August 4, 2011

The Complete Works of Gay Head

All right, so it's probably not the complete works--it's only the ones I own.  Hi There, High School by Gay Head (my edition is from 1968) is the first one I picked up, probably at a library sale.  Since the cover's not that engaging, I probably thought the author's name was funny--and I still do.  The following intro from Hi There, High School is a better rendition of Gay Head's style than any I could give. See image below.


Fun fact I just learned:  Gay Head is a woman!  I'm not sure why, but I always pictured Gay Head as a man.  It's kind of shaking my world.  Also, once Gay Head went on to better things, other people wrote under Gay Head's name.  The next thing you'll tell me is that Nancy Drew wasn't written by Carolyn Keene. 

Here's more of the Gay Head ouevre:

Boy Dates Girl (my edition - 1962).  From the back cover:
Those three words, BOY DATES GIRL, can run into hundreds of questions.  In this book, we tackle those you've asked most often.  We look at your individual problems:  Which is the salad fork?  Is it all right to "dutch date"?  And we dig into basic issues:  What makes a successful person  What makes a successful party?
Really?  The most compelling question that would come up in Boy Dates Girl is which is the salad fork?  And for some reason the wording "dutch date" sounds much more interesting (and dirty) than "going Dutch."  Anyhoo.  Hopefully, the letters are more compelling in Dear Gay Head (also printed in 1962), the title of which might just be my favorite non-existent band name ever. 

But the real winner, for title alone, is Etiquette for Young Moderns (1954).  My copy of this is water-stained, falling apart, probably moldy, but I could never throw anything away with so awesome a title.  From the intro:
 "Etiquette--that's just fluff!"  Hank exclaimed when his sister Sylvia, chided him for not holding open the front door for her.  "If you ask me, I'll take brains and ability--and skip the manners--to show what a person's worth."
Whoa there, Hank!  The person who has brains and ability without good manners may never get a chance to provide his worth.  His poor manners will antagonize others--both in business and social activities.
And that's straight from Gay Head!  Just to recap:  Hee, Gay Head.  And I'm six. 

August 3, 2011

Into Your Teens by Helen Schacter, Ph D, et al (1959)

A textbook published by Scott Foresman in 1959, Into Your Teens is listed as part of the Health and Personal Development Program.  There are a huge amount of these books around, most of which I've seen published from the 30s through the 60s.  After that, they must have given up on teens.  I sure don't remember any guide like this when I was in school.

Into Your Teens is broken down into the following units: Teen Troubles, Understanding Yourself and Others, Living in a Family, Your Health Questions, Living Safely, and Looking Ahead.  This book has everything to correct and develop the young teen, and make excellent citizens of them all. 


Plus, adorable art!  (This time credited to three artists: Connie Moran, Clara Ernst, and Felix Traugott.)

With a friendly, chatty tone, this textbook is liberally illustrated with all sorts of social and personal development situations students can use in their own lives.  One of my favorite things about this book, though, are the little inset images with a wistful youth asking poignant questions.  Such as:




Aw, don't worry, sad and pouty youth!  It will all work out in the end.   If this book doesn't help answer those questions, I don't know what will. 

But of all of the troubled teens, this one is my favorite:

Me too, kid.  Me too.  But look at you figuring it out so early!  There's hope for you and your wavy hair and your styling collar.  My advice to you is to cheerfully ignore it.  It's worked beautifully for me.

August 2, 2011

Living with Others by Laurence B. Goodrich (1939)

In the foreword to Living with Others: A Book on Social Conduct, Laurence B. Goodrich writes that "the art of making and maintaining pleasant and effective human relationships is one that can be learned.  In the pages that follow, the reader will find discussion of those attitudes and techniques essential to gracious community living." 

Although this is a typically charming book of the era, even starting with an epigraph by Jonathan Swift and an anecdote about Theodore Roosevelt, for me the charm of this book is in its adorable line drawings illustrating its many salient points about conversation, hospitality, behavior and correspondence (sadly not credited to any artist--come on, American Book Company!).  See below an image from the chapter on conversation.  Learn from Merle's excellent example!

Practical Goodrich points out in the first chapter, "The Good Mixer", that "persons unskilled in the diversions which furnish activity for social get-togethers are a source of uneasiness and perplexity to those who wish them well."  What does he recommend?

"Learn to ride horses, sail and row boats, drive cars, paddle canoes, shoot guns, handle tools cook, sew, knit, build fires, and wash dishes....The more things we know how to do, the better we are likely to mix." 

Oh yes, and don't forget: "A well-dressed mind is just as essential to social success as a well-dressed body."

One more image I love:  This is actually from the "Appearance Counts" section of the book.  This image is meant to illustrate that "well-dressed means suitably dressed.  School and office are not the places for cast-off party dresses, nor are street and store the proper setting for sun suits and lounging pajamas."  However, I love this image because it's how I always imagined a lady author of a certain era dressed to write.  Being an author looks like such fun!

