Mon. Jan. 22, 2018: Revisiting a Favorite Childhood Book #UpbeatAuthors

Secret in the Old Attic

 

 Oh, boy, just one? Not sure that’s possible!

I knew my alphabet by the time I was eighteen months old. We lived in Chicago at that time, and my mother tells me stories about how I would sit on the bus and read out letters on the signs, much to the delight of fellow passengers.

I remember learning to read when I was little (my mom says I was just over two years old). The first book I could read all by myself was Dr. Seuss’s GREEN EGGS AND HAM, which is still a favorite.

I read constantly. All the childhood classics, all of WINNIE THE POOH, all of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I read The Childhood of Famous Americans Series — all the girls. I saved money and bought biographies of Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe — which I still own. They inspired me to become a writer.

But the biggest reading experience that began in childhood and continues is Nancy Drew. I started buying/reading them in the 1970s. The hardcovers with the yellow spines. My first one — and still my favorite — was The Secret in the Old Attic.

To this day, I love books with attics and secret passages.

My connection to the Nancy Drew Books (in spite of their flaws) led me to read Beverly Gray, Judy Bolton, Vicki Barr, Sue Barton, Ruth Fielding, and more. I started collecting early twentieth century juvenile mysteries.

Read them now, and yes, they are flawed. Their portrayal of non-whites is offensive. The way they expect women to be “good girls” is offensive.

Yet, in some respects, the earliest Nancy Drew books (the ones written by Mildred Wirt Benson), allow the young woman more freedom. She won by breaking rules and being independent. The books were softened by Harriet Adams in the 1960s. If you read Midred’s Penny Parker books, under her own name, well, Penny was quite the little brat! And funny, too.

One of my favorite non-fiction books continues to be Girl Sleuth, by Melanie Rehak, about the women who created Nancy Drew.

My favorites were the Beverly Gray books – in spite of ethnic and racial problems. Beverly went through school and became an investigative journalist, while traveling the world with a group of friends that included an actress, and having adventures. One of the books actually dealt with the problems between Japan and China in the late 1930s and early 1940s – when I first read the book, borrowed from a friend in my teens – I didn’t even know the conflict existed. All we learned in Social Studies was Pearl Harbor.

Also, with the racial and national insults inherent in the books – you get a snapshot of society in the moment. The bad, not just the airbrushed. It’s important to remember how badly those considered “other” were treated – including Irish, Catholics, Italians, African-Americans, Jews, Native Americans, Asians, Mexicans — the list goes on and on.

When you’re taught to question what you read, you can read books like this, and other books of their time and see them in context. Not make excuses for them, but get an idea of how things were, how mainstream society wanted them to be, and what progress we’ve made and lost since.

One of my current frustrations with some of the current cozy mystery series is that they are getting more intolerant, dumbing down the protagonists, continue to make environmental concerns and inclusiveness considered silly – and demand that the protagonist conform to be accepted. In the 90s, most of my favorite cozies had the protagonist as a misfit who, because of her resourcefulness, intelligence, and care for others, was accepted into the community AS SHE WAS. Now, more and more, the protagonists are forced to conform to the small towns to which they flee from big cities.

A snapshot of our current society and its issues.

I still collect the mysteries. I still love reading them, even when there are huge elements with which I disagree. But, reading them as I grew up, they helped me feel less alone as I refused to conform.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 1:39 am  Comments Off on Mon. Jan. 22, 2018: Revisiting a Favorite Childhood Book #UpbeatAuthors  
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