Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 2

I was fortunate to have had access to libraries with a wide array of children’s books when I was growing up. I never ran out of new stories to read. My parents were also very encouraging toward this pastime and happily financed the beginnings of what would turn out to be a vast personal library.

I’ve often boasted about my kids reading the very copies of books I’d read as a kid. I can imagine some people going, so what? I guess it would take a kindred to grasp how special that is. Fortunately, I’ve encountered many who belong to the race that knows Joseph and get it. 😉

A little while back, I published a post listing three children’s book series that are so wonderful that I feel kids today shouldn’t miss out on reading them. Unfortunately, they’re not as easily accessible anymore. I acquired my own copies from thrift stores and secondhand bookshops. I’m afraid they’re no longer the titles you’ll find on the market these days.

And there are more series that can be included in the list. Here are three of them:

The Boxcar Children (first published in 1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This series is pretty successful, so it’s actually still being perpetuated by different writers and with stories set in the current time. I’m not really interested in those. I prefer to read the ones from the first half of the 20th century, preferably those that were actually written by the series creator, Gertrude Chandler Warner. Why should your kids read these books?

  1. The stories are really riveting for children with a penchant for mysteries, a sense of adventure, and a desire for independence. The four children were always doing things on their own. Of course the stories (the original ones – I have no idea what’s going on in the current ones) are set in a different time, but I suppose, even then, most kids wouldn’t be allowed to travel in a caboose by themselves, stay on an island by themselves, do long bike rides by themselves, etc.
  2. There’s so much they can learn from the collection of stories, trivia stuff, different era stuff, practical stuff, etc. I personally got to apply some ideas from the book in my life. For instance, when I was first living on my own, I had the idea to make a pie because I had a can of peaches that was set to go to waste if I didn’t intentionally use it for something. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a rolling pin, but, fortunately, I did remember reading in Surprise Island that Jessie was in a similar predicament and found solution in a bottle. I did have wine bottles, so I was able to make my first pie that day. It was pretty good for a first attempt.
  3. The Alden kids are nice kids with manners and values typical of an earlier, more genteel time. This will hopefully inspire your kids to behave similarly. Times have clearly changed, so we have to be similarly dynamic, but there are some tolerated behaviors today that I just can’t accept. This reminds me of a favorite rant of mine. I’m so bothered by the way people nonchalantly take out and use their phones at the dinner table. It’s so anti-social, and that’s coming from me, an unrepentant introvert! There was a time when you had to excuse yourself and leave the table to take a call, and even then you would apologize profusely because you shouldn’t take calls at mealtime. It would be nice for kids today to be exposed to the etiquette and social conventions of an earlier era.

The Famous Five (first published in 1942) by Enid Blyton

Most of the children’s book series I’ve featured here are set in the US. This one, penned by beloved children’s book author Enid Blyton, however, is set in Britain. Similar to other children’s book series, the protagonists in The Famous Five encounter in each story some mystery that they have to solve. The formula clearly never gets old since I also use it for my own children’s books. This is a worthwhile inclusion in my list because it shares many of the benefits I already enumerated with regard to the other series I’ve already featured, plus the following:

  1. It allows readers to experience various British climes, often rural, allowing them to learn about the people and culture of these places. I don’t know about you, but reading about these far off foreign places gave me a hankering to know more about them and experience them first-hand. These seemingly inconsequential exposures have a way of shaping readers, including their goals and dreams in life.
  2. It lends an opportunity for young readers to learn the Queen’s English. With some guidance from you, this shouldn’t confuse them about which type of English to use. Ideally, this would allow them to compare and contrast it with American English. Of course, there’s also the factor of time adding an extra nuance to the expressions used, which, in turn, also adds to the readers’ stores of knowledge.
  3. It’s all about adventure – being outdoors, exploring, engaging in physical activities… In these old books, the characters don’t spend the day watching TV or playing video games. It allows young readers to have a better idea of what a screen-free childhood is like, how it’s actually possible and (dare I say it) more fun. I often lament that kids today are missing out on slow time, which is actually real time. It allows the mind to work better, to better process and savor moments, to come up with solutions with fewer tools available, etc. Sorry, that’s another favorite rant of mine. 😀

The Great Brain (first published in 1967) by John D. Fitzgerald

Although the books are set in 19th century Utah, they weren’t published until the 1960s. They’re essentially stories that are loosely based on the author’s own childhood experiences. The “Great Brain” alluded to in the series is the author’s older brother, Tom. He demonstrates amazing intelligence, which is unfortunately accompanied by a money-loving heart, turning him into a mischievous swindler.

How do kids today benefit from reading about this adorable rapscallion’s escapades? The same way kids of previous generations did.

  1. The books are a very entertaining read. Each story is a humorous account of The Great Brain’s youthful shenanigans. Don’t worry about his propensity to manipulate others for his own monetary gain. He actually has a strong sense of justice, and despite his smarts, he often does get his comeuppance and is subjected to discipline.
  2. I’m a strong believer in living books being more effective tools of learning than text books. The Great Brain stories offer many snippets of knowledge in various subjects, particularly history, science, and logic.
  3. The setting is pretty unique. 19th century Utah offers a fascinating visit, as you can probably imagine with its natural landscape, as well as its historical and religious significance.

