfeminine behavior when “They surrounded the bewildered Samuel Robinson who tried to beat a hasty retreat, and vainly tried to find the door to make good his escape. While the air was thick with threats, many of them coming from Mrs. Evans herself . . . Alice darted swiftly to the door, picking up an armful of books as she went and every time the beleaguered Samuel Robinson tried to make his exit, she beat him back with a well aimed book while the others harried him about the room, pelting him with whatever they could lay their hands on” (p. 100-101).
There is one brief mention of jobs in the 1930s. When Mrs. Evans attempts to get a job in the “Secret Mission” to get on the inside of the labor movement, she comes back from the factory and tells the girls, “I was never so surprised in my life. I thought a busy and important man like the general manager of the big factory would be hard to see but I could've been calling on a neighbor for all the difficulty I had in getting in. And then getting a job was too easy, too. I'm beginning to be suspicious. All I did was ask for it and I got it. I'm to sort shackle bolts, whatever they are, and receive $18.50 a week for my pains. Not bad, is it?” (p. 181-182).
And, last but not least, is mention of race. There is an interesting duality here. On their train to San Francisco, the girls encounter a porter who from his dialect alone is clearly meant to be African-American. He talks in heavy phonetically spelled dialect: “It sho' am snowin' somethin' pow'ful outside, ma'm. Ef we gitz ez fur ez Silver City t'night, we's gwine ter be mighty lucky, yowzah. I bin travellin' on dis yere road fo; ten yeahs but ah ain't nevah seen nuthin' like whut it is t'night. It sho' is bad, yas ma'm, it sho' is bad” (p. 198). However, when the girls meet the Chinaman he has no dialect at all: “I am that humble and undistinguished person. Will you permit me the rare honor of inviting you as well as the other equally charming ladies to my miserable quarters? Pray forgive my poverty.” However, there clearly are the stereotypical descriptions of the “yellow” people as Wah Lee is described as “staring at his guests through his thick, horn-rimmed spectacles, Wah Lee smiled slowly, his wrinkled, yellow features and sparse graybeard looking even more yellow in the reflected light of a broad bladed sword hanging against one wall” (p. 210-211).
Humm . . . since the girls had already traveled to vast countries in a previous volume (of which one was China) maybe they aren’t as scared of Chinese people as they are of the African-Americans living in their own country.