Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Series Review: Trixie Belden

Title: Trixie Belden (series)
Author: Julie Campbell (first 6) (involved in Ginny Gordon and Cherry Ames), then  Kathryn Kenny (a name taken on by an unknown number of authors)
Release Date: 1948-1986
Genre: friendship, family, mystery, drama, adventure
My Rating: ***** (possibly biased by my young tween self who was obsessed with the series)
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group: 10+ (mostly dependent upon reading level)

Sleepyside is a nice little town, home of Beatrix (Trixie, please!) Belden, her two older brothers Brian and Martin (Mart), and their youngest brother Bobby. Their lives are simple. Not much happens. They help out around the house, go to school, etc.
Then one summer Madeline (Honey) Wheeler's family moves in up the hill. No doubt about it, they're rich. She has a governess, the house is huge. Horses, house staff, you get the idea. Money.
Honey is lonely. Trixie's brothers are away assisting at a boys' summer camp. The two meet and hit it off, even though they're complete opposites. Honey likes Trixie's tomboyish love of adventure and danger. Trixie finds Honey's girlishness new (albeit really hard to understand)--but mostly she just likes the companionship and the horses. Who doesn't like horses?

The two girls meet a runaway boy, and everything just picks up from there.
The friends from a club called the Bobwhites of the Glen and they try to help people in need. The club consists of: Brian Belden, Mart Belden, Trixie Belden, Honey Wheeler, Jim Frayne, Dan Mangan, and Diana Lynch (the last two usually not present in the books).

Friendship. Mysteries. Adventure. Travel. Fun.
What more could one possibly want to read about? Especially as a young reader just jumping into chapter books.

Word of Warning
 Please note that while I am not reviewing specific books (for the most part), I am commenting on trends the series carries. I will also do my best to comment on any problems that really stand out, even if they were only in one book.

  • Jim Frayne's stepfather beat, starved, and didn't care for him. Basically, Jonsey was abusive. We don't get much detail on this, and he's relatively mentally untouched (it's a 1940's children's book), but it is still a reality that is faced.
  • Dan Mangan was part of a gang at one point (it doesn't appear he did anything too horrible, but this makes him untrustworthy).
  • Some suspense. In a few books, characters are kidnapped. I remember only three or four times where the lives of the characters were in question. All the other times, the kidnapping did not lead the reader to expect death.
  • Bad guys.
  • No murders as far as I can remember.
  • As the books rise in number, they become a bit more intense. All dealt with in a good, rather old-fashioned way, but more intense. An accidental poisoning, near drowning, an accidentally abandoned child, car crash victim with amnesia, etc.
  • Also as the books rise in number, they sort of peter out. I'd say they are at their best in the late teens and early twenties. The rest are worth reading, but aren't nearly as good.
  • Book 32, The Mystery of the Whispering Witch was very frustrating. For the most part, the books stay on the straight and narrow, and so do the characters. This one went over the edge. It is implied that a house is haunted, and a rather horrible story is told of a woman who was once burned to death inside of it after being accused of witchcraft. Trixie very stubbornly refuses to believe in such things (a much-appreciated element of the book), but right near the end seems to question her firm beliefs.
  • Frustrations:
    • Bobby's language. This is more of a rather annoying element than an actual problem. The kid is supposed to be 6 years old, but he talks like a 3 year old. As the oldest of 8, this always really bothered me because I knew he wasn't talking right.
    • Continuity. As the books continued to change hands, major plot threads would get lost and important facts would be changed. Strawberry the horse would change from male to female and back again (in different books, obviously). Honey's hair color would shift, Jim's eye color, character's attractions and relationships, etc. I always thought if you're going to enter a series, know the series. I was a fan and I knew it better than the authors and editors. This drove other fans crazy as well.
The Good
  • It's fun. Lots of adventure, relatively good plots (at least, not identical like the Hardy Boys* plots).
  • Vocabulary. I know this isn't about education, but man the vocab in these books is great. Mart is a walking dictionary, and we learn many of the words he uses from the confusion of his friends. Others can be looked up if one so desires. I hadn't considered this when first reading these years ago, but now I see great value to what's going on here.
  • Good characters. These characters come from all different backgrounds, but they join together and want to do good for others.
  • Great friendships. They aren't without their struggles and complications, but they're solid.
  • Great families. No, they're not torn by divorce or death or anything else. They're supportive. They're there and they care. It's very refreshing.
  • Good guys. I know this sounds strange, but in contemporary books it is getting harder and harder to find good guy characters. But take a few steps back on the timeline, and we have the Belden boys and Jim Frayne (every girl who read these had a literary crush on him). Brian is responsible. Mart is a little annoying but very funny. Both brothers care deeply about their sister and her friends and do their best to protect them. Jim is stubborn and does the right thing all the time (mostly). He's respectful and loves his sister dearly, as well as her best friend, and does his best to make sure they go unharmed.
  • Good ages. I remember reading Nancy Drew and quickly losing interest. She was nearly 8 years older than me! And when you're 10 or 12, that's a really big deal. Trixie, on the other hand, was so much closer and easy to relate to. And if you didn't relate to tomboy Trixie, perhaps Honey or Diana. 
  • Mistakes. The kids mess up. They make bad decisions, they're not always nice to each other or others, and they get into all sorts of "scrapes." And then they dig themselves out with help from each other, family, other friends, authorities, etc. Basically, all is not well all the time--and far from it!
 *I'm not bashing the Hardy Boys series. On the contrary. Even though nearly every plot was identical, I loved those books too.