Did you get to read these books when you were young? Do your kids know about them? I hope you and your kids can access copies. You can probably find some from secondhand bookstores and online sellers.

Can you suggest other early to mid-20th century series that should be included? I can already think of two.  I think there may be a part 3 to this. 🙂

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 1

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love books. Some people love reading; I love reading AND books. Those are two different things. The second means that I prefer experiencing paper pages instead of the LED glow of an e-reader. I’m afraid it also means that I have a compulsion to hold on to my books. I just… don’t let go of my books! It might be a mental condition; I don’t know, but those who’ve been to my house bear witness to this particular trait of mine.

Being a book hoarder also means that my kids get to read the actual books that I read as a child. They can open a book and see my name written in my then-still childish handwriting. More often than not, the date or year when I got the book is included. That’s something I got from my mother. It was always thrilling to me to read her old books and note that they had been with her since the ’60s and ’70s. I came to love Emilie Loring because of the stash of old romances that she herself held onto. None of my friends knew who Emilie Loring was.

So that’s the other thing, hoarding books means that I have copies of older editions or of books that are no longer being printed at all, and I’m just the kind of person who would consider those treasures. 😀

I love children’s books, and I’ve started writing and publishing my own as you might know. However, nothing beats a tale of childhood adventure during a time when children had more freedom to explore, when they had to turn to the outdoors for fun, when they had to rely on their imagination and creativity to be entertained…

I like exposing my children to this kind of childhood. It was a great time. It had its problems, of course, but I think many of the old-timers have a hankering for the good old days for a reason. I would love to let my kids experience such an era, even if only in books and movies.

But we’re talking about old children’s book series. Many great ones have remained popular through the decades such as Nancy Drew, but I think there are also many excellent ones that have slipped through the cracks. From time to time, it’ll be my pleasure to write about the more obscure old series I love and want my children to read. Today, I’ll start with three.

The Mad Scientists’ Club (first published in 1965) by Bertrand R. Brinley

Each book in the series, except for the last one (The Big Chunk of Ice), which was published by Brinley’s son in 2005, is a collection of short stories narrating the wacky adventures of this group of friends comprising The Mad Scientists’ Club. The stories were first published in “Boys’ Life,” the official youth magazine of Boy Scouts of America.

What do I love about this series?

  1. It’s straight up adventure and shenanigan. It’s a fun read that’s meant to engage your imagination and tickle bone. There’s no coming-of-age drama. It’s just a bunch of boys pestering the rest of the town with their grand scientific schemes.
  2. The science is solid. The main characters are boys who strongly practice DIY and accomplish scientific feats in the name of wholesome mischief.
  3. It’s set in the idyllic (but, of course, fictitious) small town of Mammoth Falls, which provides hills, river islands, caverns, etc. for energetic and inquisitive children committed to staying out of the house.
  4. The characters are all entertaining, the townsfolk included. Even the main villain, the rival gang of a former Mad Scientists’ Club member, is funny and not at all menacing.
  5. It’s the kind of book that will have you frequently bursting out in laughter.

*There was a two-part episode in “The Wonderful World of Disney” based on “The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake.” If anybody could point me to a copy, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

Trixie Belden (first published in 1948) by Julie Campbell Tatham (Kathryn Kenny)

Trixie Belden is kind of like Nancy Drew, except written with more levity and a younger sleuth (13) who is decidedly less of a paragon, but definitely more fun than Nancy. My mom scored my first Trixie Belden books (1 “The Secret of the Mansion” and 2 “The Red Trailer Mystery”) from, of all places, the nearby supermarket. I loved them. I loved Nancy Drew, but I enjoyed Trixie’s stories more. Why?

  1. Trixie was more realistic than the perfect Nancy. She could be rude, short-tempered, and impulsive. She also had chores and was usually short of cash. She was forever struggling with math.
  2. Again, the stories are set in a small town (love small towns!), and it’s easier to picture Sleepyside-on-Hudson than River Heights, which seemed too much like your generic suburban neighborhood (to me anyway).  The modest but sweet Crabapple Farm, which was nestled in a valley between two mansions on a hill, is decidedly more enticing.
  3. Bess and George provide humorous banter for Nancy Drew, but the Bob Whites (what Trixie and her friends, including her brothers, call themselves) definitely engage in zanier exchanges.

The Melendy Family Series (first published in 1941) by Elizabeth Enright

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver are the Melendy Quartet, siblings who had a myriad of adventures starting from their time in the Manhattan brownstone they lived in and all the way to their odd-looking home in the country. They eventually gained another sibling in the heart-warming “And Then There Were Five.” What’s so great about this series?

  1. It is set in the Second World War, and you can see how children in the States were able to support their troops in their own small ways.
  2. The books are pretty action-packed with a wide variety of adventures from building a dam to staging a show, from gathering metal scraps to nighttime hikes, etc.
  3. They are children who follow their aptitude and nurture their gifts.
  4. Their values are solid even if they are also prone to mischief and snarkiness like many children.
  5. There’s no shortage of lovably eccentric characters, including a smiling pet alligator kept in a bathtub.

All these fictional children are ones I’d love for my children to get to know and draw inspiration from.

There are more wonderful, lesser known old-time children’s book series I’d love to feature, but which ones would you recommend? Let me know. 🙂

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