Friday, July 24, 2020

Hidden Clues #8 What Are Series Books?

The purpose of this post is to make clear the core focus of the Facebook group, Collecting Vintage Children's Series Books.

I am a collector of Nancy Drew and similar vintage series.  I have always centered more on the girls' books, but around six years ago I expanded to boys' books as well.  The genre of collecting that centers on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys is known as series books.

Unfortunately, we don't have a more descriptive name than that, so nobody understands us.  The biggest obstacle is the name, series books.  The average person thinks that series books can be any series ever published, but that's not true at all.  The books must be similar to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in a way that is impossible to explain to others who are not familiar with the genre.

I did not create this genre.  The series books genre has existed for decades.  Enthusiasts kept in touch through the mail and via publications that were devoted to collecting series books.  I first came in contact with other collectors in 1996.  They were well organized long before I ever came along.  It was logical that enthusiasts would continue discussing the hobby online, and that is what we do now.

In this post, I explain what is at the core of series book collecting, meaning the narrow genre defined by books similar to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate was an organization that created popular series for young people from 1905 through 1985.  The Stratemeyer Syndicate series were so popular that many others imitated them and created popular rival series.  The enduring influence of the Stratemeyer Syndicate on children's literature cannot be overstated.

The core series books genre includes all of the following:
  • books that were the forerunners to the books of the Stratemeyer Syndicate
  • books actually produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate
  • contemporary rival series to the Stratemeyer Syndicate produced by other entities
  • stand-alone books strongly similar to Stratemeyer Syndicate books
  • modern versions of Stratemeyer Syndicate books (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins) 

Books that were the forerunners to the books of the Stratemeyer Syndicate

In the late 1800s, Edward Stratemeyer was influenced by the books of Oliver Optic and Horatio Alger, Jr.  Early in his career, Stratemeyer had the opportunity to ghostwrite books published under their names.  The books of Oliver Optic and Horatio Alger, Jr. were obvious forerunners to those of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

Some other forerunner series were the Deerfoot and Log Cabin series by Edward S. Ellis, the historical adventure books of G. A. Henty, the Hildegarde series by Laura E. Richards, the Kathie Stories by Amanda M. Douglas, The Little Colonal by Annie Fellows Johnston, Katy Carr/What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, Ruby and Ruthy by Minnie E. Paull, Frank Merriwell by Burt L. Standish, Three Vassar Girls by Elizabeth W. Champney, and Witch Winnie by Elizabeth W. Champney.

Books actually produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate
Early Period (1905-1926)

The Stratemeyer Syndicate had many very successful series from the earlier years.  These series typically center on adventures that occur during the course of ordinary life.  The series include Amy Bell Marlowe, Barton Books for Girls, Baseball Joe, Betty Gordon, Billie Bradley, Blythe Girls, Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, Boys of Columbia High, Corner House Girls, Dave Fearless, Dave Porter, Don Sturdy, Dorothy Dale, Girls of Central High, Motor Boys, Motor Girls, Moving Picture Boys, Moving Picture Girls, Outdoor Girls, Radio Boys, Ralph of the Railroad/Railroad Series, Riddle Club, Rover Boys, Ruth Fielding, Tom Swift, Webster, and X Bar X Boys.

Middle Period (1927-1945)

While adventure series remained prevalent, the primary focus of a number of series switched to mysteries during this time.  Many people tend to think of mysteries when they think of Stratemeyer Syndicate books.  The books from this time include Barton Books for Girls, Baseball Joe, Betty Gordon, Billie Bradley, Blythe Girls, Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, Dana Girls, Dave Fearless, Don Sturdy, Doris Force, Hardy Boys, Honey Bunch, Kay Tracey, Nancy Drew, Outdoor Girls, Perry Pierce, Radio Boys, Ralph of the Railroad/Railroad Series, Riddle Club, Roy Stover, Ruth Fielding, Ted Scott, Tom Swift, and X Bar X Boys.

Later Period (1946-1985)
These series include Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, Bret King, Christopher Cool, Dana Girls, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Happy Hollisters, Honey Bunch and Norman, Kay Tracey, Linda Craig, Mel Martin, The Tollivers, Tom Swift Jr., and Wynn and Lonny.
Contemporary rival series to the Stratemeyer Syndicate produced by other entities

These series were not produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate but were styled as if they had been.  Fans often confuse these series with ones actually produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate due to the strong similarity in tone and content.
Early Period Rival Series (1905-1926)

These series include Aunt Jane's Nieces, Betty Wales, Girl Scouts by Edith Lavell, Golden Boys, Grace Harlowe, Grammar School Boys, Jane Allen, Jerry Todd, Maida Westabrook, Marjorie Dean, Mary Jane, Molly Brown, Patsy Carroll, Patty Fairfield, Pee Wee Harris, Polly Brewster, Poppy Ott, Ranger Boys, and Tom Slade.

Middle Period Rival Series (1927-1945)

Rival series from this time period include Adventurous Allens, Andy Lane, Arden Blake, Bailey Twins, Barbara Ann, Beverly Gray, Cherry Ames, Cupples & Leon Adventure and Mystery Stories for Boys, Cupples & Leon Mystery Stories for Girls, Dave Dawson, Dorothy Dixon, Hal Keen, Hunniwell Boys, Jerry Todd, Judy Bolton, Linda Carlton, Lone Ranger, Lucky Terrell, Maida Westabrook, Mary Jane, Melody Lane, Mercer Boys, Mildred A. Wirt Mystery Stories, Nancy Pembroke, Outboard Boys, Pee Wee Harris, Penny Parker, Polly Brewster, Poppy Ott, Ruth Darrow, Sue Barton, Tom Slade, and Trailer Stories for Girls.