Although this is a fun, chatty book filled with anecdotes and quotes, the charm is all in the illustrations.  A few years ago (pre-scanner), I (probably illegally) took the book to Kinko's and made writing stationery by copying these images onto some lovely writing paper I bought an estate sale.  What part of that doesn't make me feel and sound one hundred years old?  Copy machines?  Writing paper?  Sigh.  It was adorable stationery, though.

August 1, 2011

Emily Post's Etiquette (1940)

I remember quite clearly the estate sale where I bought this book.  It was tucked away in a basement alcove, and yet in beautiful, worn but immaculate condition.  I was once told by a palm reader that I have 'psychic fingers'--that I can sense things through my hands.  I've never felt it more clearly than when I picked up this book.  This book gave me such a strong sense of calmness, of graciousness, and essential goodness.  I've always treasured this book, and it started my mild obsession with collecting vintage books on  etiquette, charm, and entertaining. 

Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage by Emily Post (Mrs. Price Post, according to the title page) was originally printed in 1922 and went through many, many printings before my little 1940 edition was published.  The contents include a plethora of fascinating topics including At the Opera, the Theater, and Other Public Gatherings, Manners for Motorists, The Well-Appointed House, The Debutante, The Vanished Chaperon and Other Lost Conventions, Modern Exactions of Courtesy, What We Contribute to the Beauty of Living, and, of course, Flat Silver--Its Choice and Usage--Condensed Table Setting. 

In the first chapter Mrs. Post explores "The True Meaning of Etiquette", and describes it beautifully:
It is hard to say why the word "etiquette" is so inevitably considered merely a synonym of the word "correct," as though it were no more than the fixed answer to a sum in arithmetic.  ... I wish that those whose minds are focused on precise obedience to every precept would ask themselves instead, "What is the purpose of the rule?  Does it help to make life pleasanter?  Does it make the social machinery run more smoothly?  Does it add to beauty? Is it essential to the code of good taste or to ethics?  If it serves any of these purposes, it is a rule to be cherished; but if it serves no essential purpose, it is certainly not worth taking very seriously.
For anyone interested in American culture of the first half of the 20th century, this is a mesmerizing look at a world that was changing in radical ways.  Although there's still a great deal of info about details like "The Well-Appointed House", butlers and other servants and all, there are chapters on situations like "The Modern Man and Girl (!)", where Mrs. Post attempts to solve the issues raised by women and men working together in professional situations.  Apart from the social and historical interest, this is also just a delightfully written reference book.  From a section entitled "The Bow of a Woman of Charm":
Nothing is so easy for any woman to acquire as a charming bow.  It is such a short and fleeting duty.  Not a bit of trouble really; just to incline your head and spontaneously smile as though you though "Why, there you are!  How glad I am to see you!"
So charming!  Should you be interested in learning more about Emily Post, and the vast empire of etiquette she founded, that continues to this very day, you may enjoy Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners by Laura Claridge.

June 10, 2011

Fair Exchange by Jean Nielsen (1957)

"What a wonderful idea: senior classes exchange visits . . . go to far-away places  But nobody dreams that the fair exchange will lead to long-distance romance . . . " (back cover)

Fair Exchange is the story of a group of high school seniors who take an exchange trip from their small prairie town of Cottonwood City, Nebraska to the ocean town of Deepcove, Washington.  Along the way, many lessons are learned, and, unsurprisingly, love blooms--for pretty much everyone involved, no less.

The trip is dreamed up at Mrs. Kingston's storm tea.  The school librarian, Mrs. Kingston is from the West Coast and hates the Nebraska storms, so she hosts 'storm teas' to help her through them with treats, music and companionship.  Typing teacher Mrs. Matthew and three students are at school when the storm breaks, so they gather at Mrs. Kingston's and the idea is born. 

Let's meet the three heroines!  Sunny Sundstrom is blonde, beautiful, self-assured and planning a career in home economics.  Terri Baumgartner is the eldest daughter of a big family with a busy mother; she is overworked, underappreciated and unhappy.  Steena Torland, who lives on a dairy farm with her increasingly old-fashioned widowed father, longs to learn typing well enough to get off the farm, but she has increasingly poor eyesight.  Why, this trip could change their lives!  (Psst . . . it does.)

This is a substantial book (348+ little Scholastic Book pages), and not easy to encapsulate.  So here's a quick rundown.  The trip gets planned and the students start earning money for the trip.  Mrs. Matthew, a widow, takes Steena home and talks her father into getting her glasses and letting her go on the trip.  Terri's brother Eric, who works at the Torland's farm, offers to use his money to send Terri, who can't get a job because of her family chores.  Sunny works in the library.  As the trip is coming together, so does the town.  And so do Steena's father and Mrs. Matthew, who have fallen in love.  Fund raising events are planned through the town, including a winter carnival out on Mr. Torland's pond.  Mrs. Matthew's college-age son Jeff comes to the carnival and promptly falls in love with Sunny.  I mean, promptly.  At the smorgasbord after the carnival, Sunny is admiring a Swedish Christmas candelabra:

"'Oh, I just love those,' she said.  

