Sunday, December 28, 2008

Booksleuth's Series Book Collection

or How Childhood Entertainment Became a Hobby

Welcome to my small part of the World Wide Web, celebrating 35-plus years of collecting children's mystery series books, including such international literary characters as the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins.

My name is Tim O'Herin, and I am a resident of Oklahoma City, OK, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a serious book collector of a not-too-serious genre of books, children's mystery series books.

Almost every American child has read a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book. Previous generations might fondly recall reading Tom Swift, the Rovers Boys, or the Bobbsey Twins. But the key word here is "fondly," for the clue to the popularity of these books is tied to the fact, most likely, that no child was forced to read these books. They were true popular reading material, perhaps with a little more stature than a comic book, but less stature than a true "classic" book.
Every person can recall that thrill of obtaining the latest comic book from the drug store, or the next volume of the Hardy Boys, and reading it after lights were out. Typically, if you shared a room with a brother or sister, you read by flashlight under the covers.

My fascination with these type of books was bred through my dear mother, Zoe' L. O'Herin. She loved a good mystery and passed that passion onto her youngest child.

That love of mystery books started with a lesser-known but still popular series, The Happy Hollisters. Oddly, it was the only series books at my local library in New Madrid, Mo., a small town on a great bend of the Mississippi River.

The Happy Hollisters series was written under the name of Jerry West, from 1953-1970. All of my friends at Immaculate Conception Grade School read them, and like me, probably most of them several times each. While these books were never popular with educators and librarians, they did promote the good habit of reading, and I suspect prompted many young people to expand their literature horizon.

Along with being a fan of mystery books, I also developed a serious interest in collecting books, comics and other items of memorabilia. Despite having read The Happy Hollister library books, I wanted to own them, too. Fortunately, the books were offered for sale through a book club of Doubleday & Company, Inc., of Garden City, New York.

The following is a paragraph from a Doubleday & Company promotional letter:

To introduce your child to this series, we want to send him a copy of the first book in the series --
"The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery" -- for only 10 cents (to help cover shipping) and without any further obligation on your part. Your child will be thrilled to receive this handsome, hardbound book with its many illustrations and full-color jacket. And he'll be more thrilled when he starts to read it -- it's filled with action on every page and lots of fun all the way through.

At first I did not have an application or any idea how to enroll, so I wrote to the author, Jerry West, and he sent me an application. In his letter, dated Sept. 20, 1965, he wrote:

It is always good to hear from fans who enjoy to read the Happy Hollisters...Keep up your good reading!

With the encouragement and financial support of my mother, I began receiving each volume of the 33-book series. And in the four years I collected the book club volumes, I corresponded with Mr. West, receiving 12 letters from him and a photo.

Soon I expanded my reading interests to include the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. It was then that I began a correspondence with one of the most important persons in the history of juvenile fiction, Harriet S. Adams. She had written or edited many of the most popular children's mystery series books of my generation. But I did not suspect that there was a mysterious connection between her and Mr. West. A connection I would not know of until almost ten years later.

to be continued....

The Stratemeyer Syndicate, a great fiction factory

In the Fall of 1967, I read an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat about Harriet S. Adams, daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, who created such literary characters as the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew and the Rover Boys.

This article was probably one of the first public notices that there really was no Carolyn Keene, author of Nancy Drew, and Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys. Instead, these characters were brought to life by a group of writers, many with names known only by their respective families. Many were commissioned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate of East Orange, New Jersey, to write the books from mere outlines provided by the syndicate. But what most of the literary characters had in common was the creation by syndicate founder and owner Edward Stratemeyer. Upon his death in the early 1930s, he left his business to his two daughters, Harriet and Edna. Harriet maintained the syndicate through thick and thin and until her death in the 1980s.

I wrote to Mrs. Adams after reading the article and received a letter back with her signature, but on letterhead of "Carolyn Keene." By mistake, she included an extra piece of blank stationary. I received five letters from Mrs. Adams, the rest on syndicate stationary. She sent me an autographed photo and two name cards with her "Carolyn Keene" and "Laura Lee Hope" signatures. Laura Lee Hope was the fictional author's name of the Bobbsey Twins, the Outdoor Girls, and several others series. It should be noted that Mrs. Adams did not write the original books of Nancy Drew or the Bobbsey Twins. She was responsible for writing many of the books in several of the series in the 1960s, and she was a key editor and writer of the syndicate series updates, which sometimes completely changed the stories of some of the early books. In this brief web site I will not attempt to defend or criticize her or the syndicate for those rewrites.
My love of mysteries evolved over the years to include such great fictional characters as Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple.

I am ashamed to admit, though, as a youth, I was no great detective. While corresponding at the same time with Harriet Adams and Jerry West, it never occurred to me to question why both of their letters came from East Orange, NJ. And it never occurred to question whether "Jerry West" was a real name or fictional, just like Carolyn Keene. It was not until the mid-1970s, from an article in Rolling Stone, that I found that there was no "Jerry West", and that the real West was New Jersey resident Andrew Svenson. To top off my embarrasement, Mr. Svenson's name was at the top of the Stratemeyer Syndicate stationary as one of the three partners in the syndicate, right below Harriet and sister Edna.

I regret that I never had the chance to meet either Mr. Svenson (he died in the late 1970s) or Mrs. Adams. I actually tried to set up a meeting with her in 1973 when I was passing through New York City from a trip to Europe. I think she would have granted me an audience, but she wrote:

"Coincidentally, the days you plan to spend in New York I will be cruising the Atlantic Ocean on what promises to be a very exciting trip -- to see the total solar eclipse off the west coast of Africa! I am sorry that my schedule cannot permit a visit with you." Later, Mrs. Adams wrote a Bobbsey Twins book based on this trip titled: "The Bobbsey Twins on the Sun-Moon Cruise." It was published in 1975 by Grosset & Dunlap.

In the Spring of 1999, I had the thrill of going through some of the archives of the Stratemeyer Syndicate given to the New York Public Library. In those files I read correspondence from Mr. Svenson to Mrs. Adams and I read fan mail from many young readers. In a separate section of this site will be a copy of an article I wrote for The Yellowback Library, a national magazine for series book collectors, about my "afternoon with the Stratemeyer Syndicate."


  1. I found your blog looking for dust covers for Happy Hollisters, Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew for a doll house hobby. I just read this page about your mom. My mom's name was Zoe also. Though a common name now it was not common when she was born in 1926. She passed away Sept. 17, 1996.
    Your blog is very interesting. My husband and I both read the Happy Hollisters as children but fortunately he still had a few of his. We were collecting others slowly then I found a box full at a Friends of the Library sale.

    1. Thank you Becky for your comments. Strangely, today I made a comment on Facebook to a friend who mentioned their mother having died in Sept. 1996. My mother of course, died the next month. She paid for my subscription to the Happy Hollisters bookclub, even after I had read most of the books in our local library. I might add, her mother was named Zoe, and many of my ancestors had that name. They were French. My mother always put an accent on the e, so it was always prounced Zo-E. My niece shares the name and she accents the E, too. Take care and again thanks for the nice comments.