Monday, February 09, 2009

Remember that book ...? [Updated]

So. As a kid, I read. A lot. Many of the books I've completely forgotten about. Some of them, I remember liking and still remember in part. And some of them, I've completely forgotten about and will never remember again unless and until somethings jogs the memory.

Anyway, now, being an author of youth literature, I wanted to see how some of them held up today...

MYSTERY OF THE GREEN CAT, by Phyllis A. Whitney (Westminster Press, 1957)(ages 8-12).

What I remember of the story: A blended family (two sons by the father, two daughters by the mother) come together in contemporary San Francisco where the blending of the family causes angst and a mystery arises involving the house next door.

The rest of the recollection (or what I thought I remembered): This was a library book that I remember really liking. I would've read it sometime in fourth grade or earlier, when I was in my Three Investigators/Hardy Boys phase.

It's one of the first books I remember reading where the kids weren't "perfect" (particularly for a mystery novel) and something about that resonated. Also, one of the few I read as a kid with a Japanese American character.

And now: Hmm. The kids who come together are engaging (mostly), although the emotional arc is a little abrupt and, well, the Japanese American character is a bit annoying, in a Charlie Chan-esque sort of way. I still kind of like it, though. It has a certain charm and the period differences (e.g., jeans not being something you would wear in public) are fascinating.

Random notes: The 1958 Newbery went to Rifles for Watie. Phyllis Whitney was a prolific author of mystery and romance novels. She passed away last year at the age of 104.

SECRET UNDER THE SEA, by Gordon R. Dickson (Holt, Rhinehart and Winston 1960)(image is from the 1960 Scholastic edition)(ages 8-12).

What I remember of the story: This kid lives in an underwater house (there was a nifty internal illustration of it) and has a dolphin friend named Balthazar. Some criminals try to steal the house or kidnap the father, or something.

The rest of the recollection: This book we owned (I think it must've been a hand-me-down from my older cousins). I remember one day going through all the books on one of our bookcases in the basement rec room and pulling out this one because it looked interesting.

This was another one I really liked -- science fiction and dolphins. How cool was that?

I had absolutely no idea what the title was, though, until I googled it and found this LiveJournal blog called What was that Book?

And now: The terrorists, called "vandals," are trying to get at the Martian creatures being held at the station (no, really).

Bottom line: A short, quick read; fun, but no internal arc to speak of and perhaps a bit too self-consciously a "children's book" (by which I mean, among other things, it has too many informational parentheticals and is a bit too concerned with delivering a behavioral lesson). But science fiction and dolphins are still cool.

Random notes: The 1961 Newbery went to Island of the Blue Dolphins. Dickson wrote two sequels (I bought the omnibus edition) and is best known as author of the Dorsai books.

THE FORGOTTEN DOOR, by Alexander Key (Westminster Press, 1965)(ages 8-12).

The story: An alien boy named Jon with telepathic powers and amnesia, falls to earth (literally).

The recollection: I had totally forgotten about this book (ironically). Once my memory was jogged, though, I kind of remembered it but couldn't recall having a strong feeling about it one way or another.

The only reason I remembered the book at all was because of a comment on this post on Stacy Whitman's Grimoire blog that referenced Alexander Key as an author of science fiction, including the Witch Mountain books (I will confess that I liked the Witch Mountain movies as a kid, but never realized they were based on books).

And now: It's rather like ET and The Cat from Outer Space, except he looks human and, instead of middle class California suburbia, Jon ends up in the Smoky Mountains. And he has to escape the prejudiced and narrow-minded, as well as government types who want to do who-knows-what with him.

Upon reading it now, I do vaguely remember some scenes (particularly the last) and that, back in the day, I liked it and wanted more and, really, still do (was Witch Mountain a sequel?). However, it could stand better characterization, less preachiness, and a stronger arc.

Random notes: The 1966 Newbery went to I, Juan de Pareja. (The Black Cauldron was an Honor Book). And, there's going to be another Witch Mountain movie. Unfortunately, while the movie novelizations are in print, the original novels aren't. (THE FORGOTTEN DOOR is the only one of Key's books still in print). Update [9-25-10]: The original Witch Mountain is available again.

The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books has an article about Key here.

THE ENORMOUS EGG, by Oliver Butterworth (Little Brown, 1956)(ages8-12).

What I remember of the story: Nate Twitchell lives on a farm in rural New Hampshire. One of his hens lays the eponymous egg, which hatches into a live triceratops...which Nate now has responsibility for...

The rest of the recollection: This is another that we owned. I thought this one was terrific -- the idea that Nate got to spend a month at the Smithsonian and spend a good part of it walking a live dinosaur on the Washington Mall was really appealing.

And now: This one has held up surprisingly well. The voice is still fresh and un-self-conscious. Okay, I don't quite completely buy the whole plot arc with the Senate, but the senator himself is (still) absolutely hilarious. The drawings are also still pretty accurate (although the idea of triceratops posture has changed somewhat since 1956).

Altogether, a fun, sweet, and surprisingly sophisticated read.

Random Notes: The 1957 Newbery went to Miracle on Maple Hill. (Old Yeller was an honor book).


PJ Hoover said...

I've been reading aloud childhood favorites to my kids and have found something similar. Some hold up great. And some the kids begin to get distracted.
Truly though, I think much of it is we as humans have totally changed in what we expect and are satisfied with.
This doesn't solve a missing character arc, but it does explain slower beginnings, less action, scenes divergent from plot.

tim b said...

The Enormous Egg is one thing but I thought I was the only one on earth who remembered Mystery of the Green Cat.

Throw in some Scott Corbett and it's a full-on retro meal. Thanks for the quick trip back to fourth grade!

Jill said...

I just read Mystery of the Green Cat to my kids, based on the same sort of fuzzy recollection you had - it is fun to revisit these old favorites. I adored the 3 Investigators during that time period as well! I'm glad to hear that The Enormous Egg held up when you reread it. I'll have to revisit that one some time soon!

Lisa W. said...

Thank you for the info on "Secret of the Sea!" I have been searching for any information on this book, including the title, off and on for years. I have not known anyone else who has read the book - I imagine I read it in the 70's but can't remember exactly when. My recollections are fuzzy too. I mostly remember the dolphin's name and that the boy used a rebreather-type diving helmet/full mask. Thank you again for sharing the information!!

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