'We'll have one for our first Christmas,' Jeff agreed promptly.  

'Oh, I didn't expect it to happen this way,' Sunny thought with sudden amazement, 'not in the middle of a bright room with people all around and me holding a plate of smorgasbord.  What a proposal!  Well, maybe he can amplify it later.'

By the way, they just met that day at the carnival.  As for Terri, she's got her own unhappiness.  She has a stormy relationship with her mother, and wishes she could be home, cleaning the house and caring for her family, rather than being a community organizer.  Earlier in the book, Terri is waiting in the library for Sunny:

"Only Terri didn't study.  Instead, she reached for some of the magazines nearby and settled back to read them with a hopeless, longing expression on her face.  For these particular magazines were about homemaking and home decoration, and a home--a neat, clean, well-run home--was Terri's anguished dream."

And now her mother is expecting another child, and all Terri can see is more work for her.  But her brother (as well as Mrs. Kingston and Mrs. Sundstrom) is her strong supporter and helps the family see all that Terri does for them, as well as all that her mother does for the town.

As for Steena, it takes her a while to come to terms with her father's new happiness.  The couple plan to marry the day before the students leave for Washington.  Steena thinks her father is being kind to her only because of Mrs. Matthew, but she finally realizes (at the wedding) that their loneliness had kept them apart all these years and that Mrs. Matthew will always be there to bring them together.  Plus, now she can leave for the city without worrying about her father.

And they're off!  Not before Sunny fights with Jeff and falls and sprains her ankle, forcing everyone to search for her the night before the trip.  At the train station:

"The door swung open violently as what seemed like an army of teen-agers trooped inside carrying small suitcases and all keyed up for a wonderful time. 

'It's those kids from Cottonwood City,' the agent muttered to his assistant.  'Looks like the whole high school.'

'Heaven help that poor Streamliner,' the assistant replied piously."

After a fun train trip, they arrive in Washington.  Terri and Eric stay at with a large family whose house is a model of organization and efficiency.  Sunny's hostess is disappointed in Sunny, with her sprained ankle and bad attitude due to her unresolved argument with Jeff.  And Steena?  Here's Steena, at the Pacific Ocean for the first time:

"'Oh,' she cried exultantly.  For there it was--blue-gray-green swells of water cresting into white foam and spilling out on the wet, sandy beach again and again and again in cosmic precision.  There was the rest of it, too, gigantic swells undulating as far as her eyes could see--as ar as they could have seen if she had had glasses on top of her glasses.  Unimaginable miles away the same ocean was washing ashore in the shadow of a pagoda in China, along the jungles of South America, by some sheep farmer in Australia.  The ocean--the Pacific Ocean . . .

. . .  Then she was running again, half in and half out of the water, eyes shining and heart nearly bursting because somehow, half a world away from the place she had been born and lived all her life, she had found her true home."

I love this, because as a young girl growing up in Minnesota within 30 miles of her entire extended family, the idea that you might belong someplace other than where you were born was an amazing one.  And really, kind of an innovative one for teen fiction of the 1950s. 

Steena also meets Ralph, whose family owns a cranberry bog.  He takes her to Seattle, where she gets a post-graduation job and place to live.  More trip fun ensues, including a trip to Canada.  The trip ends and the seniors head back to Nebraska, with the exception of Sunny, who takes a side trip along the way.  As she explains to her hostess when the Deepcove students come for their part of trip:

"'I'd had a fight with Jeff.  That's why I was such a grade A drip all the time in Deepcove.  So on the way home I decided I had to see Jeff, even if they burned me at the stake for it.  I ditched the train and took a bus to where he lives, straightened things out, collected this ring, and came on home.'"

The Deepcove students get settled in with their host families and explore the area.  Over at Terri and Eric's house, Terri has implemented some of the efficiency methods she learned from her host family.  And since Sunny has dropped out of the competition, Terri has the opportunity to compete for a home ec scholarship.  During this competition, Terri has to use grocery ads to fix menus and plan a grocery shopping trip for a family of five; make a meal consisting of meat loaf, baked potatoes and cherry pie; create clothing out of feed sacks; mend clothing, and finally:

"with the aid of cardboard diagrams and swatches of cloth decorated a house.  This was pure joy.  It was such fun to move funiture around, to choose drapes and paint colors.  This was the creative side of housework, and since Terri had read so many decorating magazines and had dreamed so much of a home of her own, this project was easy and pleasant for her."

