Nathan braved the depths of my parents’ attic in search of board games. Although that search was futile, he discovered many of the discarded and preserved remnants of my childhood, including a collection of Bobbsey Twin mysteries preserving their words for the pleasure of any creatures who might find a home there. He decided to save them from reader-less misery, and pull them down for my–ahem–I mean my daughter’s reading pleasure.
I asked him to find another book I loved, but couldn’t recall the title so that was a failure. I also should have told him to grab the Nancy Drew mysteries while he was up there, but that will be left for next year’s scavenging.
So far Sarah hasn’t picked them up, but I have read her the first chapter of two books. She was interested but had to go to sleep as it was way past bedtime. I of course was unable to wait for the second installment and dove into these sweet delicacies of childhood memories.
As I was reading, I was struck by the dated language. That should not surprise me, I guess, seeing that these copies were 1960s reprints of early 1900s books. I couldn’t help but giggle at the reference to Bert’s “special friend” which takes on a whole new meaning in our society. I also cringed a little at the domestic roles the girls take on as opposed to the more active roles of the boys, but in these books that has its charm.
But then something more important struck me. These books are about two sets of twins age 12 and 6 who have discovered that they have a talent for solving crimes and relish any opportunity they can to play detective. They are of a genre that spans children’s literature and television, including Nancy Drew, The Scooby Gang, Harriet the Spy and even Veronica Mars. These stories allow young people to be smarter than many of the adults in this world. I love that.
What I find interesting, though, is that in order for the kids in these stories to be successful they had to be Free Range children. Now, don’t get me wrong, Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey play prominent roles in their children’s lives, guiding them and making sure they have food and warmth. But, in terms of modern parenting, they would be accused of complete neglect. Seriously, the twins are allowed to wander around amusement parks without a parent in sight. They are allowed to row boats without adult supervision. They make their own lunches, run around in the woods, eat blueberries off of bushes, climb trees, and explore interesting places all without their parents hovering around them. What’s more, when they come upon a mystery, their parents support their choices to explore and solve the mystery (as long as they are careful). Shocking!
Why is it that our children only truly become Free Range in the world of fiction? I can’t imagine what the stories of the future, written by today’s children will be like. There will be less cotton candy fun, and more restricted play as the characters are afraid to walk out the door in case they are kidnapped by a stranger with candy. That doesn’t sound fun to me.
What are some of your favorite childhood stories? How do they compare to the life of children today?