Sunday, April 19, 2009

"She didn't look like a substitue teacher." Thirteen Ways To Sink a Sub by Jamie Gilson

I promised that this blog wouldn't be all about Trixie Belden, and I'm a blogger of my word. A couple of months ago, I found this book at a library sale for $1.00.

Squee! Hardback and everything! I loved this book when I was a kid, and it totally holds up now. I read it earlier last week when I was having a bad day, and I was laughing and feeling better by the end.

For the first and maybe only time this year, Mr. Starr's fourth-grade class at Stockton Elementary has a substitute teacher. The kids in the class decide to try to "sink" her (i.e.- make her cry). It's boys vs. girls, with the losers having to get kickballs out of the "Spit Pit" (a dirty stairwell full of trash) for the rest of the year.

The main character and narrator is a kid named Hobie. The substitute is a young teacher named "Svetlana Ivanovitch." She dresses the part, too, in a traditional Russian outfit. Miss Ivanovitch initially thinks that fourth graders are no different than kindergarteners and treats them accordingly. She quickly re-thinks this when the kids start switching names, sneaking out, and playing tricks on her.

I love Gilson's kid characters- they are funny and realistic without being cutesy or condescending. Or too bratty, as would be easy in a situation like the one in the book. Some of the kids do eventually feel bad about what's happening, but no one wants to be the one to stop it. Miss Ivanovitch is also smarter than she first appears to be. It was interesting to read this book as an adult, and one who worked briefly as a substitute teacher. I felt a new sympathy for the poor sub that I didn't feel as a kid.

Gilson wrote several books featuring Hobie and the kids of 4B. Double Dog Dare, 4B Goes Wild, and Hobie Hanson You're Weird are the titles that I know involve these kids. Get them if you can find them. I haven't read her other books, but if they're anything like Thirteen Ways To Sink a Sub, they will be good reads.

Back to Trixie ASAP. Mysterious Visitor is up next! Woohoo!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dicks and Dips: Trixie Belden #3 "The Gatehouse Mystery"

The word “dick” is used a lot in this book. It was a simpler time, folks. Just so we’re all clear, “dick” is slang for a private detective. A “dip” is a pickpocket.

The story opens with Trixie writing a letter to her brothers at camp, even though they’re due home in less than a week. We get a brief recap of the events of the last two books. Summer is winding down, and school will be starting soon. The next day, Trixie, Honey, and Bobby go to explore an old cottage down by Glen Road, on the Manor House property. It apparently used to be the gatehouse for the estate. Bobby promptly falls and cuts his knee. The girls send him to Regan to get patched up, then look to see what he cut himself on. It’s a rock. A very pretty, shiny, very sharp rock. A diamond! I want to be Trixie. She’s found two diamonds in the last few months.

The girls theorize as to how the diamond got there, pushed down into the dirt floor. They come up with some wild theories about jewel thieves and hobos and gang wars. The girls go to get shovels and tools to look for more diamonds, but Jim and his father return around that time. Honey wants to give the diamond to them, but Trixie makes her promise not to tell so that they can solve the mystery.

The girls don’t find any more treasure, but they do notice scuff marks and heel prints on the cottage floor. Someone has been there recently. Trixie theorizes that a tramp may have stolen the diamond, then dropped in the cottage when they came in to get out of the rain. Whoever it was will probably be back when they realize they’ve dropped the diamond. Honey says she hid it in a secret compartment of her jewelry box. The girls feel as though someone is watching them and listening to them as they talk. They even hear a twig snap outside. Whoever it was is gone. Honey worries that if there really is a diamond thief around, that person might be dangerous. If they heard her talking, they now know the diamond is in her room. I think she has a point. Trix brushes it off, as usual.

Over lunch, the girls tell Jim about their plans to be detectives someday. Jim laughs and calls them “Moll Dicks.” I had to look that one up. The only definition I could find for “moll” was a gangster’s girlfriend. And we know “dick” means detective. Also, I think this is a re-print of the very first Trixie edition. In later ones, Jim calls them “Schoolgirl Shamuses.”

A new car driven by a young man pulls up about this time. Jim says the guy showed up and helped Regan fix one of their cars. He will be the Wheeler’s new chauffer, pending Mr. Wheeler’s approval tomorrow. There is also a new gardener, Nailor, as the old gardener quit abruptly right around the time the girls found the diamond. Trixie thinks either one of them could have dropped the diamond. She agrees to spend the night with Honey in case one or both of them try to sneak into her room to take it.

