Time for another old favorite in the library’s collection! Hold onto you hats, because this week’s selection doesn’t feature ghosts or fantasy. (I know! Very unusual…)
Did you know that November is Family Stories Month? I didn’t either, until I was looking for a topic for a book display. And when I was pulling stories that featured families having fun or adventures together, I came across The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Ahhh, it took me back! I remember reading it when it first came out, in 1979. The Stanleys are one of my favorite families in kids’ books.
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David, Janie, Blair and Esther Stanley and their new stepsister Amanda are about to set out on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Molly, Amanda’s mother, was left some money when her uncle died. The only stipulation? She has to spend it all in Italy. So Jeff, their father, takes a sabbatical for a year to write a book, and the Stanleys (and one Randall) set off for a year of culture and travel in Italy. Only Janie, a precocious seven-year-old, has any doubts. She predicts to four-year-old twins Blair and Esther that they’ll probably get kidnapped. David tries to reassure her while Amanda scoffs at her wild imagination.
Although David and Amanda get along pretty well for a pair of thirteen-year-olds, they disagree on the three younger kids. David has grown up watching out for them, while Amanda has never had to think of anyone but herself. Becoming part of a large family is harder than she could ever have imagined. Everything she does has to be done with a group, and even though their Italian Villa is fun, she’s soon tired of dragging kids around wherever she goes. Even David, who is pretty patient, is growing annoyed with her behavior. In her unhappiness, Amanda brags to the wrong people about how her rich Hollywood father will let her come stay with him to escape the littlest Stanleys.
One night, three men break into the house. The kids quickly figure out that they’ve come to kidnap Amanda for ransom. But her new little brother and sisters aren’t going to stand for their big sister being taken! Janie (who has picked up Italian very quickly) insists that they be kidnapped too, and Esther bites one of the kidnappers until they agree. Even Blair manages to shed his angelic behavior long enough to help. When a reluctant David finds out what’s happening and manages to catch up with everyone, he ends up joining the kidnappees so he can take care of Blair, Esther and Janie. The harried kidnappers reluctantly take all five kids.
Even in their new Italian basement prison, only David seems to be worried about their situation. With Janie chatting daily with the kidnappers and teaching them English for the ransom notes, Esther cleaning their basement prison, scolding the kidnappers for their food preparation and eating everything in sight, Blair talking about a mysterious Blue Lady watching over them and Amanda in tears most of the time, it’s up to David to keep the Stanleys together and come up with an escape plan. Can he do it, before the kidnappers get their ransom?
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Although it might not sound like it, this is an extremely funny book. Each of the three youngest kids are very determined little characters, and they manage to get into some very interesting situations…which David then has to rescue them from. It’s also a dangerous adventure, as one of the kidnappers is a little more determined than his henchmen. For the family portion of the plot, Amanda having to get used to being one of five instead of an only child is a compelling story. And I just love David.
The Stanleys are featured in several other books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The Headless Cupid is when David and the younger kids meet Amanda. Janie’s Private Eyes and Blair’s Nightmare are mystery/adventures after the family returns to the US from Italy. All are well worth reading!
If you like a good old-fashioned family story, with a lot of humor, a hint of mystery and a bit of travelogue thrown in, try The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case. And if you happen to be in the library, look at our display, which features other favorite families like the Moffats, the Hatchers, the Penderwicks, the Quimbys, the Cassons, the Krupniks, the Melendys…