This is another of my favorite parts.  I totally fantasized about how I would do in this competition, having spent a strange amount of my childhood obsessed with household hints and decorating.  By the way, home ec sounds like such an outdated concept, but every part of this competition is televised every day on HGTV and the Food Network.  Let's reclaim the label of home ec!  Yeah!

Anyhoo, Terri wins a partial scholarship, which means she'll make it to college after all (and so will her sweetheart, blond farmer boy Mort Jacobs).  The trip wraps up and everyone mulls over the effects of the trip.  Here's what the last page of my beloved childhood edition looks like.  Clearly, much loved.  I had to order another copy via Ebay to see what the last line was (spoken by Mrs. Kingston's husband):

"I think Ben put his finger right on what we wanted to know--that this was a worthwhile experience for you young people.  Yes sir, I'd say we had a fair exchange."

Aw!  It was really hard to write about this book.  There's so much in it.  Three very different heroines, complex relationships between friends and family members, feelings about what home is, love and work.  I love that it has such a strong sense of place--there are beautiful descriptions of both the prairies in Nebraska as well as the ocean and forests that they visit in Deepcove.  I love that Terri starts off as a pain in the butt, and a complete martyr, but that all is not lost.  She comes to terms with her family, has a brighter future and gets a cute blond boyfriend.  Sunny, the popular beauty, spends a good deal of the book moping about and contemplating whether to leave her perfect life for the unknown with Jeff.  Steena's contemplations about her father's new romance and her finding of home away from home would be complex even in adult fiction, but still beautifully written and completely sympathetic.  It's a lovely book.  (I know, I say that about all of these books.  But they are!)

June 5, 2011

Spurs for Suzanna by Betty Cavanna (1947)

"Oh, why couldn't she go off to a summer place the way her friends did?  Why couldn't her family move to the suburbs?  Why couldn't she do what she most wanted--ride horses?  Why?  --Sue knows the answer.  Her father is ill.  Her mother must work.  When the Ballantines invite her to the farm she discovers she has much to learn about riding--and other people.  Another novel by a writer who is tops with teen-agers--Betty Cavanna."

Betty Cavanna has written such a number of iconic novels for 'teen-agers' that it was hard to decide which book to talk about first.  Her books were stand-alone novels that focused on one particular girl and her ambitions, her personal journey, and, often secondarily, her love life. Cavanna created vivid, endearing characters in vibrant, memorable settings--from a Swiss boarding school to an artist's colony on Cape Cod to an Eastern horse ranch.

Although my two favorites are probably Passport to Romance (the Swiss boarding school) and Paintbox Summer (the artist's colony), I keep coming back to Spurs for Suzanna as Cavanna's most representative work.  I've had this book since I was a very young girl, and have read it many times.  I was never a horse-obsessed girl, but something about this book spoke to me.

As the novel begins, Sue is having lunch with her friends at school and discussing their summer vacation plans.  Everyone has fun plans out of town but Sue, whose grandmother just sold the family beach house and is facing a dreary summer alone in the city (Philadelphia).  I love this passage describing her walk home from school--as a Midwestern suburban kid, city living seemed impossibly sophisticated to me:
"The red light changed to amber, brakes squealed, amber shifted to green, and Sue started across the street, neither hurrying nor loitering, her smooth young face a mask.  This was her automatic city-expression, an aloof, indifferent look that never met anyone or anything directly.  She was conscious of hiding behind it, as all girls and women did, in town here, and it was part of the reason she wised she lived in the country.  In the country no one would be watching.  Walking home from school out where Pat lives she'd be able to pout or laugh or scratch her stomach if she felt like it, as she did now." 
Sue attends a private school and her friends live mostly in the town and the country.  The public school kids consider her a snob for attending private school.  The best part of her day is visiting with the mounted policeman and his horse.  A latchkey kid (in 1947!), she goes home to an empty house, as her mother kept her job as a fashion photographer after Sue's father fell ill with a tubercular infection.

Things start to look up when Sue's mother takes her to the Devon Horse Show for her fifteenth birthday.  Here's Sue, getting dressed for the horse show: 
"She was wearing her first real suit, a gray men's wear flannel jacket bound with white and a brief kick-pleated skirt.  She had a gray beanie to match the outfit but she decided against it.  Girls were going without hats this year, even in the city and on trains."
At the horse show, her mother runs into an old friend and Sue is invited to spend a month with the Ballantines at High Acres, their horse farm.  Sue is extraordinarily excited for her visit, to the exclusion of all else.  Before she leaves, her mother enigmatically presents her with her aunt's spurs--noting that she doesn't expect them to be used on a horse.

