Saturday, August 13, 2016

"There is more treasure in books

than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."
            ~Walt Disney   

Before the "i" world took over, the i-pods, i-pads, i-phones, there was paper...and words printed on paper, and that brings me to this week's blog...the Bobbsey Twins!  Being a former librarian and a current English professor, I love books...and words on paper...sure, I have my tech, but I still love books.  So, when I see old books, I have to have them, and that is how I got a stash of Bobbsey Twin books.  And, even better...books that look like they were read and loved!
Researching this series turned up some fascinating history.  Created by Edward Stratemeyer, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was the first book purveyor to have its books aimed at children rather than adults.

At a time when most children's books focused on moral instruction, the Stratemeyer Syndicate specialized in producing books that were meant primarily to be entertaining.  The first series that Stratemeyer created was the Rover Boys, published under the pseudonym Arthur M. Winfield. The Rover Boys books were a roaring success - a total of 30 volumes were published between 1899 and 1926, selling over five million copies.
The Bobbsey Twins first appeared in 1904 under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope, and Tom Swift in 1910 under the pseudonym Victor Appleton.
Stratemeyer published a number of books under his own name, but the books published under pseudonyms sold better(guess simple sells).  Stratemeyer realized that "he could offer more books each year if he dealt with several publishers and had the books published under a number of pseudonyms which he controlled."  Stratemeyer explained his strategy to a publisher, writing that "[a] book brought out under another name would, I feel satisfied, do better than another Stratemeyer book. If this was brought out under my own name, the trade on new Stratemeyer books would simply be cut into four parts instead of three."
Some time in the first decade of the twentieth century Stratemeyer realized that he could no longer juggle multiple volumes of multiple series, and he began hiring ghostwriters, such as Howard Garis and Leslie McFarlane.  Stratemeyer continued to write some books and created plot outlines for others.
While mystery elements were occasionally present in these early series, the Syndicate later specialized in children's mystery series. Stratemeyer wrote and published The Mansion of Mystery in 1911, under the pseudonym Chester K. Steele. Five more books were published in that mystery series, the last in 1928. These books were aimed at a somewhat older audience than his previous series. After that, the Syndicate focused on mystery series aimed at its younger base: the Hardy Boys, which first appeared in 1927, ghostwritten by Leslie McFarlane and others, and Nancy Drew, which first appeared in 1930, ghostwritten by Mildred Wirt Benson, Walter Karig, and others. Obviously the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were best sellers. 
The Bobbsey Twins are the principal characters of what was, for many years, the Stratemeyer's longest-running series of children's novels, penned under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope. The first of 72 books were published in 1904, the last in 1979, with a separate series of 30 books published from 1987 through 1992. The books related the adventures of the children of the upper-middle-class Bobbsey family, which included two sets of fraternal twins: Nan and Bert, who were 12 years old, and Flossie and Freddie, who were six.

Stratemeyer wrote the first volume in its original form in 1904, and then 12 other writers penned the remaining volumes.   Two attempts were made to bring back the twins, but it did not work.  I do like the character listing...even included a bully!

  • Mr. Richard Bobbsey, the owner of a lumber yard in Lakeport
  • Mrs. Mary Bobbsey, his wife, a stay-at-home mom (love the description!)
  • Nan Bobbsey, their elder daughter, Bert's twin. She has dark hair and dark eyes
  • Bert Bobbsey, their elder son, Nan's twin. He has dark hair and dark eyes.
  • Freddie Bobbsey, their younger son, Flossie's twin. He has blond hair and blue eyes
  • Flossie, their younger daughter, Freddie's twin
  • Dinah Johnson, the Bobbseys' cook, Sam's wife
  • Sam Johnson, the Bobbseys' handyman, Dinah's husband
  • Snoop, the Bobbseys' cat
  • Downy, the Bobbseys' duck
  • Snap, the Bobbseys' dog
  • Waggo, the Bobbseys' other dog
  • Danny Rugg, the school bully
Initially, the books had the twins age, but then it became apparent that it could quickly change the series so the characters stayed forever 12!

The story of the 1960 update is funny.  Stratemeyer rewrote the stories "motivated by changing technology (automobiles replacing horses and buggies) or changing social standards, particularly in how Sam and Dinah, the African-American cook and handyman, were portrayed." This was done concurrently with the release of a new edition of the series, with picture covers, no dust jackets, and a lavender spine and back cover (replacing the various green bindings that had been used before). Many of the cover paintings were originally dust-jacket paintings that had been added in the 1950s (before a single common dust-jacket painting had been used throughout any given edition), but most were new with the "purple" edition. In all, 20 were completely rewritten, all but two with modernized titles, while 16 were never released in this edition, evidently having been deemed to be dated beyond repair.
It is ironic how old books can carry so much history in addition to the stories within them. And, another thought along this line...
...can you imagine 100 years from now a box of Kindles?

"Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks."
            — Dr. Seuss   

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