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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Child Completists: The 10-Year-Olds’ Tendency to Track Down the Out-of-Print

When I was ten the kids in my neighborhood started a rather odd obsession.  For a time the Trixie Belden series was released with new covers, giving those books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s a kick in the pants.  Note how hip and cool these covers were:

TRIXIE BELDEN 04 PB SC THE MYSTERIOUS VISITOR Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

Awwww, yeah.

So the girls on my block started a Trixie Belden obsession.  We loved her short hair, the way she called her mother “moms”, her gang The Bob-Whites, and her penchant for touching the mysteries that prissy little Nancy Drew would probably avoid.  I mean seriously, did Nancy ever come face to face with a Sasquatch?

Trixie3 Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

Not likely!  Clearly I had a thing for preferring knock-off mystery characters to their better known Stratemeyer Syndicate contemporaries (I love The Three Investigators and to this day abhor The Hardy Boys).

Anyway, the problem with our Trixie love was that the darn books weren’t all in print with these snazzy covers.  Some of them you had to track down, like old Sasquatch here.  This being a pre-internet era, we set about trading the hard to get ones in an attempt to finish the whole series.  It’s an instinct a lot of kids have.  When they love a series they want to read all the books out there.  But what can they do when that series is out-of-print?

Fast forward to last Friday and I’m hanging out with my children’s book group talking about titles they’d like to see added to the library system.  Suddenly they all start talking about The Baby-Sitters Club.  And no, not the graphic novels or the recently released original four.  No, what they want are the originals with their terrible 80s hair and copious scrunchies.  The ones that look like this:

bsc1 Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

The kids don’t care how old those covers are, by the way.  They systematically plow through them caring not a jot about the lack of cell phones or references to something called “VHS”.  Scholastic, in the depths of their cruelty, makes the full list of BSC titles available to kids.  But do they actually publish those books anymore?  No!  (Is it bad that I totally geeked out over The Hairpin’s The Baby-sitters Club: Where Are They Now? recently?  The info on Janine is DEAD ON.  And the Dawn . . . oh, the Dawn.)

So here is what it comes down to.  What makes a series catch fire with a generation of kids, long after that series has effectively died?  If kids found my beloved Three Investigators today would they enjoy them as much as I did (and they weren’t exactly young in the 80s, y’know).

Occasionally publishers will try to republish books that were once hits in the hope of making them viable moneymakers today.  Trouble is, it rarely works.  Take BSC.  When Scholastic republished the first four books they did so with what may have been the dullest jackets on record.  See, if you’re a kid and you have a chance between picking up this:

bsc Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

And picking up this:

bsc2 Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

As odd as it may sound, you’re going to go with the . . . were those yellow overalls?  Oh, Claudia.  You trendsetter you.  But see, that cover looks like fun.  The new cover looks like something dreamed up by a marketing team that didn’t want to pay an illustrator to come up with a “look”.  Is it any wonder these books didn’t catch on again?

The other way to mess up is to muck with the book’s innards.  I have zero problem with books updating elements for the modern age (see: My Horn Book article Friending Mr. Henshaw) but there is such a thing as stupid updates.  In 2008 Random House decided to rerelease the Sweet Valley High series, with a couple tweaks here and there.  The tweak that broke the camel’s back?  In their original 80s editions the twin protagonists were “a perfect size six”.  In 2008?  “A perfect size four”.  Folks, to put it mildly, were not entirely pleased and the series (for other reasons as well) did not catch on again.

Then:

SVH Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

Now:

SVH2 Child Completists: The 10 Year Olds Tendency to Track Down the Out of Print

Hmm.  Realistically drawn photo-like images on covers vs. purely drawn or purely photographed images.  Maybe the 80s were on to something after all?  Discuss at will.

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Tandy says:

    My kids will pick up a photo cover over an 80s type cover any day. I’ve begged them to read great books with old covers–no dice.

    Dare I say the books are just dated? I am just over the age where I would have read both series, so didn’t, so don’t know.

  2. Heather says:

    I loved those original Trixie Belden covers!! The same discussion could be had about the Little House on the Prairie books – the Garth Williams covers were so much more engaging than the modern photographic covers. But I do wonder if that is my own nostalgia talking more than anything, after reading Tandy’s comment above.

  3. Lisa says:

    As a kid, I hunted for the older Nancy Drew books, somehow thinking that they were more mysterious, and that by virtue of finding them, I was somewhat of a detective myself! I still find myself drawn to the old covers. Ever check out their upcycled reincarnations on Etsy?http://www.etsy.com/search/handmade?search_submit=&q=nancy+drew+books&view_type=gallery&ship_to=US

  4. Liz B says:

    I went hard-core for the completist old books: Outdoor Girls of Deepdale & Mary Rose Goes to Boarding School. First was early Stratmeyer, I believe; second was an actual, real person.

    Other personal faves from that time were Cherry Ames and the Happy Holisters.

  5. Sarah J says:

    Oh, The Happy Hollisters! I remember those books fondly. They were old when I was reading them off the school library shelves but I adored them. My mom informed me her mother ordered them from the newspaper, one a month, and would read them aloud to her kids. My mother’s family was migrant-worker poor so this was a big treat.

    I think what captured my imagination so much was how romanticized the time was, the kids coming home from school during lunch to soup and sandwiches their mom had prepared for them. Family organized carnivals on the lawn during the summer… I also read the Bobbsey Twins for the same reasons. It was all so completely different from my small-town life in Eastern Washington, eating school lunches of grilled cheese and tomato rice soup.

  6. Alys says:

    I loved the Happy Hollisters too! I have a nine-year-old who comes into my library who has been slowly ILLing the entire series. If only I had understood about ILL when I was nine and trying to complete my own out-of-print series reading!

