Clifford Takes a Trip


Clifford Takes a Trip by Norman Bridwell, 1966.

Emily Elizabeth and her parents don’t usually take long trips during the summer because it’s too difficult to bring Clifford along. He’s just too big to go on trains or buses. One summer, Emily Elizabeth’s parents decide to go camping in the mountains. They can’t take Clifford, so they leave him behind with a neighbor.

However, Clifford misses Emily Elizabeth too much, so he decides to go find her! A gigantic red dog can create a lot of chaos on a cross-country trip.

Along the way, he does help a man with a broken-down grocery truck, and the man is grateful enough to feed him.

He also arrives at the family’s campsite just in time to save Emily Elizabeth after she thought it would be fun to play with some baby bears she found.

The family considers that next year, they may find a way to take Clifford with them somewhere else.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies, including one in Spanish).

My Reaction

Like all Clifford books, the humor is based around Clifford’s enormous size. Even though the family thought that it would be too far for Clifford to walk to come to the mountains with them, he tracks them down there anyway. Then, after he rejoins his family, he sleeps with Emily Elizabeth, his ear propped up to be her tent. The idea they’re considering next for transporting Clifford is a flat-bed truck. I could well imagine my own dog trying to track me down if I went on vacation without her, but fortunately, when your dog is about the same size as Toto in the Wizard of Oz, traveling with a dog isn’t as difficult.


The Secret at Sleepaway Camp

The Bobbsey Twins

The Secret at Sleepaway Camp by Laura Lee Hope (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1990.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge Sean Hagins, for supplying me with photos of this book! Usually, I take pictures of books myself, but I just couldn’t find a physical copy of this one. Sean is a big fan of the Bobbsey Twins, particularly the New Bobbsey Twins mysteries, and you can see some of his video reviews as well as videos about his photography work on his YouTube channel, SJHFoto. Thanks, Sean!

The Bobbsey Twins are headed to Camp Evergreen this summer! Before they leave for camp, their mother, who is a part-time reporter for the local newspaper tells them that she was just covering a story about a baby polar bear who disappeared from the local zoo. Flossie is upset about it because she’s fond of the polar bear, Snowflake, and likes to see her when she goes to the zoo. Nobody knows exactly how Snowflake got out of her enclosure. All they know is that the gate was found open, and Snowflake was gone. Mrs. Bobbsey recommends that the kids forget about it for now and concentrate on having fun at camp.

Nan and Bert are going to be counselors’ helpers at camp, and all the kids are looking forward to activities like swimming, horseback riding, and archery. The only downside is that Danny Rugg, local bully and troublemaker, will also be there as a counselors’ helper. (Danny is a long-standing nemesis in the Bobbsey Twins series, from the original incarnation of the series. See The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport.)

Strange things start happening at camp right from the moment that the Bobbsey Twins arrive. Tanya, the head counselor, tells them that, for some reason, all of the camp’s rowboats are leaking. When the kids investigate, they discover that someone has deliberately drilled holes in all of the boats.

The first thought that the Bobbsey Twins have is that Danny is responsible because he has a history of playing mean pranks, although he denies it. Danny does say that he doesn’t see why everyone else at camp should have fun while he’s miserable. His job as a counselors’ helper is working in the kitchen, and he hates it because it’s hot in there, and he thinks the cook is weird.

When Freddie goes to unpack in his cabin, he meets another boy named Ian. Ian is from the city and has never been to the countryside before. He’s a little nervous and homesick, and he says that the camp’s cook has told him that the camp is haunted. Freddie says that he’s sure there’s nothing to worry about and that they’ll have fun at camp.

Arts and crafts goes fine, and the kids enjoy meeting the camp’s mascot, a tame raccoon named Bandit. Tanya explains that they found Bandit when he was just a baby and that the kids should never try to play with wild raccoons. However, when the kids arrive at the archery range, they discover that someone has snapped all the arrows in half! Because of the stories the camp cook has been telling everyone, some of the campers think that it’s the work of the camp’s ghost. The Bobbsey Twins still suspect Danny, and they offer their services to Tanya, to investigate and find out who’s really causing all the trouble at camp.

Danny isn’t the only suspect. Nan overhears the cook, Sal, telling the kids about a hungry, child-eating bear in the woods who is supposedly friends with the camp ghost. Does he just like scary stories, or does he have a special reason for wanting to frighten the kids at camp? Even Tanya seems to have something to hide, getting mysterious notes and meeting someone in secret.

Soon, other strange things happen at camp. Someone puts a snake in Freddie’s bed, and the kids see strange lights in the woods at night. Then, someone steals all the ponies out of the corral and smashes the kids’ clay art projects. Some of the kids think that it’s the work of the ghost Sal has been talking about, but the Bobbsey Twins are sure that someone only wants them to think that. What are all the pranks and sabotage really about?

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I was pretty sure I knew right away who was behind the camp sabotage, but this is one of those stories where there’s more than one person doing things that are unrelated. Danny eventually admits to playing some of the pranks, like the snake in Freddie’s bed, but not all of them. I was also wrong about who the main villain was. The missing polar bear at the beginning does figure into the mystery of the things happening at camp. I figured it would be important, but I didn’t guess how and why.

One of the clues the kids find is a lucky rabbit’s foot keychain. The kids comment that those used to be popular good luck charms, but not many people have them anymore. I have to admit that I had a pink one when I was a kid that I got from a novelty shop. I don’t think I realized at first that it was a real rabbit’s foot. I think I assumed that it was fake because I bought it in a place that sold magic tricks and costume props, so I figured it was imitation, like everything else. I figured it out eventually, and then, I didn’t feel quite so lucky about it. I’m sure that those keychains fell out of popularity because other people felt the same way I did about them, and they were concerned about animal cruelty. I believe it’s still possible to buy real and faux rabbit’s foot keychains, but it’s been a long time since I last saw them displayed at a store, so I think the kids were probably right about them not being as popular as they once were.

The Secret of the Sunken Treasure

The Bobbsey Twins

Bobbsey Twins The Secret of the Sunken Treasure cover

The Secret of the Sunken Treasure by Laura Lee Hope (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1989.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge Sean Hagins, for supplying me with photos of this book! Usually, I take pictures of books myself, but I just couldn’t find a physical copy of this one. Sean is a big fan of the Bobbsey Twins, particularly the New Bobbsey Twins mysteries, and you can see some of his video reviews as well as videos about his photography work on his YouTube channel, SJHFoto. Thanks, Sean!

The two sets of Bobbsey Twins and their parents are on vacation in Florida for a week. It’s just a fun family vacation, although Mrs. Bobbsey is hoping to write an article about a sunken treasure ship called the Granada. The Bobbsey Twins are intrigued at the idea of searching for sunken treasure, although nobody has detected a sign of the treasure since the ship sank in 1801. Dan Chester, he brother of a family friend, lives in the town where the Bobbseys are staying along with his 15-year-old daughter, Meg. Dan and Meg are divers, and they have been searching for the wreckage of the Granada, and they think they have a lead. The Bobbsey Twins are excited to think that they might be able to participate in the search for the treasure or be there when the Chesters find it!

However, when Dan and Meg pick them up at the airport, they have bad news. Although they were able to locate the wreckage of the Granada, they were delayed reaching shore to claim their find because their boat propeller broke, and someone else claimed the Granada before they could. Joe Lenox, the man who claimed the wreckage, runs an underwater salvaging company, and he’s tough competition for the Chesters because he can afford all the latest sonar equipment. It’s a heavy blow to Dan and Meg, losing such an important find when they were so close to claiming it. The only consolation is that everyone will be able to watch the old safe from the wreckage being hauled to the surface. The safe is supposed to contain the treasure the ship was carrying.

When Joe Lenox learns that Mrs. Bobbsey is an out-of-town reporter, he invites the entire Bobbsey family to come with him on his boat to see the treasure being recovered. They accept the invitation, although the kids feel a little funny about it because Joe is Dan and Meg’s competitor.

On the boat, Joe shows the Bobbseys his equipment and explains how everything works. (I grew up in Arizona and have never been diving, so I have very little context for understanding diving equipment. This part looks informative, but since this book was published decades ago, there may have been some changes in equipment since then. I wouldn’t know.) Flossie is hoping that, when the treasure is brought up, she will get the chance to try on the famous tiara that is supposed to be in the safe. However, everyone is in for a shock. When the divers go to recover the safe, they discover that someone has already managed to open it and remove the strongbox containing the treasure!

Now, Joe feels cheated out of a treasure he thought he had safely claimed, and he wants to know who’s responsible. The logical suspects would be Dan and Meg, who felt cheated out of their opportunity to claim the treasure first and who have the diving skills needed to reach the safe. A charm belonging to Meg is found in the safe, making Joe and the police believe that the Chesters are guilty. Although, there are also the other members of Joe’s crew to consider. They were the only other people who knew where the wreck was. Could any of them gone out to raid the wreck before the official salvage operation? Can the Bobbsey Twins find the real thieves?

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I had a couple of favorite suspects early on in the story. The book establishes that it would have taken at least two people to deal with the safe, so I was looking for a pair of people. I was only partly right, though, because there’s another suspect who isn’t introduced until later in the book. The first person I suspected is guilty, but there were more people involved than I thought.

The book explains a little about how a person can lay claim to a sunken ship. The characters say that they have to fill out paperwork at the courthouse. There are laws regarding claiming a sunken ship and official procedures to follow. It’s not as simple as finders keepers. It does matter who found it, where they found it, and who the ship belonged to originally. There were also some changes to the laws around the time this book was written and published with the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987. I’m not completely sure whether each Joe or Dan and Meg could have legally claimed the ship. It partly depends on whether or not it was within US territorial waters or outside the official three-mile limit, and it also depends on whether or not the ship was property of a foreign government which could lay claim to it. For the purposes of the story, we have to assume that Joe Lenox was able to successfully lay a claim to the ship and that Dan and Meg could have done so if they had reached the authorities first. What makes me doubt this is how it would have worked in real life is that the treasure on the ship belonged to a Spanish countess, which makes me think that it could be regarded as property of the Spanish government, but it would be difficult to determine that without additional information.

