Everyone loves a series…books where, after the first book, you know all the characters. Why waste time with background information–names, ages, families, settings–when you can just get right to the plot? Figure out all that information in the first book, and just jump right into the story in the rest of the series. What could be better?
Mystery series for kids have always been popular, right from the beginning. Nancy Drew and Frank and Joe Hardy may still be solving crimes today, but they started way back in 1930 and 1927, respectively. Back then, they tooled around in their roadsters chasing petty criminals, now they jump in their plane and deal with cyber crimes. That’ s a pretty good track record for teens who are in their 90s!
Today’s old favorites are two mystery series that started a few years after Nancy, Frank and Joe, but are still around. Both series have gone through at least one revision (the first set of volumes, anyway) but they’re still doing fine.
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Trixie Belden and her brothers Brian, Mart and Bobby, live with their parents at Crabapple Farm, in upstate New York. Trixie is a tomboy who’d rather be riding a horse than doing chores or babysitting. When the beautiful (and wealthy!) Honey Wheeler moves into the estate next door, complete with horses, a groom, a governess and parents who are rarely home, Trixie knows they’re meant to be friends.
Once they get together, both girls realize that they have a similar sense of curiosity, and are pretty good at figuring things out. They stumble across a mystery on the day they meet, and soon they are well on their way to becoming detectives. Their first case involves a runaway boy, a mysterious lurker, a missing treasure and a crumbling mansion.
Eventually the girls solve the mystery and gain a new friend. It takes about six mystery books to establish the entire cast of characters–or, as they like to call themselves, The Bob-Whites: Trixie and Honey, Trixie’s brothers Brian and Mart, Honey’s adopted brother Jim Frayne, and friends Di Lynch and Dan Mangan. Their support system includes Miss Trask, Honey’s governess, who also manages the Wheeler estate, Regan, the Wheeler’s groom, and Mr. Maypenny, who Dan lives with.
My favorite cases included The Red Trailer Mystery, where Trixie and Honey go on an extended camping trip, hoping to find Jim, who has disappeared, and The Mystery of the Blinking Eye, where all the Bob-Whites go to New York City, hear a strange prediction from a fortune-teller, and end up on the run from bank robbers. Over the course of the series, the Bob-White Detectives end up traveling from one side of the country to the other, solving mysteries in Arizona, Mississippi, Iowa and Virginia, as well as all over the state of New York. The mysteries are solved through Trixie’s keen eye, Honey’s empathy, and with the assistance of their brothers’ and friends’ talents and skills.
There are 39 books in the Trixie Belden Series, the first thirteen have been reprinted in the last few years. Although the first book was originally published in 1948, the final volume was written in 1986. One interesting thing about Trixie and Honey is that they age, unlike most series characters. In the first book, both girls have just turned thirteen, in the last, they’re almost fifteen. Believe me, this is rare!
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The Three Investigators, on the other hand, are like most series…the boys don’t seem to age. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews aren’t actually given an age, but they’re most likely 13 to 15…too young to drive but old enough to travel alone.
Their headquarters are an old forgotten trailer, buried under piles of junk at the Salvage Yard Jupiter’s aunt and uncle own in Southern California. They have secret entrances and escape tunnels, which come in handy when crooks think they’ve got the boys trapped. Jupiter is the leader, with a brain that just doesn’t stop thinking. Peter is the muscle, being a sports star and the sun of a Hollywood stunt man. Bob is the records and research part of the trio, with a journalist father who sometimes assists the boys. For the most part, the boys get around on their own, on bikes and on foot. Occasionally, Hans and Sven, brothers employed by the Salvage Yard, help out by driving the boys around town.
The boys always manage to stumble over the mysteries they become involved in solving, either by picking up something for the Salvage Yard, by running into someone who needs help, or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s difficult to narrow it down, but I’d have to say my two favorites are The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, where the boys try to figure out what is making a mummy whisper ancient Egyptian curses, and The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, where a strange misshapen shadow is prowling the grounds where a golden Chumash treasure is said to exist.
Unlike most series, when the original Three Investigator Mysteries were written, they were firmly routed in the 60’s, with Alfred Hitchcock helping them with their cases. Eventually, of course, Alfred Hitchcock died, and the series had to be revised, with the fictional Hector Sebastian acting as their mentor. If you can find the original versions, they’re usually better. There were 43 books in the original American series, and the first dozen are still available in paperback. In Germany, the books were so popular that there are currently 149 titles, manga and even a movie… most of which are still available! This makes me wish I could read German.
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It’s pretty amazing how well both series hold up, even after so many decades. Of course, the biggest difference between then and now is communication, so readers have to know that back in the 50s and 60s, cell phones weren’t around, research had to be done at libraries, and computer were the size of the family home. But other than that, the kids in the books, their problem-solving skills, and their ability to figure out what is going on and their interactions with their friends and the criminals they’re chasing are pretty much in line with detectives in today’s books. Each book usually has some very interesting background information about the mystery as well.
We still have many books in both series, although not the entire run of either. Some of them aren’t in great shape; I really wish the publishers would re-release more of the later titles in both series. And if you make your way through the books we have, we can always request the others from other libraries.
So if you like Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, you’ll enjoy Trixie Belden and The Three Investigators just as much, if not more. What have you got to lose? Read them today, before they vanish into The Case of Literary Obscurity…