Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review: The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West (1953)

There are seven people in the Hollister family: Mr. Hollister, who has just opened a store called the Trading Post in his new hometown of Shoreham, his wife, and their five children: Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue. In this first volume of the mystery series named for this cheerful family, the kids try to solve two mysteries. One is that the small moving truck containing all of their toys never shows up to their new house, but the toys keep appearing in the possession of different people all over town.  The other is about the house itself, which some say is haunted, and which the Hollisters are certain has been visited by an intruder on multiple occasions since their arrival. As they work to uncover clues in both cases, the Hollister children also get to know their neighbors: Tinker, who takes a job working for their father, Ann and Jeff, who welcome them with open arms, and Joey Brill, who antagonizes the family with his cruelty and occasional violence and generally wreaks havoc everywhere he goes.

This vintage mystery is similar in both tone and content to The Boxcar Children and Bobbsey Twins books. The characters mostly have very generic upbeat personalities, but their never-ending opportunities for adventure make them appealing to young readers. Though the mysteries form the central plot of this book, the kids' effort to discover clues also provides many chances for them to fall into danger or to have an exciting experience that brings vicarious enjoyment to the child reader. Nearly every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, which may seem silly to an adult reading them aloud, but which has made my four-year-old want to sit through as many as six chapters in one sitting.

The writing in this book has an old-fashioned flavor to it, which feels a bit more formal in comparison with newer chapter book mysteries. The characters all speak to each other in the language you might expect to hear on a 1950s radio or TV sit-com, and sometimes the dialogue just sounds unnatural. The Hollister kids also rarely do anything wrong, whereas Joey Brill can't seem to do anything right. This gets old after a while, and is certainly unrealistic, but it is also appealing to young kids who are still sorting out the black-and-white definitions of right versus wrong. My four-year-old loves to become indignant on behalf of the Happy Hollisters whenever Joey Brill comes on the scene, and she worries each time one of the Hollisters ends a chapter in an uncertain or dangerous situation.

I originally started to read this book because it was free for Kindle one day and I was curious. Then I started reading it to my daughter when we were sitting in the car with a sleeping baby while my husband ran an errand, and she took such a liking to it, we are now well into the second book. I'm not sure how this series  would hold up for older kids who have already been exposed to very action-packed and highly fantastical stories, but for kids who have yet to read a mystery, it is a great first introduction to the conventions of the genre without a lot of scary situations. Even the most dire circumstances are painted with a light brush, and these characters make it feel safe to explore some edgier storylines. My plan is to use them to pave the way for my daughter to read The Boxcar Children independently when she is ready.

1 comment:

  1. I love the Happy Hollisters! I first came across them when I was about 8 years old, and I really enjoyed them-nothing too gripping or suspenseful, but a nice leisurely "old fashioned" story. I personally enjoyed the 1950s feel to the books, even if the dialogue is unnatural and the characters are rather simplistic. Now that I'm an adult, I still like to cozy up with one of my Happy Hollister books for a nostalgic, relaxing time before going to sleep at night :)