Later Period Rival Series (1946-1985)

The later period rival series include Beverly Gray, Biff Brewster, Brad Forrest, Brains Benton, Bronc Burnett, Cherry Ames, Chip Hilton, Connie Blair, Dave Dawson, Dig Allen, Donna Parker, Enid Blyton, Ginny Gordon, Judy Bolton, Ken Holt, Kim Aldrich, Kit Hunter, Lone Ranger, Lucky Terrell, Maida Westabrook, Mary Jane, Meg Duncan, Mercer Boys, Mill Creek Irregulars, Peggy Lane, Power Boys, Rick Brant, Robin Kane, Rocky McCune, Roger Baxter, Sally Baxter, Sandy Steele, Sara Gay, Shirley Flight, Sue Barton, Ted Wilford, Three Investigators, Tom Corbett, Tom Quest, Trixie Belden, Troy Nesbitt, and Vicki Barr.
Stand-alone books strongly similar to Stratemeyer Syndicate books

This is where it gets tricky.  People have a tendency to believe that any books they like that are loosely similar to series books fit within the core series books genre.  I know this to be true because I am afflicted by this same bias.  When a person likes something, they think it is okay to discuss even if significantly off topic.  We must be careful to include only stand-alone books that are truly similar to the core series books genre.

Most of the books written by Augusta Huiell Seaman are books strongly similar to those of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  In fact, Nancy Drew ghostwriter Mildred A. Wirt Benson read Seaman's books when young and was undoubtedly influenced by them.  Seaman's books fall within our core focus for multiple reasons.

Stand-alone youth books set in schools from the early 1900s fit within our focus.  One example is Dolly's College Experiences by Mabel Gronise Jones.

Sometimes a stand-alone book reads just like a series book or appears to be a book that might have influenced a series book author.  The Highview Mystery by Lawrence A. Keating bears some similarity to the Three Investigators series.  The Ghost of Follensbee's Folly by Florence Hightower is strongly similar to several Nancy Drew books.  Whenever books like these are mentioned in discussion, the person doing so should explicitly state why the book is relevant.

Modern versions of Stratemeyer Syndicate books (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins) 

Since Stratemeyer Syndicate series are within our core focus, all modern and recent versions of those series are in our core focus.  In addition to the books, this also includes comic books, graphic novels, memorabilia, television series, and movies based on those series.

Books by Series Book Authors

Some series book authors wrote stand-alone books that are strongly similar to series books.  Some of the authors also wrote books that are not like series books, and those books fall outside of the genre.  Authors who wrote some series-like stand-alone books include Mildred A. Wirt Benson, Capwell Wyckoff, L. P. Wyman, Edward Stratemeyer, Sam and Beryl Epstein, Alma Sasse, Hal Goodwin, Howard R. Garis, Enid Blyton, Percy Keese Fitzhugh, Harrie Irving Hancock, and Virginia McDonnel.

What Series Books Are Not, or What Are Not Series Books

(Those of you who are well-versed in series book collecting know what I just did in the heading of this section.  You're welcome.)

This is another aspect that gets tricky.  Many series fall into a gray area between our core focus and series that are far outside of our focus.

What Series Books Are Not

Series books are not coming-of-age stories.  The character does not experience the usual childhood struggles.  Series books are the kind of books that librarians have traditionally hated, because they do not teach the reader anything.  The protagonist just solves a mystery or has an adventure.

Series books are not romance books.  Some series books have the slightest hint of romance, but only slight and just a trivial detail in the story.  Anything more than a slight hint of romance causes a book not to be a series book.

Series books are not biographies.  Some of the forerunners to the Stratemeyer Syndicate books fall close to that genre, but series books typically are not biographical.

What Are Not Series Books

Books based on television series, such as the Whitman authorized editions of Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, and others, are not series books.  Books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary are not series books.  Picture books and Little Golden Books are not series books.  Readers, such as Dick and Jane, are not series books.  Mark Twain's books are not series books.  In general, Scholastic books are not series books.

The "Maybe" Series Books

This is where we really struggle.  Books that fall into this gray area tend to be tolerated if the group is overall strongly on topic at the time they are mentioned.  When the group strays from its focus with too many "maybe" posts or off-topic posts, then posts that mention "maybe" books will be shut down.

The malt shop books are in this category.  Malt shop books fall more into the young adult or romance genres, so they are not traditional series books.  Beany Malone, Janet Lambert, and others also fall into the "maybe" category, but they fit better in other groups.  Some Whitman series also fall into the "maybe" category.

The Oz books by L. Frank Baum are also "maybe" books.  Baum did write the Aunt Jane's Nieces series under a pseudonym, and that series is within our core focus.  The Oz books are not within our core focus, so they would be best discussed in a general children's book group.

Books to Avoid

Any series or stand-alone book that features religious content is inadvisable to discuss.  This is simply due to the varying beliefs of members and how we end up with conflict on such posts.  As an example, we cannot discuss the revised Chip Hilton books, because they have religious content.  The original Chip Hilton books as written by Clair Bee are fine.

Vintage series books that were offered by faith-based publishers can also be problematic, depending upon the content.

Books such as Enid Blyton's The Children's Life of Christ should not be offered for discussion.

These companion groups were created for those who wish to discuss other types of children's books.

Modern Children's Series Books
This group is for modern children's and young adult books.

Vintage Chapter Books for Children
This group has a loose focus, so most all vintage children's books can be discussed in it.

Vintage Teen Books
This group is for vintage teen and young adult books, especially from the 1980s and 1990s.

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