  7. I think the 80′s were on to something – it’s called real advertising. Despite the cheese factor what makes those old covers resonate is that they portray kids doing what kids do. What in heck do these new covers with half faces and partial body parts say about the books characters or innards? Sometimes publishing tries so hard to get into a readers head that they forget, at the end of the day the kids just want a good story.

    I was totally a Sweet Valley High girl. And was one of the people who freaked at the stupid size 6 change. But maybe more offensive is that instead of marketing these books for the good stories they were (if not totally soap operatic in SVH’s case) they’re trying to sell them the way you’d sell a TV series. It’s not a TV series, it’s a book. Just push the story, readers will follow.

  8. Chris in NY says:

    I used the children’s section of the public library back in the dark ages when, “Heaven forfend!”, the shelves could not be contaminated with “series” books like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys. I know my school library had old Nancy Drews which I really liked (better than the rewrites in the 60s?) and also tried to hunt down. Somehow I found Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden and The Chalet School which were also series and not allowed in the library. The last two were my particular favorites but don’t think my peers were interested at all.

  9. LeeAnn says:

    The librarian before me wanted to “weed out” all the old books, Nancy Drew and Babysitters included. However, they are all still here, in all their ancient glory. And the kids still check them out, like they’re finding buried treasure.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I still have staunch fans of Trixie Belden – and new fans! I’ve introduced lots of girls to her and wish they’d republish them in good, sturdy bindings. The new babysitter club has done just fine here – the kids just want to read them and don’t seem to care what they look like at all.

  11. I notice more of the old hardback Nancy Drews going out that the various paperback updates, from the Clue Crew to the graphic novels. And Paula, I agree with you about the old illustrated covers. I spent a heck of a lot of time looking at the little scenes depicted on the covers of the BSC and other 80s paperbacks, seeing how it fit into the story. Those pictures really told part of the story. I may have felt a little let down if the clothes a character was wearing on the cover didn’t make it into the text, but we all have to deal with disappointment sometimes.

  12. Alison says:

    I just read your Friending article – great btw! but Tab IS still available! It has never been unavailable (just perhaps hard to find?)

  13. Ros says:

    My ten year son LOVES the 3 investigators! He plowed through all the Hardy Boys and a friend’s dad suggested the 3 investigators and they are a huge hit, just wish they were easier to locate!

  14. Carl in Charlotte says:

    Grosset and Dunlap republished the original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books with the original artwork and covers a few years ago and they are very popular. They don’t exactly fly off the shelves but they’re checked out a lot and I pull one or two every day to fill a request.

  15. Abby says:

    The one that continually surprises me is kids’ love for the Full House books (not even just Mary Kate and Ashley, although those still go out, too).

  16. Genevieve says:

    Loved all the Trixie Belden books and the whole complement of kids (well, Brian and Di were pretty much ciphers, but the rest). Mine all had the newer covers, though.

  17. Trixie Belden a knock-off? Thems fighting words! I mean, can you really call someone a knock-off when they’re far superior to the so-called original?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      True, but I had a hard time coming up with a similar term. There should be a word in the English language for a successor that exceeds the success of its predecessor.

  18. Trixie Belden fan since I was a kid, back in the ’60s – liked her much better than any of the Stratemeyer books. Discovered Judy Bolton when I was in high school, and like her just as much as I do Trixie.

  19. Kim says:

    I once owned EVERY Trixie Belden book in paperback. Then, I sold them in a yard sale. I was probably about 13, and thought I’d outgrown them and I wanted money. I knew almost instantly that was a big mistake. I loved that series so much, and I so wish that I still had my collection to pass to my daughter. (Maybe that’s why I’m such a pack rat now?)

  20. Andy Svenson says:

    Great article! I was thrilled to see that several commenters mentioned The Happy Hollisters because my grandfather, Andrew Svenson, wrote those books under the pseudonym Jerry West. This 33-volume mystery series for children was written from 1953 through 1969 for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which also introduced the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew. The Hollister children were patterned on the personalities and adventures of Andrew Svenson’s own children: my father, aunts, and uncles.

    I am really excited to spread the word that The Happy Hollisters are back! The books have been out of print for 40 years, but over the years we kept hearing from people who remembered the series fondly and wanted to share them with their children and grandchildren without giving up their prized hardcover editions. We recently reissued eight books in the series in paperback and eBook editions: The Happy Hollisters, The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip, The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach, and The Happy Hollisters and the Indian Treasure, The Happy Hollisters at Mystery Mountain, The Happy Hollisters at Snowflake Camp, The Happy Hollisters and the Trading Post Mystery, and The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery. The stories are identical to the originals, with their family-friendly dialogue and charming cover art and interior illustrations by Helen S. Hamilton. We have been happy to learn that young readers are still eating these stories up, and we intend to produce several volumes each year until the series is completed again.

    I know that my grandfather would be tickled to know that people still have fond recollections of his books, and that his legacy is living on through blogs and the internet. We’ve been very fortunate to reconnect with a lot of his former fans, and have a lot of fun interacting with them through Facebook. We post old photos of the “real” Hollister family, and have a weekly caption contest that has turned out to be quite amusing. If you’d like to learn more about our project, please check out our Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/TheHappyHollisters or visit our website: http://www.TheHappyHollisters.com. Of course, you may also contact me directly if you’d like more information at any time!

    Sincerely,
    Andrew E. Svenson III

  21. Much says:

    Trixie Belden! I only had a couple of those, but I loved them! In general, I much prefer the old covers, with one exception: The Girls of Canby Hall. I’m recapping those books on my blog now, and check out the old and new covers (http://girlsofcanbyhall.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/luckily-crime-of-any-type-can-be-taken-care-of-in-186-pages-or-canby-hall-4-keeping-secrets/) — the new ones win by a landslide.

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