Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Bobbsey Twins and Other Great Childhood Reads Were Written By Ghost Writers; Laura Lee Hope? Um, She Didn't Exist

 Flossie and Freddy Bobbsey in an illustration from editions with a dust jacket.
Edward Stratemeyer
Today is the birthday of Edward L. Stratemeyer (born 1862) and you might rightly ask 'who is Edward L. Stratemeyer'? If you or your children were fans of the Bobbsey Twins series, you might be amazed to learn that the author, Laura Lee Hope, is actually Mr. Stratemeyer's pen name. In fact, the author had more than 60 names and wrote over 800 books in his lifetime.

In 1906, he created the Stratemeyer Syndicate and produced reading material for kids and teens throughout his lifetime. Some of the series were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. Using the name Arthur Winfield, Stratemeyer wrote twenty books from 1899-1917 under the title of The Rover Boys, and forty books about a young inventor Tom Swift.

Edward Stratemeyer, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was the youngest of six children. His father was a German tobacconist. He loved to read and after high school he went to work in his father's store. He had his own printing press and wrote short stories distributing them to friends and family finally selling a story to the popular children's paper Golden Days for seventy-five dollars. Stratemeyer was a savvy businessman and his introduction of fifty-cent novels sent book sales skyrocketing creating a lucrative market for writers and buyers. Stratemeyer busied himself with the introduction of new plot lines, delegating work to writers and illustrators, editing proofs, and negotiating with publishers until he died on May 10, 1930.

An early illustration from 
'The Bobbsey Twins in The Great City'
The Bobbsey Twins books were a family favorite even though the series began back in 1904, way before my time. The books featured the adventures of two sets of twins, Bert and Nan and Freddie and Flossie and they continued throughout his longest-running series. The Bobbseys' were a middle-class family whose father owned a lumber yard. The twins were fraternal and practically eternal when it came to their ages:
In the original editions, the first books in the series took place in a clear chronology, with the characters aging as time passed. The Bobbsey Twins: Merry Days Indoors and Out took place over the course of a school year, with Nan and Bert described as eight years old and Freddie and Flossie four; the second book, The Bobbsey Twins in the Country is set the following summer. The second part of the summer is chronicled in The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore, which is written as a direct sequel to the previous book, tying up some plot threads. The fourth book, The Bobbsey Twins at School, begins the next autumn, with Nan and Bert "nearly nine years old" and Freddie and Flossie "almost five." Editors at the Stratemeyer Syndicate quickly realized that at this rate their young heroes would quickly age beyond their readership, and so the later books in the series and in all revised editions, have the older twins perpetually 12 years old and the younger twins 6.
An illustration from 
'The Bobbsey Twins at Plymouth Rock'
According to Wikipedia, Edward Stratemeyer is believed to only have written the first volume in 1904. Volumes 2 and 3 are attributed to Lilian Garis, wife of Howard Garis, who is credited with volumes 4–28 and 41. Elizabeth Ward is credited with volumes 29–35, while Harriet Stratemeyer Adams is credited with 36–38, 39 (with Camilla McClave), 40, 42, 43 (with Andrew Svenson), and 44–48. Volumes 49–52 are attributed to Andrew Svenson, while 53–59, and the 1960s rewrites of 1–4, 7, 11–13, and 17, are attributed to June Dunn. Grace Grote is regarded as the real author of 60–67 and the rewrites of 14 and 18–20, and Nancy Axelrad is credited with 68–72. Rewrites of volumes 5 and 16 are credited to Mary Donahoe, 6 and 25 to Patricia Doll, 8–10 and 15 to Bonnibel Weston, and 24 to Margery Howard. Howard R. Garis also wrote as 'Victor Appleton' for the Tom Swift series. Leslie McFarlane wrote as 'Franklin W. Dixon' for the Hardy Boys series, and Mildred A. Wirt Benson wrote as 'Carolyn Keene' for most of the original Nancy Drew series. Yikes!

I guess it took a village to make the Bobbsey clan come to life and bring untold amounts of adventure, mystery and travel to millions of kids like myself, my  sisters and my daughters as we were growing up. To refresh your memory the cast of characters were: Mr. Richard Bobbsey, the owner of a lumber yard in Lakeport; his wife and the twins mother, Mary; Nan and Bert, their elder twins, Freddie and Flossie, their younger twins; Dinah and Sam Johnson, an African-American  couple who were the Bobbseys' cook, and handyman respectively (hmm, didn't every middle class family have live-in help back in the day?); Snoop, the Bobbseys' cat and Snap, the Bobbseys' dog. Of course there was the proverbial 'bad boy' by name of Danny Rugg, always the source of endless trouble for the Bobbsey clan. We seriously hated Danny! The books came with us on every vacation and a volume or two was always on our Christmas or birthday list. By high school, I think we had read every book published to date and I admit to reading some of the newer ones that my daughter had in her collection.

Edition from 1950s
Many of the early books had little or no connection to the real world but by 1917 the Bobbsey's were beginning to visit real places like Plymouth Rock and as the series progressed, the trips to real places were well-researched and detailed even mentioning the the names of well-known hotels and restaurants.

The look of the series also changed over the years from dust jackets to picture covers, no dust jackets, a lavender spine and back cover that replaced the green bindings that had been used before. Only 20 of the books were were completely rewritten, most of them were given modern titles and 16 were never re-released being thought that they were too dated to be fixed up. Most of the rewrites were needed because of changing technology (yes there were horses and buggies in the early editions!) or changing social mores, with respect to how Sam and Dinah were portrayed. One book, The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May received the most extreme rewrite because it was a story about the Bobbsey family's adventures trying to find the parents of a foundling baby. By the 1960s, modern social services had rendered the original story unrealistic so a new novel was written about the twins' adventures with a baseball-playing baby elephant (The Bobbsey Twins' Adventures with Baby May). This, however, had a ripple effect, as the original The Bobbsey Twins at Cherry Corners had been a sequel to the original Baby May. Thus, a second book, The Bobbsey Twins: The Mystery at Cherry Corners, was written. It incorporated only a very little bit of material from its original version.


  1. I tried to read one of the "new" bobbsey twins books to Jay a couple of weeks ago about a haunted house and it was too scary for him. I was so disappointed--I loved those books.

  2. Really? The conventional wisdom is that the new books aren't as good....I bet you can get some of the old ones online.