Sue arrives at High Acres, meets the family--including slightly older Jigger, slightly younger Missy, ten-year-old Poke and baby Stevie.  After being so excited for her trip, she starts to feel ill at ease.  She's not very used to housework, she dresses too well to go riding, and she feels like an outsider in the family, as a paying guest to the farm.  She goes on a ride much rougher than she'd been used to in the city with the Ballantine kids and ends up falling off her horse into a brook.  She stomps off: 
"Jigger smiled, trying to make Sue meet his eyes.  'You're not bad-looking when you're mad,' he said insolently.  A backhanded compliment if Sue had ever heard one, and yet, against her will, she felt a small thrill of pleasure."
(It's important to mention that it was previously described that Jigger has "dark, crisp hair.")  Sue gets back on the horse, learns to curry horses, and watches the gentle blacksmith shoe a feisty horse. She goes fishing with Poke and discovers a kindred book reader, but still has prickly relations with Jigger and Missy.  She's homesick, but for her parents' sake, she tries to fit in and writes charming letters to her father about her adventures.  Jigger and Missy urge her to learn to jump on her horse, but Sue is afraid and refuses.  She goes with the family to a gymkhana and competes in a few contests, and manages to control her horse when he is spooked and runs away.  Still afraid to jump, she overhears the Ballantines skeptically discussing whether she's learn to jump:
"'All right!' she whispered with her back against the bedroom door.  'I'll show you!  You just wait!'  And her eyes, stormy and resolute, rested for an instant on the little pine night table, where she had recently placed as an ornament Aunt Suzanna's silver spurs."
One day, when the family is away, Sue decides to try jumping on her own.  It's all going well, until her horse doesn't make it over a fence and is badly hurt.  She calls the kindly blacksmith and owns up to her mistake to the Ballantines.  Luckily, the horse will recover and she continues to learn jumping with the family.  After the month is up, she goes home changed.  Instead of moping around the house, she dusts and makes dinner for her mother and herself.  Her father has a new enthusiasm as he's started turning Sue's letters into a children's book. AND, Sue invites Jigger (by letter, no less) to a dinner party and he accepts!

One of Betty Cavanna's strongest gifts is her characterization.  Sue has so many layers--sophisticated and assured in the city, ill at ease at first in the country and with a growing insight into how her actions and feelings affect others.  In addition, Cavanna creates such strong characters in Sue's working mother, her invalid (but still vital) father, and all of the Ballantines.  Even though the story is simple (girl goes to a horse farm and learns about life), Cavanna manages to make it a deeply textured one that is still relevant over sixty years later.

January 13, 2011

Fifteen by Beverly Cleary (1956)


"Jane Purdy is fifteen and a sophomore in high school. No one has ever asked her for a date except George, an unromantic boy who is an inch shorter than she is and talks of nothing but his rock collection. Then she meets Stan: tall, good-looking, resourceful, and sixteen years old--all she ever dreamed of. The circumstances are trying. Jane is baby-sitting with Sandra Norton, the toughest assignment in town. Stan appears just in time to prevent Sandra, by a skillful use of pig Latin, from emptying a bottle of ink on the Nortons' blond living-room carpet. But I'll never see him again, Jane tells herself despairingly the next day. I'm just not the type to interest an older man. And then one evening the telephone rings . . . " (dust jacket copy)

Finally!  A fifties teen romance actually written in the 1950s!  And possibly one of the most charming teenage novels ever written.  Beverly Cleary is mostly known for her children's books starring such memorable characters as Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Ralph S. Mouse, but she also wrote several heartfelt and funny teenage romance novels, the first of which is this one.  As the dust jacket copy on my copy reads, "It is hard to think of any other American writer who has so successfully put on paper the sorrows and joys and absurdities of girlhood."

The novel starts with these lines:
"Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told herself, as she walked up Blossom Street toward her baby-sitting job.  Today I'm going to meet a boy.  If she thought it often enough as if she really believed it, maybe she actually would meet a boy even though she was headed for Sandra Norton's house and the worst baby-sitting job in Woodmont."

And believe it or not--she does!  And not just any boy, but Stan Crandall, who is "at least sixteen, because he had a driver's license.  He had a nice smile and merry eyes--greenish-gray eyes.  He had brown hair with a dip in it.  He was not really tall, but he was tall enough so a medium-sized girl could wear heels and not feel she had to scrooch down when she walked beside him."  And he's a nice boy, which is apparently what girls were looking for in the 1950s.  I think I still have a little crush on Stan Crandall and his tan arms and silver identification bracelet.  Dreamy!

So we go through Jane's trials and tribulations when dating a boy seriously for the first time.  How to behave on her first real date, what to order at Nibley's ice cream shop, how to stop her parents from alternately teasing her and worrying about her, how to get through dinner at a real Chinese restaurant in the city, and what happens when he doesn't invite her to the big dance.

