The Cabin on the Prairie (C.H. Pearson, 1869)

Starts preachy and ends a Chick tract. Tom, the eldest son of a family of settlers on the frontier in Minnesota, wants to run away to some more civilized place with schools where he might get an education. That isn’t possible, though, because… because. Mother’s best argument seems to be that his clothes are crude homespun and everyone would laugh at him. A missionary arrives and begins tutoring Tom. Crops fails and they’re broke. Wildfire burns them out. Flood washes away their cabin. Indians attack, kill several, including Father. Destitute, Mother becomes a babysitter for the General’s children at the fort and Tom becomes a preacher.

Inscription: “Harold Libby, Xmas 1900” on the front flyleaf.


Camp Lenape on the Long Trail (Carl Saxon, 1935)

Instead of going to Wild Rose Camp as he has previous summers, Dirk Van Horn, son of a wealthy banker, is sent to the much humbler Camp Lenape. It will do him good to mix with other kids, his father believes. The adjustment period is difficult and he makes an enemy of Brick Ryan, one of his tent mates. The Long Trail is a sixty mile canoe and hiking trip to Mount Kinnecut. Along the way, Dirk and Ryan are kidnapped by a couple of outlaws looking for ransom. In the escape, Ryan is injured and Dirk has to carry him up the mountain to find the others, and so wins acceptance into Camp Lenape.

Inscriptions: In the right margin of page 159, someone’s drawn a skull and crossbones in blue marker.

Boots and the Mystery of the Unlucky Vase (Edgar Martin, 1943)

Boots and Her Buddies evidently was a newspaper comic strip I’ve never heard of. Near as I can tell, this is a novelization of one of the strip’s story arcs. Well, most of the book is just descriptions of one-off gag comics, one after another, with the barest of linking dialogue:

“Hey do you remember [three panel comic]?”

“That was a great time. What about [three panel comic]?”

“Yeah, it was very similar to what happened in [three panel comic].”

Storywise, all it establishes is that it’s WWII and that Boots feels like she’s not doing enough for the war effort. On page 157 of this 248 page book, we arrive at the vase. Boots takes a receptionist job at a car plant repurposed to make airplane engines. Two German spies, one of whom might actually be Hitler, steal blueprints from the plant and hide them in the vase. The vase is awarded to Boots for being such a good worker. Boots and some other people are kidnapped by the Germans but are soon rescued by a paratrooper. Who was just flying overhead. Coincidentally.

Inscription: “Tina, from Mother” on the title page.

Elsie’s New Relations (Martha Finley, 1888)

So this was a book. I’ve considered reading it for years as it has a very attractive cover, with flower designs and gilt lettering. And it turned out to be this all along.

It’s overtly Christian and leans heavy on the moralizing. In modern terms, it would probably be classed as a young adult novel. And it’s about child brides. Several of them. And it very much uses the term “child bride” and sees nothing wrong with it.

First, there’s Zoe and her husband Edward, who she dropped out of grade school to marry. As a consequence, Edward is tutoring Zoe — or as he charmingly calls her, his “little girl wife” — so that she might someday be intellectually capable of talking to him, but Zoe is a willful child and must first be taught submission and obedience.

Second is Violet, who has just become the second wife of Captain Raymond, a man who has children her own age. Son Max is rather smitten by Mamma Vi himself. Lulu, the difficult middle child, also needs to learn to submit and be obedient.

After the Captain ships-out, they all leave for their ancestral home Ion, a southern plantation, replete with either slaves or essentially-slaves (“lazy niggahs” to quote the book) that speak in a dialect so thick it’s challenging to read. Grandma Elsie of the title turns out to have also been a child bride married off to her father’s friend, an adult when she was born and who knew her all her life. And it’s she who does the teaching.

This was, undoubtedly, the most disturbing book I’ve read in a very long while.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “Private Library of Bernice Claire Bassett, Vol. No. 10”. On the facing flyleaf, “From Pearl, 1903”. You have my sympathies, Bernice.

Blue Bonnet in Boston (Caroline E. Jacobs and Lela H. Richards, 1914)

Elizabeth “Blue Bonnet” Ashe is an orphan from Texas with a considerable inheritance. She’s sixteen (going on seventeen, she would tell you) and has just arrived in Boston to attend a prestigious boarding school. She makes new friends and they get into various adventures and scrapes. That’s about it.

Part of a series of Blue Bonnet books, evidently, but it’s the only one I have. This book ends with a bit of a question as to whether Blue Bonnet will go back to her Texas ranch or stay in New England to attend college.

Inscriptions: Withdrawn from the Waltham, Mass. Public Library.

Captain January (Laura E. Richards, 1890)

Lighthouse keeper Captain January rescues the only survivor of a shipwreck, a baby girl he names Star. They live very happily for ten years on the island, just the Captain, Star, and Imogen the Cow. Then one day, Star is discovered by her aunt, who was passing by on a ship. Star, of course, refuses to leave; the Captain would give her up for her sake, but for his own, would never let her go. The aunt, however, is convinced by their love and leaves without Star. The Captain, now in his 70ies, is reassured, though, that Star will be cared for when his time comes, which it does the next spring.

No inscriptions.

Rollo’s Experiments (Jacob Abbott, 1845)

Compared to the other two Rollo books I’ve read, Rollo’s Experiments has little in the way of an overarching narrative. Some of the experiments span multiple chapters, a few kind of lead into the next experiment, but for the most part, the book is very episodic.

Rollo in On the Atlantic and In London is ten years old, but I get the impression he’s younger here. He’s full of questions, some of which the adults around him answer, but they mostly prefer to offer advice on how Rollo might go about figuring them out on his own. And sometimes the adults don’t know. Father demonstrates some properties of magnets, like their poles that either attract or repel, or how you can see their field with iron filings, but he freely admits he doesn’t understand what magnetism is on a technical level.

No inscriptions.