The Secret in the Sand Castle

The Bobbsey Twins

#4 The Secret in the Sand Castle by Laura Lee Hope (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1988.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge Sean Hagins, for supplying me with photos of this book! Usually, I take pictures of books myself, but I just couldn’t find a physical copy of this one. Sean is a big fan of the Bobbsey Twins, particularly the New Bobbsey Twins mysteries, and you can see some of his video reviews as well as videos about his photography work on his YouTube channel, SJHFoto. Thanks, Sean!

The two sets of Bobbsey Twins and their parents are spending a few weeks in an old house at Beachcliff Bay. It’s sort of a working vacation for their parents. Mr. Bobbsey owns a lumber yard, and he’s helping a local builder, Jim Reade, to either find some antique Victorian wooden gingerbread house trim or make new ones to match a home restoration project. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bobbsey is planning to write a travel article about the area for their local newspaper.

The house where the family will be staying is called the Wilson house, and it’s one of Mr Reade’s recent renovation projects. Flossie is the first in the family to go inside, and she is startled by what she thinks is a ghost. It turns out that it’s only the caretaker, Pete Smedley, taking the old dust sheets off the furniture. It’s not entirely reassuring because Pete says that there are stories about the old Wilson house being haunted by the ghosts of its former owners, who drowned in the nearby bay. He says that he knows when the ghosts have been there because they move things around and leave trails of water, seaweed, and seashells. Mr. Reade thinks that Pete’s stories are nonsense and that the strange things he’s observed are due to windows in the house being left open or something like that.

The inside of the Wilson house is as elaborate as the outside. The Bobbsey twins unpack their things and claim rooms for themselves upstairs. Flossie is quick to claim the biggest room with the best view for herself, and she asks Bert to help her move a mirror she likes into her room. They don’t have anything to hang the mirror, so they set it on Flossie’s bed. Strangely, they later find the mirror still on the bed but broken, and they don’t know how that happened.

Nan is curious about the Wilson family and the history of the house, so she and Freddie take a trip to the local library. There, Nan learns that the last two members of the Wilson family were a brother and sister, called Clay and Jennie. They were both artists, but they never made much money. Badly in need of money, they apparently robbed an armored car and stole gold bars. They tried to escape in a boat, but it was lost in a storm. The Wilsons apparently drowned, although their bodies were never found. The police thought they might have hidden the gold somewhere before getting on the boat, but nobody ever found the gold they stole.

Mr. Reade tells the children that his son, Jimmy, is entering a local sand castle contest, and the Bobbsey twins decide that they would like to enter the contest, too. Nan thinks they should try to build a replica of the Wilson house in sand. Unfortunately, Jimmy turns out to be a troublemaker, and it doesn’t look like he wants to be friends with the Bobbsey twins.

While the girls go to the store, Bert and Freddie decide to check out the old root cellar at the house, and someone traps them inside. The girls let them out when they get back. Then Flossie finds a secret passage and hidden stairs. Mr. Bobbsey says that it was once a servants’ entrance that had been sealed off. Later that night, a ghostly figure tries to enter Nan’s room! Could it have been Jimmy. playing a nasty prank, or is it someone looking for the lost gold? Could it even be a real ghost?

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

From the beginning of the book, I had a favorite suspect. However, this is one of those mysteries where there is more than one person involved, and they’re not working together. In the end, I was right about my main suspect, but having a second person doing suspicious things made the mystery more interesting. The title is a little misleading because the story is really about the search for the hidden gold from the robbery, not about the sand castle contest. The sand castle contest is more of a side issue, although studying the design of the house to build the sand castle version leads the kids to the solution of the mystery.

Because this book is from the late 1980s, there are things in the story that were more a part of my childhood than the lives of 21st century children, like renting videotapes. I was about the age of Freddie and Flossie when this book was first published, so it’s a bit of a fun nostalgia trip for me, both because I read books in this series when I was young and because some of the things the kids do in these stories are similar to things I did at their age.

The Secret of Jungle Park

The Bobbsey Twins

#1 The Secret of Jungle Park by Laura Lee Hope (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1987.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge Sean Hagins, for supplying me with photos of this book! Usually, I take pictures of books myself, but I just couldn’t find a physical copy of this one. Sean is a big fan of the Bobbsey Twins, particularly the New Bobbsey Twins mysteries, and you can see some of his video reviews as well as videos about his photography work on his YouTube channel, SJHFoto. Thanks, Sean!

Twelve-year-old twins Nan and Bert Bobbsey are part of a rock band with some of their friends. They call themselves The Aliens, and they’re participating in a Battle of the Bands at the amusement park Jungle Park. Nan plays the keyboard, Bert plays the drums, and their friends, Jimmy and Brian, play guitars. Flossie, their younger sister, wishes that she could join the band, too, but she’s still too young. Flossie and her twin brother, Freddie, are there to help their older siblings get ready and watch them perform. (And, the case of the boys, use some fake blood to play a trick on the girls.)

While they watch the first bands perform, they see some smoke. At first, they think that it’s just a stage effect, but it becomes thicker, and they realize that something is really wrong! Most of the audience flees, but Bert stays behind to save his band’s equipment. Nan tells him it was a dangerous thing to do, but Bert says that he doesn’t think it was a real fire. Fire fighters come, and so does their police officer friend, Lieutenant Pike. Lieutenant Pike also tells Bert that he took a foolish risk, but he agrees with Bert’s impression that the smoke was actually caused by a smoke bomb. Even though a smoke bomb isn’t real fire, setting one off in a crowded auditorium can still be very dangerous because someone could have been hurt in the panic when everybody rushed out.

Lieutenant Pike confides in the children that the police have been called to the park three other times recently for other apparent accidents and problems. He says that if things like this keep happening, they might have to shut down Jungle Park due to safety concerns. The four Bobbsey Twins don’t think that’s fair. They love Jungle Park, and they want to catch the person who set the smoke bomb!

Lieutenant Pike lets the kids look around after the police and fire fighters are finished with the auditorium. There are two clues that they find: a black eye patch and a swizzle stick. Bert doesn’t think that the swizzle stick is much of a clue, but Freddie thinks it might mean something. The eye patch points to two possible suspects that the kids know about: a member of a rival band in the contest and a man the girls saw who was lurking around the dressing room area. Bert thinks that the rival band was trying to disrupt the contest so they would win, but the others aren’t so sure. It turns out that the guy with the eyepatch was hired by one of the owners of the park to make some repairs, but could he have been hired to do more than that? Could one of the owners have a reason to make sure the park closes? What about the woman who takes care of the animals at the park? She doesn’t seem happy about the conditions they’re kept in.

As the kids investigate their suspects, they get chased by elephants, hunt for a suspect in a fun house, tackle someone in a gorilla suit, and win the band contest!

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

Like Sean, this particular Bobbsey Twins series was the one that I read as a kid. I didn’t even know the difference between the New Bobbsey Twins series and the earlier series until I was older. The Bobbsey Twins series, like other Stratemeyer Syndicate series, is typically set contemporary to when the stories were written, so the New Bobbsey Twins series is set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when they were originally written and published.

That time period was when I was a kid myself, so things that the kids did in the New Bobbsey Twins series were very like things kids my age were doing when I was a kid. A lot of kids wished that they could be part of a band. At one point, Flossie talks about something she saw in a teen fashion magazine. Flossie isn’t a teenage herself, but as I recall, teen magazines were largely popular with pre-teens (or “tweens”), who wanted to look like teenagers. Later, she pretends to be collecting signatures for Save the Whales, which was a popular and well-known cause at that time.

The mystery in this book was pretty good. I was sure from the beginning that the kid from the rival rock band wasn’t the park saboteur, but I wasn’t completely sure which of the adults was responsible for much of the book.

The Bobbsey Twins’ Adventure in the Country

Bobbsey Twins

The Bobbsey Twins’ Adventure in the Country by Laura Lee Hope,1907, 1961.

Before I explain the plot of this story, I have to explain that this is one of the early Bobbsey Twins books, originally published in the early 20th century, and like other Stratemeyer Syndicate books that were still in print during the mid-20th century, it was revised from its original form to update the language, culture, and technology in the story and, especially, to remove questionable racial terms and caricatures. The physical copy of the book I read as a kid was the revised version, and I didn’t know about the revisions until I was an adult. When I describe the plot at first, I’m talking about the revised version, but I’m also going to explain some of the differences between the original version and the revised version, so you can see what changed.

The two sets of Bobbsey Twins (Nan and Bert are the elder set of twins and Freddie and Flossie are the younger set) are enjoying their summer vacation at home when their mother receives an invitation for the family to visit the children’s aunt and uncle on their farm and to attend an auction that will be held somewhere nearby. The aunt says that there is something that will be sold at the auction that she thinks will interest the family, but the adults are keeping it as a surprise. The children are excited because they like visiting the farm, and they’ve never been to an auction before.

Mr. Bobbsey has to work at his lumber yard, so the children and their mother take the train to the farm ahead of him, accompanied by their cook/housekeeper, Dinah. (Dinah is black and is a recurring character in the series. The book refers to her as “colored.”) The train trip is a bit chaotic because they nearly forgot to bring their packed lunch, and then, Fred’s cat escapes from its carrier and is nearly left behind when they reach their destination. However, they do get there safely.