There is a funny scene of Trix drinking coffee for the first time after dinner to try and keep awake. She’s reduced to tears by how awful it is. Amateur. I love coffee. Anyway, of course she falls asleep, but someone does try to sneak into Honey’s room. Trixie wakes up and yells, which scares him off and wakes up the rest of the house. Whoever it was gets away. Trixie tells Jim she had a nightmare, but he doesn’t buy it. She finally tells him about the diamond. Jim says both Dick and Nailor have good recommendations and couldn’t be suspects.

About this time, Trixie’s brothers return from camp early. Introductions are made. Brian is the oldest. He’s sixteen, (I think), and has dark hair and complexion like Mr. Belden. Mart is eleven months older than Trixie, and they look enough alike to be twins. The boys hear all about the diamond and the girls’ suspicions.

Trixie thinks Dick is the most likely suspect. The others aren’t sure. Dick is almost sadistically rude to Trixie, even though he is nice to everyone else, even Bobby. He also shows up with a black eye the day after he gets the job, and says he has to go see a doctor for it. He’s gone the whole day. Regan is not pleased. Honey and Jim invite the Beldens to spend the whole weekend, so they can hopefully catch the thief. Lots of swimming, eating, and horseback riding follows. The kids keep tossing around theories based on the clues they have so far. The diamond, the footprints, tire tracks down by the cottage, Dick’s strange behavior. Trixie is convinced he’s guilty, but Jim points out that he had a letter of recommendation from one of Mr. Wheeler’s old friends. Later, Trixie shows Honey how easy it is to forge a signature with some carbon paper. Honey admits that she forgot to get the mail a few days ago, and Dick could have lifted a letter and forged the signature on his recommendation letter.

Also during all of this, the gang comes up with the idea to form a secret club. “The Bob-Whites of the Glen” is born. They will use the bob-white whistle Jim taught Trixie and Honey back in book #1 as their signal. And they want to fix up the gatehouse for their clubhouse. They make a rule that all money they use for the repairs must be earned. They come up with various job ideas. Mowing, weeding, gardening, mending. Honey is excited by the opportunity to earn her own money, which is really cool of her. I’m jealous of her mad sewing skills. I’m trying to learn right now, and it’s a slow process.

Dick finally comes back from the doctor the next day. Regan promptly puts him to work. Dick does agree to give Jim a driving lesson that afternoon. He seems dead-set on keeping it. After the lesson, Dick comes back alone. He tells them that Jim went into town to get a haircut and something to eat and will meet them at the movies later that evening.

As the evening goes on, Trixie gets more and more worried. Jim doesn’t show up at the movies. She takes a cab back to Manor House in time to see someone sneaking into Honey’s room. Suprise suprise, it’s Dick, looking for the diamond. Trixie confronts him but quickly realizes she is alone and no one can hear her if she screams. She keeps Dick talking, hoping to figure a way out. Dick says he knocked Jim out and tied him up in the woods. He snuck back to the house and cut the phone lines. He’s about to knock her out too, when Jim and Regan show up with a hunting rifle. Jim wiggled free from the ropes and called the police from a neighbor’s house. They show up just in time to take Dick (aka “Dapper Dick,” the big New York City pickpocket) to jail. There is a reward for the recovery of the diamond. Regan tells Trixie she must use it to buy Susie (a small black mare) “for Miss Trask.” (Even though Trix will pretty much be riding her and taking care of her all the time). Trixie agrees, and says she will use the money she had been saving for a colt to pay for a new roof for the clubhouse. Oh, and Tom Delanoy becomes the Wheelers new chauffer. He’s a cool guy, and will show up throughout the series. They should have hired him in the first place, and skipped all this nonsense with Dick the Dip.

I know I said I wasn’t going to do these recaps in order, but I feel it important to introduce all the main characters before moving on. These early books really do set up the foundation of the rest of the series. So I’ll be doing #4 The Mysterious Visitor next to introduce Diana, then probably skip ahead to #8 to get Dan’s origins. Then we’ll mix it up from there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Picture Time

I'm almost finished with The Gatehouse Mystery recap, but I wanted to make a seperate post to share something with you all. Illustrations!
Of course, after I said I would stick with the oval editions, I had to get the newest edition of #3 because I didn't have it in my collection. Although the covers are new, the publishers have included the old illustrations from the original editions. They're totally vintage and retro and all that.

From left to right: Jim, Honey, Brian, Trixie, Mart. Mart, I love you, but you totally look like Beavis.

Honey and Trixie looking for the jewel box. Love Trixie's ginormous swimming skirt.

Trixie and Honey at the movies, talking to Tom Delanoy, who will eventually become the Wheeler's chauffer.
These kind of clash with the images I have of the characters in my head, but they were interesting to see nonetheless. I should be finished with the recap in the next few days.