My Thoughts

They were great. With the help of very wonderful family members, I managed to get my hands on every single book, all the way from 1 to 39--and that is not an easy thing to do. I knew those things inside out. I had my favorites (still do) and my complaints. I read them to my sister because she was too young to read herself. I could draw a map of Sleepyside. I could tell you Trixie's cousins' names and where they lived, and all about the Bigfoot story. I knew the names of the minor characters and all the criminals.

Basically, I was hooked. I might propose that aside from The Boxcar Children books, this series was really what launched me into the great world of literature.

Why though? Because the characters were fun and easy to relate to. Because the adventures were great. Because it wasn't too hard to read but it didn't feel like I was being written down to. Because I shipped Jim and Trixie and wanted to find out how that turned out (spoiler: it's never addressed). Because even the romance was something a 12 year old girl not interested in romance could get behind.
Because they were good. And they're still good. Now my second sister is involved, and some of my summer students have mentioned interest (poor things. I immediately offered my thoughts, little-known trivia, and the entire series for their borrowing pleasure).
They're old but they don't get old. They're decent literature that's readable. Sadly, that can be very hard to get.

But Trixie Belden joins those childhood loves, joining the ranks of Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, American Girl books (Sisters In Time were better), and Caddie Woodlawn.
And yes, some day I will try to get reviews of those up here too. Until then, know that they are strongly endorsed by myself and other readers of this household.

Further Reading
A very interesting article on the books: Schoolgirl Shamus that already-established fans might find enjoyable.
A blog that summarizes each book, comments on the historical/cultural aspects of them (because yes, words change meaning, societal movements come and go, etc): Brian's Jalopy


RealMom4Life said...

I've only read a few - feeling a little left out in this house! Guess I better get started....if your 10 year old sister would just put them in my room when she's done I could have a new one every few days!

grandma jane said...

As I well recall, you cut your writing teeth on these books. And they have been my favorites as well. Yes, they were indeed well written.

You didn't mention it here as a reviewer, how could you I suppose, that you actually authored your own personal "Trixie" book, having exhausted the entire series like you said, wanting more of these wonderful characters. I've no doubt, had the series continued your book (I won't give away the title should you do something else with it and its characters) but it would most likely have been published --it is that good.

It is still my sad part in that venture that I, as an editor, allowed the wrong edited copy to be printed in manuscript format to share with friends and family. Well, unfortunately I can't redo that part, but I can share with your blog readers and fans that you are not only an excellent reviewer, but my dear you can write! I have been lucky to meet your most interesting characters and stories over the years. Now won't they be curious...;-)

I'm so glad you decided to review this series, making it feel new again. Perhaps now more young people will be able to/wish to connect with and be inspired by classic wholesome books such as these.

Maria Gianna said...

Yup! She's growing up to be a reader, just like her sisters. Which is super neat, because as you well know, I have plenty of books to pass on to her when she has the time to read them. It's also really neat to see how we all tend to like different genres and styles, yet we all had our Trixie Belden moment (some stronger than others). I wonder what my goddaughter will choose....

grandma jane,
I sure did! My first big, serious, and finished writing project was a fan fiction of these books.
Thank you for your kind words. I wouldn't have been able to do what I did on that book without your help, and all my other books too. It's so helpful to have a supportive but honest editor.
I do hope more people start to read Trixie Belden again. The series was great, and I'm a little shocked I didn't get around to doing a review sooner (I guess I just assumed I had already done it). Hopefully they'll be passed along as people are reminded of how wonderful they are.