The charms of this book are many.  Not only does the book explore the heartfelt issues behind dating and really liking someone for the first time, but Jane also learns about who she is as a person.  But it's not all earnest -- there's quite a bit of subtle humor in the book, especially in Jane's interactions with her parents, who just don't understand, as well her babysitting adventures.  Jane has a sense of humor about herself as well.  In a scene where she orders flowers for Stan after an operation and receives a massive gladiola arrangement she has to hand-deliver to him:
"Since she had made up her mind to be herself and since she was the kind of person who always did the wrong thing, Jane decided she might as wll make the best of it and start out by delivering the flowers to Stan." 
The book also has a marvelous sense of place.  It's set in a suburb of a West Coast city (probably San Francisco), which has all the advantages of a small town (in the 50s, that is), which means walking to the movies and ice cream shop from home.  Everyone has lovely golden tans, and gracious old redwood homes abound, as well as the "nodownpaymenttoveterans" houses owned by Jane's babysitting clients.  The line drawings, by Joe and Beth Krush, beautifully capture the time period, from Jane's clothes to the decor at her house when Stan comes to pick her up.  It's also an evocative look at (sheltered, middle class) teenage life in the 1950s.  Before their first date, Jane starts to worry about Stan:  "What if he came in a T shirt and jeans?  Or one of those gaudy sport shirts with the tail hanging out?  . . . Or maybe he would chew gum and snap it and guffaw at the love scenes in the movie."  As for dinner in the city?  Jane wears a suit and white gloves, but makes the major decision to go hatless.  At the end of the book, Stan gives Jane his identification bracelet, which means they're going steady. 
"Jane's wrist felt small and feminine in the circle of heavy silver links.  Tenderly she caressed the letters of Stan's name with her finger tips.  Stanley Crandall.  The nicest boy in the whole world."
Sigh!  Even though the trappings are charmingly dated, certain truths about young love always ring true.  Beverly Cleary had an amazing gift of insight into the minds of children with her books for audiences, and her teenage novels are no different.  I only wish she'd written more than four.  They are still in print and hopefully, they still speak to a contemporary audience. 

Despite the incidences of angst and drama, these novels are still like riding in a powder-blue convertible on a sunny day with a nice boy who has a dip in his hair, and golden-brown hairs on his tanned arms.

January 6, 2011

Star-Spangled Summer by Janet Lambert (1941)

"Poor little rich girl Carrol hasn't been having a nickel's worth of fun.  But then she's invited to spend a summer with Penny Parrish--and things really start to happen!  Her first horse show.  Her first formal dance.  A moonlight picnic.  Summer suddently becomes a joy-filled season, bringing friendship . . . and love." (back cover - 1972 edition)

I have three editions of Star-Spangled Summer, one hardcover from 1941, and two Scholastic paperbacks: one from 1961 (shown above) and one from 1972, which is the one I grew up reading.  This innocuous little paperback introduced me to (as the back cover of my 1941 edition reads): "Stories about teenagers . . . written specially for teenagers.  The Famous Janet Lambert books for girls."  Star-Spangled Summer is the first in a sprawling series of books in which characters in two army families repeatedly intertwine--and marry.  You can find a partial listing of the series here.  Enough introduction!  On to the story!

As the novel begins, Carrol and Penny are on the train, heading to the army post where Penny's family lives for a visit.  They had recently met when Penny was visiting family in the city.  Carrol lives with her grandmother, and hardly sees her cold, rich father, so this visit to Penny's rowdy, big family will be quite a change. And they are rowdy, as we see when the whole family piles out of the station wagon, from Major Parrish to his wife Marjory ("attractive in a red-gold gypsy kind of way"), rambunctious children Bobby and Tippy, to handsome older brother David.  Don't forget colored olderly Williams and dear cook Trudy (who is a well-drawn, complex character--despite the "lands" and the "laws"). 

Carrol settles into her visit, getting to know the rituals of the post, and life among a group of fun-loving kids.  She goes riding with David, and they become friends despite her earlier contention that he was "terribly conceited."  The group plans a scavenger hunt that takes them all over the post--including to an attractive young officer's quarters.  Drama ensues when Carrol gets a large, unsolicited check and a cold letter from her father which Penny's jealous friend Louise discovers and badmouths her as a snob.  But it all works out.  But Penny has a plan--to reunite father and daughter.

The next big event (after a horse show) is the hop, or the dance on the post. 
"There were no formal programmes.  Someone asked you for a dance--and away you went.  When the first encore began it was sink or swim, for anyone could cut.  If you were popular you danced joyfully from one pair of arms to another and if you weren't, you probably went home and cried yourself to sleep."
Carrol's father does come to visit the family at the post, but he's cold and difficult to know.  Things change, though, after the moonlight picnic.  Mean girl Louise angles with Carrol's father for an invite to New York (not knowing that Carrol lives with her grandmother, not her father) and then Louise's horse acts up, and suddenly "Carrol lay on the ground, very white and still, and blood was trickling slowly down her forehead."  Despite being kicked in the head by a horse, Carrol recovers, reunites with her father who invites her to live in New York with him, and since David is on his way to West Point, they all fly off together in a private plane.  On to the next adventure!

