A couple of months ago at a school book sale, I picked up a copy of “The Bobbsey Twins on Blueberry Island” for a whopping 50 cents. The familiar purple spine with the drawing of 6-year-old Bobbsey twins, Freddie and Flossie, along with their trusty companion, the shaggy white pup Snap, brought back a wave of nostalgia so strong that I would have been willing to pay at least double that!
When I was a kid, I adored the Bobbsey Twins. I wanted to be the spunky Nan Bobbsey, one half of the 12-year-old twins Nan and Bert, older brother and sister to Freddie and Flossie. (I was perfect for the part, I reasoned, with my dark hair and dark eyes.)
Every chance I got, I picked up another Bobbsey Twins adventure, sometimes, if I was lucky, at the bookstore (keep in mind this was decades before the Chapters mega stores and Amazon.ca), more often than not at garage sales in the neighbourhood. I was determind to own every book in Laura Lee Hope’s series, and while I did end up with an entire shelf dedicated to the twins, I don’t think I ever owned more than half of the original 72 books that were penned.
Sadly, at some point along the way, I got rid of all of them (probably at a garage sale of my own). So it was fun to purchase and reread one for old time’s sake.
Fun, and surprising in some ways too. Published in 1959, “The Bobbsey Twins on Blueberry Island” was dated even when I was first read it in the 1970s. And while I distincly remember the Bobbsey’s “help” (Dinah, “the plump colored woman who helped Mrs. Bobbsey with the housework,” and Sam, “a colored man who drove a truck for Mr. Bobbsey’s lumberyard”), I never questioned this as a child. Nor did I question the fact that every single time they were mentioned, so was the colour of their skin, as if it were somehow of great importance to continually differentiate them from the other (all white) characters, while as an adult, I couldn’t help but notice.
I also saw the Bobbsey parents in a completely different light, now that I’m a parent myself. Mrs. Bobbsey is an uninvolved, laissez-faire mother, who is forever chuckling in the background as her four children run off on yet another adventure with criminals, bears and whatnot. And Mr. Bobbsey has only a slightly more involved role, offering the odd bit of fatherly advice and watching from the sidelines as his son Bert beats up the school bully (“Mr. Bobbsey glanced after them, chuckling. ‘I think Danny has had a mighty uncomfortable evening,’ he remarked”). (Yes, both Bobbsey parents are chucklers.) By today’s standards, the neglectful Mrs. Bobbsey would have her children taken away from her, and Mr. Bobbsey would be charged with aiding and abetting his son in committing assault.
But I can still see why these books appealed to me as a child: The camaraderie among siblings and friends. The freedom of being left to their own devices with no adult supervision. The adventures. The mysteries. The Scooby-Doo moment of “We would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids” at the end of every tale. Reading was an escape, and the Bobbsey Twins’ stories were some of the best.
Not unlike what my 12-year-old son is reading these days.
Everything he picks up is a new adventure, and more often than not part of a series. He’s travelled through time in the eight-book “Infinity Ring” series. Saved the world in the six “I Am Number Four” stories. Journeyed on an epic quest through 12 “Amos Daragon” books. Devoured pretty much every book in every series written by Rick Riordan.
Now he’s embarking on another adventure with John Flanagan’s “Ranger’s Apprentice” books, and I’m along for the ride.
In January, a friend linked to this 2016 reading challenge on her Facebook page. I printed off copies for each member of the family and all four got on board. One of the items in the challenge is “a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF” and The Boy chose Book 1, “The Ruins of Gorlan” for me. I grudgingly agreed, since adventure stories haven’t really been my thing since I was his age.
Well, I hate to admit it, but I’m hooked on the series with its exciting plot, well-drawn characters and really good writing. And although “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series and other children’s adventure books these days address much more mature topics (with more harshness, violence and grit than the innocent books I enjoyed “in the good old days”), they all boast the same themes (the camaraderie, the freedom of being left to their own devices–happily all of the main characters in this one are orphans–the adventures and the mysteries) that drew me in as a child and are drawing me in again as an adult. And, man is Flanagan ever good at cliffhangers! I’m already on Book 4, one ahead of my son, and can’t put it down!
Reading has always been an escape for me. Now, as an adult, I’m enjoying a whole new reading adventure I never would have embarked on if it weren’t for my son. And who knows? Maybe one day he’ll give the Bobbsey Twins a read just for fun. I’d be curious to see what his 12-year-old self gets out of it.