I recently re-read the first six Trixie Belden books. I gobbled up these books when I was reading at age 10 and 11. I read only one Nancy Drew book. My cousin had a collection and I read about Nancy while I was visiting. I couldn’t see myself in her. But Trixie Belden? She had a large family and I was an only child. She was insatiably curious and didn’t necessarily listen when someone told her no. Reading the books again all these years later? They hold up. I found myself trying hard to solve the mysteries before Trixie did. I was surprised by how often the boys told the girls what they couldn’t do because they were girls. But the girls didn’t listen. More thoughts about the context of history. I’m grateful to Julie Campbell Tatham for creating Trixie … just for me.
In thinking over the many concerns in the children’s literature community, authentic voice is one that is prevalent. With friends and colleagues, I’ve had many discussions, all of which agree that there are complex layers interwoven so closely that its difficult to see the path forward.
I keep thinking about Alexander McCall Smith, a white male in his late 60s, whose most popular series features a female Motswana sleuth, Precious Ramotswe, as the main character. He crosses lines of gender and culture and yet these books are so absorbing that they’re beloved by millions. Nowhere online could I find a discussion of his “right” to write these books.
I’m grateful for the discussion, puzzling through the viewpoints, trying to make sense of authentic voice.
I love these books. Start with the first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. HBO did a 7-episode series of these books, starring Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose–they’re wonderful.)
Here’s an article from Botswana about Mr. Smith’s latest book: http://bit.ly/2TiPl36.
Gertrude Chandler Warner started writing when she was five years old, in 1895. She wrote The Box-Car Children when she was sick at home, recovering from bronchitis. She wrote a book she wanted to read, believing she would like to live in a caboose. That first Box-Car Children book was published in 1924. Forty years later, I would find it in my elementary school library. That story began a lifelong love of mysteries. They are my go-to stress-relievers, a place for me to get lost in a story. I particularly like a series of mysteries—because I can inhabit that world for a longer period of time. The detectives become memorable people I know well. Warner wrote eighteen books in her series about the Box-Car children. She wrote that first book nearly 100 years ago … and it persists. You can visit her childhood home in Putnam, Connecticut, and tour the Box-Car Children Museum across the street, housed in—what else?—a railroad freight car.
Among the top 10 on my list of influential writers is Ngaio Marsh (ny-e-o), who wrote 32 mystery novels set in England and New Zealand, featuring Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, with plots that involved the theater, the art world, and the two countries she knew well. She was an artist and a theater actress and director, all the while writing a novel nearly every year from 1935 to 1982. I am particularly inspired by her memoir, Black Beech and Honeydew. She was a woman engaged in a life that brought her joy and I am grateful for the legacy she left her readers. (By the way, the audio book of Death in a White Tie is read by Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, it is.)