At the farm, the children enjoy seeing their cousin, Harry, and visiting all the animals. Freddie loses one of the calves when he tries to take it for a walk, like it’s a dog, and at first, the children fear that it fell in the river and drowned. Fortunately, someone from a nearby farm finds the calf and brings it home. These unrelated misadventures are just the beginning of the children’s summer because there is a mystery that seems to be unfolding at the farm.

On their first night at the farm, Flossie wakes up in the middle of the night because she hears someone playing the piano. She wakes Nan, and the two of them go downstairs, but by the time they get there, whoever was playing the piano is gone. At first, the children’s uncle thinks that it was just a dream, but Nan knows that it wasn’t because a piece of sheet music was knocked off the piano. Later, when they hear the piano at night again, there are smudges on the keys.

The auction is fun. The children each have a little money to buy something small for themselves, just for the experience of bidding on something at an auction. They all find something to buy, and some of the things they find are funny and eclectic. The mystery object that their mother is there to buy is a pony and cart. A neighbor of the aunt and uncle had a pony and cart that his grandchildren used, but they’ve moved away, and the Bobbseys have decided to buy it for their children. The twins’ aunt and uncle are willing to keep them at their farm because they can’t have a pony in the city, and their cousin can use them when the twins aren’t there. The children love the pony, and they have fun with him and the cart with some other kids. However, when they return to the farm after they auction, they discover that the family’s prize bull has been stolen!

The story is somewhat episodic, but there is a thread of mystery that runs through the whole book as the children try to find the missing bull. There’s a boy from New York City who was lost from a group heading to a nearby Fresh Air Camp (part of a charity that has existed since the 19th century to provide poor city children with enriching summer experiences in the countryside – I referred to it before in another vintage children’s book, Ruth Fielding at Sunrise Farm) who witnessed the theft but didn’t realize that the men he saw didn’t own the bull. There’s a Fourth of July celebration and a picnic with other kids, including a local bully. There is some real danger, where Flossie falls over the edge of a cliff and has to be rescued, and the family has to evacuate the farm temporarily when they fear that a nearby dam might break after a fierce storm. Along the way, the Bobbsey twins gather pieces of information that help them find the missing bull.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies). The original edition of the book is public domain and available online through Project Gutenberg.

My Reaction

The Mystery

The mysteries in the story are pretty simple. The story is pretty episodic, and the nighttime piano-playing is unrelated to the theft of the bull. The reasons for that are partly related to the way the book was written in the original version. Originally, the book was more of a general collection of stories about how the Bobbsey Twins spend their summer on their aunt and uncle’s farm and have little adventures there, and it wasn’t really a mystery story. One of the features of Stratemeyer Syndicate books is that chapters are always supposed to end on cliffhangers to keep the stories exciting and encourage children to keep reading. That format lends itself well to the mystery genre, which is why some Stratemeyer series that originally started as more general fiction or adventure gradually evolved into mysteries, but some of the early books, like this one, kind of end up being somewhere between mystery and general fiction and read almost like collections of shorter, interrelated stories.

The theft of the bull didn’t occur at all in the original story, but there was a thread through the book about the piano playing at night. In both the new and the old versions, they eventually find out why, but there are different explanations between the versions. In both versions, the nighttime piano player is an animal, not a human.

Original Version vs. Revised

Like other Stratemeyer Syndicate books that were in print in the mid-20th century, the early Bobbsey Twins books were revised and reprinted around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, both to update the technology and slang in the stories and to remove inappropriate racial language. The 1960s edition of the book uses the word “colored” to refer to the housekeeper/cook who works for the Bobbsey family and her husband, which was an acceptable term in the early and mid-20th century (as in The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP), but the word “black” became the common accepted informal, generic term and “African American” became the accepted formal, specific term post-Civil Rights Movement because people were trying to distance themselves from racial words that, while they were not meant to be derogatory, had some emotional baggage attached to them. In the case of this particular book, the changes from the original version to the version I have include making Dinah more intelligent and eliminating the use of stereotypical black people speech. In the original book, even though she’s an adult, Dinah seems childlike in her reactions to things and seems to need the children to explain things to her, like the scale they see at the train station. When she speaks, her speech is spelled out with a strong accent (ex. “dat chile” instead of “that child”), and she throws out phrases like, “Lan’ o’ massy!” In the revised version, she acts and speaks more like the other adults.

Something else that changed from the original version is how much emphasis there was on poor people vs. upper middle class people, like the Bobbseys. The older version of the story emphasizes more how poor the kid from the Fresh Air Camp is and how charitable the Bobbseys are toward him. There are also other instances of charity toward the poor, like when Nan lends another girl a dress because they need to wear white dresses for the Fourth of July celebration, and the other girl doesn’t have a white dress. The book is careful to mention that nobody else knows that the other girl was borrowing a dress from Nan, with the implication that it would have been embarrassing or a mark of shame for people to know that it was a borrowed dress instead of one of her own. Things like this appear in many vintage children’s books from the 19th century and early 20th century, but it’s not something you find much in modern modern books, at least not described like that. Even when I was a middle-class kid in the late 20th century, it wouldn’t be assumed that a kid would necessarily have certain types of clothes for a special occasion or that their family would be able to just quickly buy something new for one-time use. It was also normal for people to borrow things from friends, even just on whims, so borrowing a dress for one-time use for a special occasion wouldn’t have been regarded as either an act of charity or anything to cause embarrassment, if other people just happened to know about it.

Even though there are things in the stories that were changed to make the stories contemporary with the time of the revisions, the 1960s, there are still aspects of the stories that would be out-of-date culturally by 21st century standards. One of those issues relates to how the adults in the story handle the children. One of the adults in the story tries to resolve the bully situation by letting Bert physically fight the boy who was picking on him, telling both the boys to wrestle with each other to settle their differences and get it all out of their systems. This is not advice that most modern adults would give to kids, and one good reason for not giving that advice is that it doesn’t work, not even in this book. First of all, the kid being bullied might not be the winner of the wrestling match in real life, and no kid should be forced to fight physically just because some bully wants to beat them up. In the book, Bert wins the wrestling match because he’s had wrestling classes before, but as the case would probably be in real life as well, it resolves nothing. The bully is resentful about losing the fight and continues to bully him and play mean tricks on the other kids. The bully episodes are basically there just to add conflict and excitement to the story, and they don’t do much more than that.

I was a little surprised that they left in the part from the original story where the kids put on their own circus, and they have an act they call the “Sacred Calf of India.” In the revised version, Nan wears an improvised sari for this act, and they teach the calf to do a trick. Animals doing cute little tricks are just fine, but adding in the exoticism seems in poor taste. I suppose that they left this part in the revised version because it’s not trying to be insulting to people from India, more that the kids are trying to play on the concept of circus acts and snake charmers, but it is another example of something that you find sometimes in vintage books but wouldn’t be likely to find in modern ones.

The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport

Bobbsey Twins

The Bobbsey Twins of Lakeport by Laura Lee Hope (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1904, 1961.

Before I begin discussing the story, I need to explain that this story, I need to explain that, in the 1950s and 1960s, children’s series books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate that were still in print were rewritten and reprinted to update slang and cultural references and, importantly, to remove inappropriate racial language and stereotypes. This was the time of the Civil Rights Movement, and people were becoming more self-conscious about the language they were using and what they were teaching to children. The Bobbsey Twins was one of the series that was rewritten, and I was surprised by some of the things that appeared in the original printings of the first Bobbsey Twins series. As a kid, I was more familiar with The New Bobbsey Twins series, which was written in the 1980s and 1990s. The Bobbsey Twins was one of those series that has multiple sub-series, sort of like the various incarnations of Scooby-Doo cartoons, each one updated to fit the decades when they were written. The original Bobbsey Twins series was first written in the early 1900s, and the way it originally portrayed the black couple who work for the Bobbsey family was very problematic. I was really surprised. The edition that I’m describing below is the revised 1960s edition, with the problematic elements changed or removed.

The story begins with both sets of Bobbsey Twins – the older set, Nan and Bert, and the younger set, Freddie and Flossie – disassembling their old tree house because they’re planning to build a new one. Six-year-old Flossie mentions that a spooky old house near their school is also going to be torn down, and Freddie says that another kid at school claims that house is haunted. The children’s father says that they must be talking about the old Marden house. It used to a farmhouse, but the town has grown around it. Mr. Marden was a wealthy man who had once been ambassador to Great Britain, and he build the large house when he retired. Since then, the place has become disused and badly run-down, which is why the kids think it’s spooky and why it’s going to be torn down.

The children’s mother explains that she knows Mrs. Marden, who is the widow of the original Mr. Marden’s grandson. Mrs. Marden is now elderly, and she sold the old Marden house to the school when she went to live in a nursing home. Mrs. Bobbsey says that she hasn’t been to visit Mrs. Marden lately, she decides to pay her a visit that afternoon. The kids are still curious about whether the house could be haunted, and they ask their mother to ask Mrs. Marden about it. It doesn’t seem likely that the house is really haunted, even though it is old and spooky-looking. Danny, the kid at school who claims that he’s seen ghosts around the place, is known for playing mean tricks, so he’s not a reliable witness.

Bert suggests to the others that they could go take a look at the house themselves. When they get there, they see men surveying the property. The men say that, after the house is torn down, it will be replaced by an addition to the school. The kids ask the men if they’re worried about the house being haunted. One of the men says that he heard some strange sounds, but he thinks it was just a couple of local boys playing a prank. The men don’t think that there’s a real haunting there. The Bobbsey Twins want to see the inside of the house, but the surveyors tell them that they can’t go inside because the house is locked up to discourage vandals. The kids spend a little more time with the surveyors, helping to hold their equipment and seeing how it works. However, the children are still curious about the house and wish they could investigate it more.