There's no other word for these books than charming.  They are filled with engaging characters--Penny in particular is a hoot--and strong relationships, especially among the family.  The depiction of 1940s life, as well as pre-war army life, is so vivid you'd swear you were there.  I'll let the book jacket of the 1941 edition sum it all for me:

"A happy, wholesome story, full of high excitement, gaiety and keen humor.  The girls are delightful, the young men gallant--West Point bound.  Girls, and boys too, in their early teens are certain to find this tale of modern American army life absorbingly entertaining."

January 4, 2011

Carol Goes Backstage by Helen Dore Boylston (1941)

"Carol Page beamed upon them from the threshold--slender and dark-haired, her eyes startlingly green in a heart-shaped face.  She was so lightly and perfectly balanced that she seemed poised for flight in any direction, and her head, with the thick hair falling to her shoulders, tilted back with sudden, dramatic intensity.  'I was helping an old lady across the street,' she said.  'I was teaching boy scouts to build a fire in the rain.  My plane crashed in a snowstorm.  I've been all tied up.'"

How can you beat a character introduction like that?  Helen Dore Boylston was also the author of the Sue Barton nurse stories, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the Carol books--and not just because of the name.  My copy is a first edition, published in 1941 and withdrawn from a public library in Chisholm, Minn probably due to the coffee spills, pencil marks and torn, yellowed pages.  Considering I got it in the 1970s, it's holding up quite well. 

According to the blurb on the back of one of Boylston's book, Carol is one of "Two Famous Young Heroines from the books of Helen Dore Boylston."  Here's the description:  "Carol Page, who wants to be an actress.  Attractive, full of spirits, but serious underneath, Carol treads the difficult path toward a career on the stage, finding all the hardships--and thrills, too--that the theater has always provided for the girl who wants to reach the pinnacle."  She wrote four books in the Carol series, starting with Carol Goes Backstage, and moving on to Carol Plays Summer Stock, Carol on Broadway, and finally, Carol on Tour

As the book opens, Carol is late for the dress rehearsal for the high school play.  After making the appearance noted above, she goes outside to rehearse her lines and is "interrupted by the jerky arrival of a battered roadster driven by a tall boy with a thin, eager face and tousled fair hair."  This would be Ned Long, and don't get attached--the Boylston books are about careers first, then love.  She goes off in his car with him, which naturally breaks down.  She hitches a ride to the school with someone in a "long, underslung coupe", who talks to her about acting.  She has a great success in the play and heads off for a trip to New York with her older brother.  As she gets tickets for Candida, she walks through Times Square lost in daydreams of theatrical success:
"Broadway elbows and Broadway shoulders brushed against her, but she didn't notice.  Nor did she know that her sensitive young face and startling green eyes stood out sharply in the crowd.  She didn't know that her body had grace and ease of balance, or that she walked lightly, her weight on the balls of her feet--a perfect stage walk.  But there were individuals in the crowd who knew, and who turned to look after her with brief interest."
As the play starts, she realizes that the woman who gave her a ride is Jane Sefton, a great lady of the theater.  She goes backstage and tells Miss Sefton that she plans to go on the stage as well.  Back at home in Milltown, much drama ensues as Carol informs her parents (Judge Page, mind you) of her plans to become an apprentice at the Stuyvesant Theater School in New York.  She auditions, along with her good friend and future character actress Julia, and meets an annoying young man named Michael Horodinsky.

All three, of course, become apprentices.  Julia and Carol stay at a highly respectable girls' club and begin to learn the theater, from all things backstage, to movement, to speaking exercises.  This lecture comes from Miss Marlowe, the director of the Theater School:
"Talent is not enough.  You must realize that, too.  You may be the most talented person in the world and still have no place in the theater.  The real essentials for a theatrical career are discipline, steadiness, willingness to work and co-operate, manners, and respect for the rights of others.  an actor with 25 per cent talent and 75 per cent character will go farther in the theater than one with 75 per cent talent and 25 per cent character."
They put on their own scenes (directed by that annoying Mike), and get to watch a production from backstage, including a magical production of Peter Pan.

Everything is going well, until Aunt Salome stops by to check on Carol, and runs into Mike, who confirms all of the family's worst suspicions about the kind of riffraff Carol is associating with at the theater.  Her parents demand she return home, but first she needs to finish her commitment to the theater by appearing in one more student production: Dear Brutus.  In the audience for this play, however, is the manager of a theater who has an acting job to offer for one outstanding actor.  Guess who gets the job?  Carol!  But Julia and Mike and a few others get apprenticeships, so they'll all be together again in summer stock.

