I came across a box of books from my childhood the other day while going through stuff in my mom’s garage. Aside from the favorites my mom saved from when I was wee – The Diggingest Dog, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, etc. – there were also a few books that I revisited a multitude of times as a pre-teen. The Calico Year, by Dorothy Gilman Butters, was one of my all-time favorites – I started re-reading that one last night, and am pleased to say it totally stands the test of time. Along with a slew of YA romance-y books (You Can’t Take Twenty Dogs on a Date and The Year of the Horse were also big for me), there were several mysteries by Mary C. Jane, along with those featuring the Power Boys, the Hardy Boys, and – of course – Nancy Drew. My favorite find, however, was a whole stash of Trixie Belden books. Oh, the joy.
It may be tantamount to slander around here, but the truth is that I was never much of a fan of Nancy Drew. She seemed too… girly, somehow, and there never seemed to be enough at stake in her mysteries to keep me invested in her fate. I was looking for a grittier brand of adventure, someone more dramatic; a story where anything could happen, and the heroine didn’t mind getting a little dirt on her hands in the name of justice.
I found what I was looking for in the form of Trixie Belden, a spunky amateur sleuth in her early teens who, with her brothers Brian, Mart, and Bobby, got into every kind of fix imaginable in their happy little hamlet in the Hudson River Valley. The first six books in the thirty-nine volume Trixie Belden series were written by Julie Campbell Tatham, with the first in the series—The Secret of the Mansion—published in 1948. A handful of authors wrote under the pseudonym of Kathryn Kenny after that time, and several of the books have been reprinted as recently as 2006. And, yes, they are available for Kindle!
If you were (or are) a fan of the series, you’ll remember that Trixie’s glamorous neighbor Honey Wheeler was Trixie’s boon companion and partner in crime, along with Honey’s adopted brother Jim Frayne. Long before I even knew what shipping was, I was a hardcore Jim/Trixie shipper. As a ten-year-old, diehard romantic, the subtext between the two characters was more than enough to convince me that Jim and Trixie would be together forever—something my best friend Michelle and I discussed at length whenever we were given the chance.
I grew up in the days before Amazon or the Internet, which meant being a fan of a largely out-of-print series was no small task. Summers, I scoured yard sales near and far in search of editions missing from my collection. The summer I turned ten, my dad hit the mother lode when he found someone getting rid of their entire Trixie Belden collection. Boxes and boxes of Belden books were suddenly mine. My BFF and I burned through that entire collection that summer. Michelle was three years older than me, and I recall that Trixie was our last common bond before she drifted into the mysterious world of boys and clothes and high school strife, leaving me abandoned to the lonely, limited world of the pre-teen.
When I think of myself in those days—pudgy and nearsighted, aching for adventure in our sleepy little Maine town—I remember so well just how completely those mysteries transported me. I was the quintessential ‘bookworm,’ reading through recess while the other kids played; reading through lunch at school and dinner with the family; my nose buried in a book even as I walked home every afternoon, the icy Maine wind chapping my pink cheeks while I crept through the forests of the Hudson River Valley alongside Trixie and her band of merry sleuths.
Today, though the Trixie Belden books are out of print, the series lives on in some surprising ways. There’s an active world of fan fiction out there, following Trixie’s exploits as she grew. Though we had no way of knowing it at the time, Michelle and I weren’t alone in thinking Jim and Trixie were destined to be together: much of the fanfic out there is “Jix”-centric, focused on the duo as they get older and the romance evolves. I love that these books have endured for so long, and it gives me an odd sense of redemption to know that these characters cast as indelible a mark on others as they did on the shy, self-conscious fifth grader that I once was, reading on the swings while the other girls skipped rope. I wasn’t alone; I just didn’t know it at the time.
What are the childhood favorites you still carry with you today? Which characters did you long to be, or wish you knew? It doesn’t matter whether they’re mystery, fantasy, romance, or something else entirely—I’d love to hear which books made you love reading!
Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. You can learn more at http://www.jenblood.com.