Then, when their mother comes home from visiting Mrs. Marden, she tells them that there really is a mystery about that house. Mrs. Marden’s memory is failing her, but she knows that some valuable souvenirs from old Mr. Marden’s time as an ambassador are missing. One of them is a cameo surrounded by diamonds (the book defines what a cameo is for the benefit of kids who don’t know) and a collection of obsidional coins. (The book also explains what these coins are. The characters had to consult a book because even Mrs. Bobbsey doesn’t know. I hadn’t heard of them before, either, because I don’t know much about coin collecting. They’re basically improvised coins made during times of siege to pay off soldiers. They’re made from whatever materials the makers had at hand and are often irregular in shape. I love stories that explain interesting and unusual historical details!) Mrs. Marden knows that she hid these things somewhere in the old Marden house, but she just can’t remember where. Since the house is going to be torn down, there isn’t much time left to find them!

Mrs. Bobbsey gives the children permission to investigate and tells them that the principal at their school has the keys to the house. She thinks that the principal might let the kids into the house if they explain that they want to retrieve something for Mrs. Marden. The school principal is surprisingly agreeable to the idea of the children poking around the old house and gives them the key, but Danny overhears their conversation and tries to convince them again that the house is haunted.

When the twins and a couple of their friends go inside the house, there isn’t much there. All the furniture has already been cleared out of the house, and it doesn’t seem to leave many possible hiding places to search. The only thing Mrs. Marden seems able to remember about the hiding place is that it has something to do with a hearth, but there are many fireplaces in the old house.

It turns out that the old house is hiding many secrets! There are secret passages and hidden trap doors. The kids also discover that someone is sneaking around the old house, someone who seems to know its secrets. Could it be Danny, playing ghost to scare them, or could it be someone who’s after the same treasure the children are trying to find?

The revised edition of the book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

My Reaction and Spoilers

New vs. Old Editions

I have trouble talking about the original edition of this book because I haven’t been able to find it. I’m not sure if that’s because the racial language was just too objectionable for anyone to want to put a copy online, even though it should be public domain now. Although, it could be that it is online but I just don’t recognize it because it’s called something different. Some of the revised Stratemeyer Syndicate books are so different from their originals that they’re barely recognizable as being the same story. Some original stories were considered so outdated that they were completely rewritten. I know something about the level of racial language and stereotypes in the Bobbsey Twins because I did find an older edition of the next book in the series, and I’ve read articles about some of the other books I haven’t read yet.

Even though this printing doesn’t contain the problematic racial language and stereotypes of the original, there were things some of the characters said that I still didn’t like. Mr. Bobbsey calls Flossie “my little fat fairy” as a term of endearment, but it sounds a little rude to me to call attention to her being “fat.” Flossie doesn’t seem to mind, probably partly because she’s only 6 years old and not at the stage where girls really start worrying about their appearance, but some girls can really be affected by being called “fat”, especially if there’s a lot of teasing at school aimed at “fat” people. The father similarly calls Freddie his “little fat fireman” because Freddie wants to be a fireman. Freddie doesn’t seem to mind it, either, but I still feel like the “fat” part is just unnecessary. If he’s going to give nicknames, why not just say “my fairy princess” or “little fireman”, sticking to words with positive connotations, without adding an extra, unnecessary word that can easily turn negative? I’m not fond of teasing, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to teach kids to tease or set them up for teasing later.

The Mystery

One thing that makes this story a little different from other books in the Stratemeyer Syndicate series is that the children get some adult help with the mystery. Usually, the children in Stratemeyer Syndicate series try to do everything themselves, but when the kids realize that there is a strange adult sneaking around the house and trying to scare them away, they tell their school principal, and he comes to investigate with them. However, even when the adults realize that there’s some strange adult lurking around and trying to scare the kids, nobody stops the kids from continuing to investigate the house.

There are various other little adventures that happen throughout the book, like Freddie getting lost in a department store and adopting a cat he names Snoop and the boys camping out with a friend but ending the trip when it starts to rain too hard. However, these incidents also help the kids to gather some additional clues to the main mystery.

The identity of the adult sneaking around the house would be impossible for readers to guess because we don’t really get to meet him until later. The kids are the ones who find the treasure, although it happens by accident. I would have liked it better if they had reasoned it out, but it’s still a pretty good kids’ mystery story.

Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures

Ruth Fielding

Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures; Or, Helping the Dormitory Fund by Alice B. Emerson (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1916.

One day, while Ruth Fielding is out with her friends, Helen and Tom, they see a film crew working by the river. (Because this is the 1910s, they are making a silent film and using the kind of old-fashioned movie camera that needs to be cranked, like the one shown in the picture to the right.) They talk about whether to not they would like to be in movies themselves. The girls think it sounds exciting, but Tom thinks that they’re too young. The girls say that they are not too young because the actress who is being filmed looks like she’s about their age. As they watch, the young actress accidentally falls into the river, which is freezing cold because it’s winter. Ruth and her friends hurry to help pull her out before she drowns. When they get her out of the river, Ruth is appalled at how unconcerned the director is for the actress’s health while she’s clearly suffering from the cold. Ruth and her friends take the actress, Hazel Gray, back to the Red Mill where Ruth lives, where she can warm up and recover.

While Hazel is resting at the Red Mill, she and Ruth tell each other about themselves. Like Ruth, Hazel is also an orphan. Her parents were actors, and some friends raised Hazel to be an actress after her parents died. Ruth tells Hazel that she has been thinking about writing a movie scenario (script) just for fun, and Hazel offers to show it to the director if she does. Ruth isn’t sure she likes the idea because she didn’t like the director, Mr. Grimes. Hazel explains that, while the director can be callous and abrasive, he is a famous director who really knows his business and can help actors and scenario writers make their careers.

The next day, Mr. Hammond, the manager of the film company, comes to the Red Mill to see how Hazel is and to ask Ruth about how the accident happened. He seems concerned about whether or not Ruth’s description of what happened matches what Mr. Grimes told him. Ruth explains what she saw to Mr. Hammond, and she also tells him what she thinks about Mr. Grimes’s lack of concern about Hazel’s welfare. Mr. Hammond says that it’s impossible to change other people, indicating that he knows how callous and unpleasant Mr. Grimes can be, but he promises to make sure that Hazel gets a fair deal for her acting and the accident she suffered.

While he is there, Mr. Hammond becomes fascinated by the quaintness of the Red Mill. He thinks that it would make an excellent setting for a movie. Ruth says that she would love to write a scenario about the Red Mill herself. Mr. Hammond asks her if she’s ever written a scenario before, and Ruth admits that she hasn’t, but there has to be a first time for everything. Mr. Hammond is amused and says that he would be very interested in any scenario that Ruth might write. However, he suggests to her that, before she writes a scenario about the Red Mill, she write a short story about something else, something exciting, so he can see what her writing is like. Ruth happily agrees, and after she returns to boarding school with her friends, she starts writing.

Ruth and Helen are now seniors at their boarding school, and they are starting to think nervously about their lives after graduation. They know that they want to go on to college, but they find the prospect intimidating, too. Neither of them is quite sure what they want to do with their lives. The idea of growing up in general sounds frightening.

The girls aren’t the only ones showing signs of growing up but feeling awkward about it. Ruth finds herself getting unexpectedly jealous about Tom having a crush on Hazel. Helen says that Ruth simply hasn’t been paying attention to the things the boys are doing. All of Tom’s friends at his school have crushes on actresses, and they’ve been collecting pictures of them from the newspapers and pinning them up in their rooms. At the same time, Tom seems oddly sullen that other people are starting to treat Ruth and his sister as young ladies. It’s one thing for him to have a crush on Hazel, who is a couple of years older than they are, but he doesn’t seem to like the idea of Helen and Ruth seeming too grown up.

These things are in the back of Ruth’s mind as she finishes writing her story. After she sends her story to Mr. Hammond, a fire breaks out in one of the dormitories at the school because of a neglected candle. The dormitory that is destroyed is the one where Ruth lives with her friends. Ruth is tempted to try to save their belongings, but the teachers tell her that it’s just too dangerous. They’re just thankful that all the girls are safe.

After the fire, there is the question of rebuilding the dormitory. At first, they think that the insurance money will pay for a new dorm, but it turns out that the school’s forgetful headmaster accidentally let the insurance policy lapse. Some of the girls at the school are from wealthy families, and they are sure that their parents would be willing to contribute to the building of a new dorm, but Ruth sees a couple of problems with that. First, while the wealthier students’ families would certainly be able to contribute sizable amounts toward the building project, the families of poorer students may hesitate to contribute at all because they may be embarrassed that they cannot possibly match the donations the wealthier families can contribute. Second, the girls are overly relying on their parents. While the parents may be glad to help, Ruth thinks it would be better to find a way that the students themselves can contribute to the building fund. The other students agree that they would all like to find a way for everyone to contribute.

An idea for a group project the entire school can participate in comes to Ruth when Mr. Hammond sends Ruth a check to pay for her first story. He thinks that Ruth has a great talent for writing, and he’s going to make her story into a short, one-reel movie! That makes Ruth realize that, if she can write a short story for a short movie, she can write one for a long, five-reel picture. If she can write a long scenario for a movie, all of the girls in the school can be in the film! She thinks that she can persuade Mr. Hammond to produce the picture and distribute it to the surrounding town, and the royalties from the movie can pay for the dorm reconstruction.

Mr. Hammond agrees to help Ruth and her friends make a movie on behalf of the school, and the school’s headmistress agrees to allow the students to participate in the project. The donations that the school has already received from the parents have paid for the removal of the ruins of the old dormitory and the beginning of the construction of the new one, and the money the girls earn from the movie can pay for the completion of the building project. Ruth already has an idea for the plot of the movie, one about girls at a boarding school, so they can film the movie on their own campus. Mr. Grimes turns out to be the film director, and he is still temperamental, but he shows more patience when dealing with the students than he had before.