The charm of this book lies in the detailed and fascinating depiction of life in the theater--from high school productions, to off-Broadway productions, to the Broadway show in which one of the apprentices gets a walk-on part.  It's also very evocative of life as it must have been for the young apprentices in the New York theater scene.  Boylston's novels are fast-moving, and her characters and dialogue are vivid and dramatic.  Carol learns a lot about herself and acting, and as she gets to know Mike, she gains respect for his talent despite his gruff exterior.  But the central focus in this novel is always Carol and her journey on her way to becoming a real actress, despite her family's objections and the hard road ahead.

January 3, 2011

Practically Seventeen by Rosamond du Jardin (1943)

"His name is Jon," I lied shamelessly. "He goes to Whitfield . . . sort of blond, with nice blue eyes. That's all I'm going to tell you. Wait till the Prom, and you can see for yourself!"  Tobey's fight with Brose Gilman has left her without a date--so she creates a Dream Man. Now everybody believes her! (back cover)

The copyright date on my battered, beloved copy of this book is March 1971, almost thirty years after its first publication in the early 1940s.  And to me, reading this in the late 70s, it hardly showed its age at all.  Let's meet Tobey! 
"My name is Tobey Heydon and I am practically seventeen years old, since my sixteenth birthday was five whole months ago.  Actually, Tobey is my middle name and my first is Henrietta.  My mother got sort of desperate when her third child turned out to be another girl, so she named me for my father.  But, thank Heaven, my grandmother's maiden name was Tobey.  Otherwise it would have been too ghastly.  People might have called me Henny for short, and I would have simply died."
This is the first of six books Rosamond du Jardin wrote about Tobey Heydon (and her family)--books that followed Tobey through high school, college and finally marriage.  Although the book primarily follows the adventures of Tobey, and her steady date Brose ("I am pretty crazy about Brose.  He is quite tall, and he has brown hair with a little curl in it which he is always trying to discourage by the most drastic methods."), it's very much of a family story and their lives in an "average-sized town called Edgewood".  Tobey has three sisters (two older, one younger) and parents who are much more droll and funny than Tobey realizes.  Du Jardin's characters are vivid and memorable, and Tobey is a delightful narrator who is slightly less insightful than she thinks she is. 

The novel starts off during Christmas and all sorts of shenanigans ensue like a visit from Santa that goes awry (the police are called) and Brose's present (leather bound Ramona, but with lipstick and My Sin hidden in the package).  With one sister engaged to a department store heir, and the other down in the tropics, Tobey has her hands full with romantic dilemmas to solve. 

After finally getting her sister married off, it's time for the rest of the family to relax for a few weeks at Green Lake.  But wait?  Who's that girl Brose is talking to?  Well, it's Kentucky Jackson ("her hair was pale blond, like silver gilt, and done in a soft, long page-boy, with not a strand out of place") and she's about to make Tobey's summer look pretty miserable.  But don't give up on Tobey--armed with a tippy canoe and a fortuitous thunderstorm, she gets back her man. 

Things are really looking up now, but we still have a few chapters left.  Back at home, everyone's gearing up for the Heart Hop ("it is terribly splash, and everyone gets new formals and has a super time") where the girls invite the boys.  But thanks to another misunderstanding, someone else asks Brose to the dance before Tobey can.  What can she do now?  Clearly, make up a new boy, Jon Hayward from neighboring Whitfield, who she invites to the dance, planning for him to get ill the day of the dance. 

All is going well, and her parents even surprise her with a new dress for the dance ("It was the most absolutely swoony formal I'd ever had in my whole life--plaid taffeta in tones of violet and gold and black, with an off-the-shoulder neckline and a skirt so wide and rustling I couldn't even believe it!").  Finally, it's the night of the dance, and Tobey is feeling guilty and regretting her deception when a young man appears claiming that Jon sprained his ankle and asked him to substitute. 

Tobey goes off with the mystery man ("He was tall, with nice broad shoulders, and he had brown hair and blue eyes with a nice twinkle"), only to discover her little meddling sister and her friend read about her dilemma in Tobey's diary and sent the friend's brother, Dick Allen, to save the day.  But don't worry: Tobey and Brose make up and Brose gives her his class ring to wear. 
"At that moment, it seemed as though Brose and I were the only two people in the world, and I liked feeling that way.  I liked it very much, indeed!  Apparently, Brose was experiencing similiar emotions.  All he could say was, "Gee, Tobey--gee . . ."
This is a throughly charming novel, with lots of dry humor (much resulting from Tobey's practical point-of-view).  It's also a vivid look at a time gone by, complete with teens dancing at Joe's Grill, new formals for dances (complete with orchid or gardenia corsages), holiday events like sleigh rides and house parties, and friends named Itchy, Gil, Sox and Barbie.  The beauty of du Jardin's writing, though, goes beyond such retro charm.  She has wonderful insights into human nature, and those are universal--just as relevant (and funny) in the early days of the 21st century as they were in 1943.