There are complications, of course. Hazel Gray is one of the professional actresses helping with the movie, and Ruth is still jealous about how fond she seems of Tom. Then, there is drama when the other girls learn which girl left the candle unattended and vent their wrath on her. The girl, Amy, was already a troubled student with an unhappy home life. Then, Amy gets upset when the boy she likes seems to be getting too friendly with Ruth, and she runs away. Ruth and the other girls have to search for her, and they learn the embarrassing secret behind the dormitory fire and some other secrets that Amy has been hiding from them.

This book is now in the public domain and available to borrow and read for free online through Project Gutenberg.

My Reaction and Spoilers

Is There a Mystery in the Book?

Not exactly a mystery, but there are some things that Ruth and her friends discover some secrets about their prickly fellow student, Amy, and when she runs away, the other girls have to figure out where she went and rescue her. Although Ruth and the other girls are unhappy with Amy because of the dormitory fire and because Amy frequently has a sour attitude, but they become more sympathetic when they learn more about some secrets that Amy is hiding. The embarrassing secret behind the dormitory fire is that Amy is afraid of the dark. She doesn’t want to admit it to the other girls because she doesn’t want to be teased, but that’s why she left a candle burning in her room; she was afraid of returning to her room after dark. The school has electric lights, but she grew up in a more old-fashioned town and isn’t used to them.

Worse still, Amy is terrified that her father will find out that she caused a fire at school. He is already harsh with her, and it has gotten worse since he remarried. He seems to view the child from his first marriage as a nuisance, and it seems like he sent her to boarding school to get her out of the way as he starts a new life with her stepmother. Actually, Amy’s father’s reasons for sending her to boarding school were not just to get her out of the way. Ruth and the others learn that part of Amy’s difficulties with her stepmother have partly been because Amy behaved badly toward her because her aunts disliked her and were a bad influence on Amy. It wasn’t just that the boy she liked seemed to like Ruth that made her run away; she had gotten an angry letter from her father that not only accused her of doing something bad before she left home but also saying that he has heard rumors about her involvement with the fire. He is coming to the school to find out for himself what she’s been doing there, and Amy is terrified of what he will do when he gets there.

To find Amy, the girls and Curly (the boy Amy likes) have to think of all the things they know about Amy and the places she could have gone. Curly knows more than the girls do because Amy confides in him. I appreciated that Ruth and the other girls are much more active in this story in solving the problem of Amy’s disappearance than they often are in other books. In the earlier books in this series, Ruth and her friends frequently rely on chance and coincidence to reveal hidden information and other people to carrying out the final action, but this time, they use their own reasoning to figure out where to look for Amy and go after her themselves. In some ways, I think that the more active roles that Ruth and the others play in the story are because they are growing up. Amy is younger than Ruth and her friends, and they feel responsible for her. In earlier books, adults and others were looking after them and helping them, but now, they are older than someone else. I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops in other books in the series.

When they find Amy, she has had a bad reaction from poison oak or poison sumac, and everyone feels sorry for her. Amy gets the first sympathy that she’s had for some time. Amy straightens out her relationship with her father when he comes and realizes that she was unfair to her stepmother. The other girls at school forgive Amy for the fire when they find out what she’s been through, and her father makes a generous donation to the building fund.

Characters That Age

One of the most unique features of this book is that the characters are growing up, and it’s part of the story. That’s something that doesn’t happen in other, later Stratemeyer Syndicate books. In this book, Ruth and her friends graduate from their boarding school. As the girls think about their graduation and going on to college, they’re a little intimidated because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives, but Ruth discovers her talent for writing movie scripts/scenarios. (These are silent films in her time, so there’s no dialog for the “script.” Any dialog that the audience needs to understand would have been shown in text in the intertitles. I think that’s why they call this form of script a “scenario” in the book.) There is some awkwardness in the way the boys and girls in the story start looking at each other because they realize that they’re becoming young ladies and young men. They’re not used to thinking of themselves and each other in that way, and they’re developing crushes.

You won’t find this sort of thing much in the on-going Stratemeyer Syndicate book series, like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Those characters are frozen in age on purpose, and the Ruth Fielding series was part of the reason why. In early Stratemeyer Syndicate book series, like Ruth Fielding and the Rover Boys, the characters did age. They grew up, graduated from school, got married, and eventually, had kids of their own. The problem for the Stratemeyer Syndicate was that, when their characters got married and became parents themselves, they were starting to get too old to be teen detectives and young adventurers. Their child audiences wanted to read about kids like themselves or teenagers or young adults, not people who were more like their own parents. So, whenever characters started getting too old for the target audience, they would have to end that series and start a new one. After going through the Rover Boys and Ruth Fielding and some of their other popular series in this way, they realized that they could keep a book series going much longer if they just didn’t let the characters age.

That’s why Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are frozen in age somewhere in their late teens or early 20s, and the books typically leave it vague which it is. It’s mostly important that readers know that the characters are young but old enough to travel and have adventures by themselves. Nancy Drew is not going to school, and if she takes any classes in individual books, she isn’t studying for a degree. If she did, her series would eventually end because she would graduate and move on to adult life. Similarly, the Hardy Boys are learning to be private detectives by working with their father, who is a private detective, but they will always be in that apprentice phase, so their series can continue. There are times when the characters date other characters or have crushes, but their romances don’t progress to anything serious because that would also age the characters. Every decade or so, the books in those series get revamped or the characters get a new, updated series that incorporates modern technology and culture, but the characters stay roughly the same age throughout. It’s basically what happens with new Scooby-Doo cartoon series, but with books, and the Stratemeyer Syndicate did it with their characters first.

Part of the reason that I wanted to read the Ruth Fielding books was that I knew the characters would age, and I also knew that she was a kind of prototype for Nancy Drew. The Nancy Drew series started around the time Ruth Fielding’s series ended, as a replacement for Ruth Fielding. Fortunately, we’re not at the end of Ruth Fielding’s series yet. The series doesn’t end with her boarding school graduation. It continues through her time in college and into her career in the movies.

Ruth Fielding and the Gypsies

Ruth Fielding

Ruth Fielding and the Gypsies; Or, The Missing Pearl Necklace by Alice B. Emerson (Stratemeyer Syndicate), 1915.

Just as a quick note before I begin to describe the plot of this book, this book is part of the Ruth Fielding series, an early Stratemeyer Syndicate, before they started writing some of their more popular and best-known series, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Some books in early Stratemeyer Syndicate series are awkward because they use racial terms that polite people would not use now. During the mid-20th century, around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, the Stratemeyer Syndicate revised the books it had in print, updating the technology and slang terms in the stories to be more modern and removing or altering some questionable racial terms and attitudes. Unfortunately, the Ruth Fielding series had already ended by that time, and these books were not among those that were revised and updated. I’ve explained this before on the pages for some the Stratemeyer Syndicate book series and individual book reviews, but I have to explain it again here because some people might object to the word “gypsy.” I know that’s not really the correct or polite way to refer to the Romany or “Travelers”, as they’re sometimes called, but it can’t be helped here because the Stratemeyer Syndicate put it right in the title. This is one of those books where I just can’t avoid it, and it’s all through the book. Some of the attitudes and stereotypes around the characters are also likely to be objectionable, but I’ll address that further in my reaction section.

The Ruth Fielding series is interesting because it was kind of a precursor to Nancy Drew, with a similar type of heroine, but one that, unlike Nancy Drew, grew up, went through school, and had a career during the course of the series. There are some aspects of this series and the development of the characters that I think were better done in this series than in the Nancy Drew series. There are also times when the books are surprisingly thoughtful about the conditions of life and society in the early 20th century, when they were written, and this book and the next one begin to mark a turning point in the main character’s life. Ruth is a poor girl, and before her education is over, she will have to seriously consider her career options, which is something you don’t see much in the Stratemeyer Syndicate series that are still in print because those characters never age. The characters in the earlier series did, which is why those series ended. There are some things in the series that I don’t like, like the racial terms and attitudes and when the stories are more adventure than mystery because I really prefer mystery, but this is what the books are like. In these reviews, I’m just explaining what the books and characters are like. On the bright side, if you don’t like what the books are like, you can consider that I read and reviewed them, so you don’t have to. You can find out what they’re like from my reviews and save yourself some time.

The Plot

Ruth Fielding is with her Uncle Jabez in a boat on the river near the Red Mill where they live when the boat overturns. Uncle Jabez falls out and hits his head. He almost drowns, but Ruth holds his head above water. She can’t pull him out of the river by herself, but she calls for help and attracts the attention of a passing gypsy boy. The gypsy boy, called Roberto, pulls Uncle Jabez out of the water.

Uncle Jabez is grateful, but the incident brings back an earlier argument about whether boys are more useful than girls. Uncle Jabez argues that boys are more useful than girls because they are stronger and can do heavier work, and he thinks that his near-drowning proves that. Of course, Ruth, Aunt Alvira, and Ruth’s friend Mercy are all offended by that assessment. Aunt Alvira points out that the boy who helped Uncle Jabez wouldn’t have been able to do that if Ruth hadn’t already been holding his head above water and calling for help. Ruth says that not all work is heavy work. Uncle Jabez says that girls are costly because they need money for education, and they’re not likely to have careers afterward, like men do. Ruth says that the reason why she wants an education is so that she can have a career and support herself.

Ruth knows that a poor orphan like her is lucky that she can attend boarding school with her friends. Her friend, Helen, is from a wealthy family, who is willing to fund her education in anything she wants to study, whether it eventually produces money or not, but Ruth doesn’t have that luxury. Eventually, she will have to get a job of some kind. Aunt Alvira says that, when she was young, most girls got a basic education and then got married, which is probably what Uncle Jabez is expecting Ruth to do. However, Aunt Alvira knows that modern girls have more ambitions. (Keep in mind that this story is set around 1915, contemporary to the time when it was written.) Ruth’s music teacher at school thinks that Ruth has a promising voice, and she wonders if she can train as a singer, although that’s not the kind of thing that her uncle would think of as something useful.

Before returning to boarding school with her friends, Ruth goes on a car trip with Helen and Helen’s twin brother, Tom. It turns out to be an unexpectedly eventful trip. Not long after setting out on the trip, they meet up with Roberto again and begin talking with him. The others ask Roberto about being a gypsy and if he wouldn’t prefer a more settled life with a regular job. Roberto says that, while he could work as a farmhand easily enough, few people would hire him for other jobs because he’s a gypsy, and people don’t trust gypsies. Besides, he sees little use in such a life. Tom says that he could afford better food and better clothes if he had a better job. Roberto says that he does well enough traveling around with his family, taking odd jobs, and helping his uncle at horse trades. He tells the others a little about his family and his life with them. After he leaves, Tom makes jokes about the rumors of gypsies kidnapping people.

Further down the road, Tom accidentally hits a lamb in the road with his car. The lamb is still alive, but its leg is broken. The farmer is angry, says that the lamb is useless now, and demands that Tom pay for the lamb. The price he demands is about twice as high as it should have been, but Tom pays it anyway to avoid further trouble. Then, they learn that the farmer, who doesn’t want to be bothered nursing the lamb until it heals, plans to simply kill it and feed it to his dogs. The girls are upset about the poor little lamb, and they plead for its life. Ruth is sure that the lamb can be healed. The farmer says that the lamb is his to do with as he pleases, but Helen points out that the lamb isn’t his anymore because Tom just paid for it. The farmer protests, but they take the lamb anyway. At first, Tom says that he doesn’t know what else to do with the lamb except take it to a butcher, but the girls persuade him to let them keep the lamb and try to help it.

Later, there is a storm, and the group seeks shelter in an old, empty house. The girls go inside while Tom parks their car in an old shed. The girls find the house spooky and wonder if it could be haunted. In some books, investigating a haunting in an old, abandoned house like this would be the main mystery, but in this one, it’s just one episode that gives them a clue to something else. While the girls are exploring the upstairs rooms and Tom is still outside, two strange men enter the house. The girls don’t let the men know they’re there. They’re not sure of who the men are or what their intentions are, so they listen to their conversation. They can’t understand everything the men say because half of their conversation is in an unfamiliar language, but from what the girls understand, they have either committed a theft or are going to be involved in one. The girls don’t want the men to find them or Tom, so they scare them out of the house by spooking some bats, which take flight and frighten the men away.

All of this would be exciting enough, but as they all travel further, Tom’s car breaks down. Tom leaves the girls and sets out on foot to get some help. The girls wait at the car for him, but it starts getting dark, and they start to get worried. A group of gypsies passes by with their wagons, and although Ruth isn’t sure it’s a good idea, Helen asks the gypsies if they can give her and Ruth a ride to her parents’ house. The gypsies ask the girls some questions, and then, they agree that the girls can come with them. Helen leaves a note for her brother that they’ve gone with the gypsies, but when she isn’t looking, one of the gypsies takes the note and destroys it.

It turns out that Ruth’s concerns about the gypsies were justified. The leader of this gypsy band is an elderly woman, who the girls recognize from Roberto’s stories as his grandmother, although Roberto is not currently among the group. The grandmother is a greedy woman, and she has realized from the girls’ car that at least one of them is from a wealthy family. To her, that means that they have relatives who would be able to pay a ransom for the girls. The girls become captives of the gypsies. The old woman also has an ability to hypnotize people with her eyes, and Helen seems particularly susceptible to it. During the night, while spying on the old woman, Ruth also learns that she is involved with the thieves they saw in the empty house.

The girls try to escape from the gypsies, and Helen gets away, but Ruth is caught. The old woman makes Ruth disguise herself as one of the gypsies so no one will notice her among the others. Can Ruth find a way to escape, or will Tom, Helen, or Roberto manage to help her?

This book is now in the public domain and available to borrow and read for free online through Project Gutenberg.

My Reaction and Spoilers

The Mystery/Adventure

The story covers not only Ruth’s adventures but the adventures of Ruth’s friends while she is captive, including Tom’s encounter with a suspicious farm couple and Helen’s frightening experience on a whitewater river. In the end, Roberto does help Ruth to escape. By the time Ruth returns to her friends and is able to tell her story to the authorities, the gypsies are well out of the area.

However, there is still something that bothers Ruth. She knows that Roberto’s grandmother had a valuable pearl necklace in her possession, apparently the spoils of the theft that the men in the empty house were talking about. Ruth wonders who they robbed and where the necklace came from. At first, it seemed like this plot line was going to be left hanging, but when Ruth returns to boarding school with her friends, she gets the answer. A new student is joining the school, Nettie Parsons, and she is the daughter of a multi-millionaire who made his money in sugar. She is the one who was robbed of the pearl necklace, which really belongs to her aunt, and there is a $5,000 reward for its return. $5,000 would be a pretty decent reward even in the 2020s, but it went much further in the 1910s. Ruth realizes that she knows who has that pearl necklace, and if she can get it back for Nettie, she would not only be doing a good turn for a classmate but getting the much-needed reward for herself. $5,000 would be enough to give Ruth some monetary independence and could fund her continued education.

Like other early Stratemeyer Syndicate books, the story is more adventure than mystery, although there are some mystery elements. Ruth gets some of the clues to the theft that the gypsies committed, but it’s more by coincidence than investigation that she discovers who the pearl necklace belongs to. Ruth does get the reward in the end, which allows her to finish at Briarwood Hall and go on to college in later books. However, while the old woman was apprehended with the necklace on Ruth’s information, I think it’s important to note that Ruth does not chase her down and apprehend her herself. Ruth is still at boarding school when others do that on her behalf, and she is then summoned to identify the apprehended suspect. On the one hand, this would never happen that way in a modern, 21st century book. In modern books, the girl heroines are much more active and would insist on catching the bad guys themselves. On the other hand, I have to admit that the way the book did it would actually be the more likely way this situation would play out in the real world, with the boarding school kid just providing information and being kept at boarding school while others apprehend the criminals. I think if the book was rewritten in the 21st century, Ruth would be more active in catching the criminals and retrieving the necklace, but there is some realism in the way the book actually ends.

Ruth’s career ambitions are not resolved in this story but are addressed more directly in the next book in the series.

Stereotypes and Racial Attitudes

I was curious about the notion that gypsies kidnap people because I’ve read about that in other books, and I wondered where that idea came from. According to an article that I found, it seems to come partly from traveling gypsies being used as scapegoats for missing or murdered children (like in old movies, where the small-town sheriff is anxious to blame a “drifter” for a crime) or as “bogeymen” in stories parents told to scare their children into not wandering away from home and also partly from people noticing children among traveling Romany groups who did not seem to resemble the people raising them, particularly if the children seemed to be lighter-skinned or have lighter hair or eyes than the adults. The reasons for the children not looking like the adults have been proven in modern times to be because the children were either adopted or were simply biological children who didn’t look like their parents through quirks of genetics, which sometimes happens. Light-colored eyes and light-colored hair are recessive traits, while dark eyes and dark hair tend to be more dominant traits, but even a dark-eyed, dark-haired person can carry the recessive genes for light hair and eyes, and those recessive traits can come out in the next generation. Basically, the children resemble previous generations in the same family, such as grandparents or great-grandparents, and if observers could see all the generations of the family together, it would be more clear how the traits were handed down to the children. (People also used to think that it was impossible for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed child, but that also happens sometimes because genetics can be complicated, eye color can be influenced by combinations of multiple genes together, and genetic mutations sometimes take place.) Basically, some people overreact when they see a child who doesn’t match the adults they’re with and start imagining kidnapping, but often, there are other, logical explanations, and being too quick to scream “kidnap!” causes problems. Some people do this to families who have had interracial adoptions. Personally, my brain would be more likely to consider possible divorces or previous relationships or possible affairs or maybe that the adult was actually a hired caretaker rather than a parent to be the next most-likely explanations after adoption for children who don’t look like parents, and I wouldn’t be eager to publicly ask questions about the sexual or reproductive history of total strangers. Unless the child appeared to be in immediate physical danger or was screaming, “Help!” or “This isn’t my daddy!” or something similar, I would be unlikely to interfere. “If you see something, say something” can be helpful, but it also helps if what you see is the big picture.

I also noticed that the gypsies in the story are described as being non-white people because they have darker skin, and even Ruth seems to dislike them and be suspicious of them for that alone. Granted, these particular people are actually criminals in the story who kidnap Ruth and Helen, but Ruth was thinking that just from looking at them. While I would have understood Ruth being reluctant to trust them because they’re strangers and because they know from the men in the empty house that there are thieves in the area, it’s their darker skin that bothers Ruth first. When Ruth first meets Roberto’s grandmother, Ruth thinks that the gypsy woman is too dark and strange/foreign to be trustworthy, and she later hates that her gypsy disguise involves bare feet and her skin dyed darker. She is ashamed of the way she looks in that disguise and thinks that she would be embarrassed for Tom to see her looking like one of the gypsies. Ruth’s prejudices bothered me more than if another character had done it because, while the older Stratemeyer Syndicate books do have inappropriate racial language and attitudes, the characters who are outright racists are typically the ones the stories show to be unfriendly antagonists or outright villains. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s rare for a friendly main character to be outright disparaging of racial appearances even if they have stereotypical notions about other people.

It’s really an irony that Ruth has prejudices against non-white people because the beginning of the story involves an argument with her uncle about his prejudices about girls. If this book had been written, or at least revised, during the 21st century, the rest of the story would have involved overturning both sets of prejudices. In the book as it is, nobody’s prejudices seem to be proven wrong.

Uncle Jabez’s assertions about girls’ usefulness go largely unchallenged. The girls are kidnapped when they’re by themselves, after Tom leaves them alone. Ruth copes decently with her captivity by helping Helen escape, but she needs help to escape herself, and men apprehend the criminals in the end, not Ruth herself. If Ruth’s uncle has any rethinks about the relative usefulness of boys and girls, he doesn’t mention it, and he isn’t presented with any strong evidence in favor of girls. Ruth is just content that she got the reward money for the return of the necklace, so she isn’t solely dependent on miserly Uncle Jabez’s grudgingly-given support.

There are no prejudices about gypsies proven wrong in the story. While I’m sure that most real-world Romany are not kidnappers, the gypsies in the books are criminals and kidnappers. Roberto is fond of his family and their traveling lifestyle, but at the end of the book, he accepts a new job as a gardener at Ruth’s school. He cuts his hair more like mainstream American styles of the time, and he starts wearing more mainstream American clothes. Ruth notes that his skin is still darker, but she is happy about these other changes. It is revealed that Roberto’s family came from Bohemia (a region now part of the Czech Republic) about ten years before, and his grandmother will now be deported back there, but Roberto wants to stay in the United States. He Americanizes his name and starts having people call him Robert. That’s quite a conversion from his attitudes much earlier in the book. Granted, having relatives arrested for theft and kidnapping can have an effect on a person, but from his earlier descriptions of his grandmother, I’m pretty sure that these sort of situations are not new to Roberto’s grandmother and the rest of their group. Maybe getting caught is new, but there is an implication that his greedy grandmother has done shady things before for the sake of money. But, part of the happy ending of this story is that Roberto gets assimilated into mainstream American society and becomes less ethnic, which is bound to leave a bad taste in the mouths of modern Americans.

So, Did I Like the Book?

I liked parts of it. As I pointed out, there are things in this book that are highly problematic for modern people, and I think the book as it is would be more suitable to adults who are interested in nostalgic children’s literature or the evolution of children’s literature. However, there are parts of the book I did find interesting, and I can see ways in which the book could be rewritten to make it both more exciting and more acceptable to modern people. For example, I really liked the part with the empty house where they overheard the thieves talking and the way the girls scared the thieves with the bats. If I were rewriting the story, I would extend that scene and leave out the part with the lamb, which didn’t contribute much to the rest of the story.

Of course, I would just have the criminals be part of a random criminal gang, not Romany. (How common were traveling caravans in the early 20th century anyway? I’ve never seen even one in real life. Was that really a common thing at one point so that it ended up in so many children’s books? From what I’ve read about Romany populations and migrations in the United States, some of the stereotypes about them had some basis in fact, like that some of them occasionally resorted to stealing to survive, but were exaggerated in the press for the sake of sensationalism, so I’m thinking that the prevalence of gypsy caravans and fortune tellers were probably also greatly exaggerated in literature.) I picture the criminal gang organized with the two guys who hide out in the old house being the thieves, and the others being a seemingly-ordinary and pleasant-looking couple who act as the fences of their stolen goods. Then, the girls could hitch a ride from this nice-looking couple after their car breaks down. At first, they wouldn’t know there was a connection between the “nice” couple and the thieves, but they would later accidentally see the couple talking with the thieves and the thieves handing over their goods. The girls would get caught spying on them, so the criminals would kidnap them because the girls now know too much.

Later, after the girls get away from the criminals, Ruth could find out that the necklace they saw being handed over wasn’t among the thieves’ belongings when the police caught up with them. Thinking about the place where the thieves were caught and something she may have heard them say, she could then realize that the thieves doubled back on their trail after the girls escaped from them, returning to their hideout in the abandoned house to hide the necklace because they still don’t know that the girls were in the house when they were talking there before. Then, Ruth could sneak away from her boarding school for a day to go back to the house and look for the necklace, finding it in a clever secret hiding place. I think that arrangement of events would make Ruth more active in solving the mystery, better justifying her acceptance of the reward at the end.

The Richleighs of Tantamount

The Richleighs of Tantamount by Barbara Willard, illustrated by C. Walter Hodges, 1966.

The Richleighs are a wealthy Victorian family in England, their enormous wealth the product of generations of marriages between wealthy families. There are four children in the family (from oldest to youngest): Edwin, Angeline, Sebastian, and Maud. The four Richleigh children are accustomed to their family’s wealthy and luxurious lifestyle, brought up by their fond parents and the governesses and tutors they hire to oversee the children’s education. Overall, the children are happy and appreciate their privileged lifestyle, but there is one thing that bothers all of them. It has bothered them for a long time. They don’t understand why their parents won’t take them to see their family’s ancestral home, Tantamount.

The wealthy Richleigh family owns several grand houses (including one in Scotland and one in Italy), but Tantamount is a mystery to the children. They know it exists because their family has a painting of it, and their grandfather talked about it once. A distant ancestor built this castle-like mansion in Cornwall, on a cliff overlooking the ocean and in a mixture of styles from around the world, and it’s supposed to contain some amazing things. Yet, the children’s father says he has never been there himself. The children’s parents don’t even like to talk about the place, and they’ve never taken the children there. The children know that something mysterious must have happened there at some point, but they have no idea what it is. They just know that they would love to see the place and find out what all the mystery is about! They often speculate about what the place is like, what once happened there, and why they’ve never been allowed to see it.

One day, Sebastian, who is the one who usually asks the most questions, decides to press their mother for answers about Tantamount. She tells him that his great-great-great grandfather, who built the place, was an eccentric and that the mansion is just too big, too inconvenient, and too remote to be of any comfort or use. This inconvenience is one of the reasons why most of the Richleigh family just cannot be bothered to go there. Also, his mother admits that the Richleighs are actually a little ashamed of the house because it is so hideously, overly elaborate and vulgar, even by the luxurious standards of the Richleighs. Sebastian says that he would still like to go there for an adventure, but his mother sees no point to it. She tells him that he can’t always have everything he wants, that he’s already a very indulged boy, and that he should just be happy with what he has. However, the children’s burning desire to see Tantamount and experience what they imagine as its mysteries isn’t really about the physical ownership of the house or the fantastic things that are supposedly kept there but about the spirit of mystery and adventure. As wonderful as everything the Richleigh family has, the children are chasing something else: excitement!

The children’s parents are actually the ones who don’t seem to understand the emotional attachment that people can have to physical belongings. Twice a year, they have their children donated old toys of theirs to the poor, which is a good thing, but poor Maud is traumatized when her parents tell her that she must give up her old rocking horse, Peggy, and that they will replace it with a brand new one. It’s not because Maud has outgrown rocking horses, but Peggy is looking a little shabby from use, and they want the children’s toys to all be in the best condition. They don’t consider the emotional attachment that Maud has to Peggy from her hours of playing with her or that Peggy’s shabbiness is a sign of Maud’s love for her. When they tell Maud that old toys are dangerous for children to play with, Maud asks why they aren’t dangerous for poor children to play with, her mother just tells her not to answer back. (Meaning that she doesn’t have a good answer, and she knows it.) Sebastian says maybe it would be better to just buy the poor children a new rocking horse instead of sending them Peggy, but his father tells him not to be impertinent, showing that this ritual about giving toys to the poor isn’t really about doing something nice for the poor so much as updating the children’s toys for the newest and “best” when that isn’t really what the children themselves want.

Soon after the children’s father gives away Peggy, he falls seriously ill, apparently from something he caught from the family he gave Peggy to. The children worry about what his illness will mean for their family, especially if he dies. Their first thoughts seem fairly petty. They first think that maybe this wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t decided to give away Peggy. Then, they realize that, with their father ill, they won’t be able to travel to Italy this summer, as the family planned. Then, they think that, if their father dies, they will all have to wear gloomy black, and either Edwin will become head of the family at age 16 or that their uncle will look after the family. Their uncle is a more dour man than their father, so that’s also a gloomy prospect.

Fortunately, the children’s father recovers, and the children are relieved. His doctors advise him to take a sea voyage to recover. The parents will be traveling without the children, and they won’t be going to Italy, but the children say that they understand that this is important to their father’s health. However, this does leave the question of what the children will do while their parents are traveling. The parents ask the children for their opinions about what they would like to do this summer because they want the children to have a pleasant time together while they are gone. There is only one thing that all of the children want, and this time, the children’s parents agree: the children will spend the summer at Tantamount.

The parents make arrangements with Mr. Devine, the agent who manages the property on behalf of the family, for the children to go there for the summer. The children will be chaperoned by their governess, Miss Venus, and Edwin’s tutor, Mr. Gaunt. Before they leave, the children’s father tells Edwin that, since he is 16, he’s no longer just a child, and if any situation should arise which requires him to take charge, he should, as the heir to Tantamount. If anything serious happens, and they need help, they can also send word to Mr. Devine. The children’s mother tells them that there will also be a housekeeper at Tantamount who has a daughter of her own, who will also be helping out.

From the moment their parents leave for their voyage and the children make their final preparations to leave on their trip, they feel like everything is changing. Although they were always aware that they were privileged, they never really noticed much about the details of their lives or home or thought very much about the people who served them. Alone for the first time with Miss Venus and Mr. Gaunt, Angeline is struck with the thought that she never really noticed much about Miss Venus as a person, even what she truly looked like. Before, she was always just the governess, just another part of the steady routine of the children’s lives, but now, dressed for travel and just as excited as the children, she really seems to be a real person. Even Mr. Gaunt is excited and not so much his usual somber self. The children quickly realize that, without their parents there to insist on proper behavior, stiff manners, and a certain appearance, the governess and tutor are relaxing and become more themselves. Mr. Gaunt tells the children stories about his past travels across Europe, and they’re much more fun to hear about than his usual dull lessons. As they step outside of their usual rigid routine, it seems like everything has magically come to life for the children.

When they first arrive at Tantamount, it’s dark, and the place seems sinister. However, they receive an enthusiastic welcome from the housekeeper, Mrs. Pengelly. In the morning, the children see how grand the place truly is. The rooms are big and elaborately decorated, and there are amazing views of the sea.

Even more exciting than that, the children also quickly realize that life at Tantamount offers them the opportunity for more freedom than they’ve ever had in their lives. Without their usual nurses to pick up after them or fuss over what they’re wearing, they are free to make these simple choices for themselves. The idea of looking after themselves for a change and doing things as they want to do them is exciting by itself. Some parts of looking after themselves seem a little daunting at first, but Angeline realizes that it’s also good for them. Young Maud worries about what “they” will say about things the children are doing, but the older children point out that there is no “they” to worry about. Their parents and nurses aren’t there, and everyone who is there technically works for them.

Eagerly, the children begin to explore Tantamount. It is filled with strange and wonderful things, but most of it is in shabby and neglected condition. There are magnificent statues that are crumbling and a beautiful chandelier lies smashed where it fell on the floor of the ballroom. Angeline first thinks that their father will blame Mr. Devine and Mrs. Pengelly for the condition of the house, but Edwin points out that the house has been neglected for generations by the Richleighs themselves. Who knows how many years ago the chandelier fell when nobody in their family even cared whether it was still hanging or not? Edwin himself says that if their ancestral home was neglected to the point where it started falling apart, their own family was to blame. The children discuss which is more of a “folly”, as Mr. Gaunt put it, to build such a grand place in such a remote location or to forget forget about it and let it fall apart. The word “folly” can refer to an unnecessary building like this, and Edwin says that Tantamount is a “folly” in the sense that the family has done well enough without it for years. Edwin says that their ancestor probably had fun building it and that men like that build grand things for travelers to marvel at, but apart from that, they have little use. Since then, most family members have barely even thought about Tantamount. The children begin to feel sorry for the mansion, almost like it’s a neglected animal with a personality of its own. The place starts to feel sad to them.

Edwin also points out that Tantamount is actually dangerous in its crumbling condition. He even saves Maud from stepping onto a section of floor that would have crumbled underneath her. The children realize that they will have to be very careful of everything they do in Tantamount.

Tantamount is a sad and scary place, but still exciting because the children’s adventure is only just beginning. When Miss Venus and Mr. Gaunt see the condition of Tantamount, they decide that they and the children cannot possibly stay there for the summer. However, the children have only just had their first look at the place and have only just begun to delve into its secrets and consider what might be done with the crumbling old mansion. Even more importantly, they have had their first real taste of the freedom and responsibility that Tantamount has offered them, and they won’t give it up so soon. Edwin asserts himself as the de facto head of the Richleigh family and tells the governess and tutor that they may leave if they find it too uncomfortable, but he and his siblings will be staying because they are family and this is their home.

At first, the children are nervous at sending the adults away, but Edwin has thought it out. He has noticed that Miss Venus and Mr. Gaunt are fond of each other, and he suspects that they might take this opportunity to run away and get married. The other children wonder if they will tell their parents that they are at Tantamount alone, but Edwin doubts it. It would take awhile for any message to reach their parents, and the tutor and governess also wouldn’t be too quick to admit that they had abandoned the children, even if the children did request it themselves. The children have also begun to suspect that Tantamount might not be all that it seems. Although their family neglected the place badly themselves, what exactly has Mr. Devine been doing as the steward?

The Richleigh children befriend Nancy and Dick, two sailor’s children who live by themselves nearby. Nancy and Dick are a little afraid of the Richleigh children at first, partly because Edwin attacks them when they first meet, thinking that they’re trespassers, and partly because they know more about the dark history of the Richleighs and Tantamount than the Richleigh children do. However, the children all become friends, and Nancy and Dick teach the Richleighs many things that they need to know to survive on their own at Tantamount. The Richleigh children are happy to get help from Nancy and Dick, and they’re especially happy that, for one in their lives, they’ve made friends on their own instead of just associating with the people their parents have picked out for them to meet. Nancy and Dick are far less fortunate than the Richleighs, and they open the children’s eyes to what poverty really means. Nancy and Dick are also on their own because their mother is dead and their father hasn’t yet returned from the sea.

The Richleighs are impressed with the things that Nancy and Dick know and can teach them, and they also enjoy the carefree summer that they spend with Nancy and Dick. While they’re happy to accept help from them, the last thing the Richleighs want is any adult finding out that they’re living alone at Tantamount. There are still mysteries there for the children to solve, and the last thing they want is to give up the first real freedom that they’ve ever experienced!

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction and Spoilers

The Richleighs are practically the personification of a privileged Victorian family. Readers are told that the Richleigh children are accustomed to luxury, although the book is also quick to say that they aren’t spoiled because readers might find them insufferable if they were. However, in the first few chapters, readers might also realize that the Richleigh children are living a rather repressed and highly controlled life. They have all kinds of toys to play with but no control over whether or not they get to keep their favorite old toys. Their parents get rid of anything that they personally think is getting too shabby without regard for sentimentality. Peggy wasn’t just a toy to Maud; she was like an old friend, and she and her siblings are sure that her new owner won’t appreciate her as much or might do something horrible, like sell her for drinking money or turn her into firewood. The parents are unconcerned about Maud’s feelings. They and the children’s nurses are always telling children not only what they should do but how they should feel. When Angeline expresses an opinion, her nurses tell her that “Ladies don’t have opinions – they’re nasty things to have.” When Sebastian tries to make his mother understand how much it would mean to him and his siblings to see Tantamount, he talks about “adventure”, but the book hints that he may have also been thinking of “escape” – escape from the luxurious monotony of their lives, from the constant supervision and control of the adults, and from constantly being told who they are, what they should do, and how they should think and feel. The two oldest children, Edwin and Angeline, realize that their parents are prepared to give them anything they want, but only provided that the children want the things their parents think they should want, like the new rocking horse.

When the children are left to the own devices at Tantamount, they have to take responsibility for themselves and manage everything by themselves for the very first time in their lives. Rather than finding it frightening, however, the Richleigh children find it exciting. Young Maud is the one who’s the most worried because there has never been a time in their lives when the children haven’t had someone taking care of them and telling them what to do. Angeline thinks that learning to do things for themselves will be good for them, and she delights in making simple choices, even deciding what to wear without someone to tell them. However, Maud doesn’t even know how to dress herself without help, and she worries about what “they” would say. Sebastian points out that there is no “they” to say anything. The children themselves are in charge, and Sebastian is looking forward to them doing what they want to do. Maud doesn’t know how they’ll even begin to know what to do without someone telling them, but Edwin reassures her that they’ll figure it out.

Since Edwin is the oldest boy and he already has their father’s permission to act as the heir to Tantamount, the children immediately decide that he’s in charge. It fits the general pattern of Victorian society that they’re all accustomed to, and it makes Maud feel a little better that someone’s in charge. However, because Edwin now gets to run things the way he wants, he doesn’t just want to give his siblings orders. He establishes the group as a family council so they can discuss things and make decisions together. Although he maintains his position as the head of the family council, he cares about how the others feel, and over the course of the summer, he particularly comes to value the thoughts and advice of Angeline, who proves herself to be a sensible and practical young lady.

It isn’t long before the children discover the dark secret of Tantamount that they always suspected was there: it is being used as a hideout for smugglers and has been for some time. The reason why Mr. Devine hasn’t tried to maintain the house or a staff there is that he doesn’t want anybody snooping around and learning the truth about what he’s been doing there. When the children figure it out, they also realize that no one else is aware of their discovery yet. The locals might have their suspicions, but so far, nobody knows that the Richleigh children have made this discovery and that the children are staying at Tantamount all by themselves. However, this situation can’t last. Eventually, the smugglers will come back or Mr. Devine is bound to check on them, and the children will have to decide what they will do when that happens.

The children also must confront the knowledge that their own ancestors must have been the ones who started the smuggling and wrecking business and were responsible for the deaths of many sailors. There was a hint to the dark history of Tantamount in the painting the children have admired for years, but the children just didn’t understand the meaning of it before. The children’s parents don’t seem to be aware of any of this, or they would never have allowed the children to go to Tantamount at all. The children realize that the reason why Tantamount was abandoned by the family was that, at some point, some of the Richleighs decided that they didn’t want any part of this nefarious business anymore, so they got as far away from Tantamount as they could, created new lives and homes for themselves, and tried to prevent the younger generations of the family from finding out what happened there. This is the dark side of privileged families. Although much of the Richleighs’ wealth has come from wealthy marriages, not all of it has, and some has come from some dark sources.

The children still love Tantamount, even for its darkness, and they wish they could do something to cleanse it of all the bad things that happened there. Tantamount has changed them and allowed them their first tastes of freedom, independence, and self-discovery. The oldest children realize that their time there can’t last because their parents will come for them at the end of the summer, and there is still the matter of the smugglers. They try to think of a way to preserve some of the feelings of this transformative summer even when it’s time for them to go home.

In the end, the real villain eventually brings about his own end while trying to destroy Tantamount and hide its secrets forever, and the children pledge to themselves that they will rebuild it someday, but in their own way and for much better purposes. This is a secret that they keep from their own parents, just between the four of them, because this is something that they want and will pursue independently at some point in the future.

There are sad parts to the story as the children reflect on the abandoned and neglected nature of Tantamount and the evil that has happened there. However, there is also adventure and mystery and the kind of magic that comes from a carefree summer spent in a fantastic place!