Book Nostalgia: Trixie Belden

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the MansionToday in our Nostalgia series, we’re talking about a girl sleuth. No, not Nancy Drew. My detective alter ego was a sandy-haired farm girl from small-town New York, a girl with three brothers and a poor little rich girl as a best friend. I discovered her at just the right age, as a preteen dreaming of adventure. If you were a fan of Trixie Belden or one of the other ongoing mystery series, come on in and let’s reminisce…

In my grandmother’s attic, a built-in bookcase held something like thirty Trixie Belden books. I still associate them with that room, with the summer heat of an attic bedroom in Vancouver. That was where I first read them, and for a long time the only place I read them.

Much later, I reread the whole series the summer after I graduated from university. I majored in English and creative writing, which meant four years of reading heavy literary fiction. By the time I crossed the stage, I was more than ready to snuggle up with some comfort reads and cleanse my palate. Out came Trixie.

The earliest books in the series once belonged to my mother and aunt; later books were acquired by my older cousins and added to the set, which was nearly complete. Finally they passed to me — the older hardcovers falling apart at the spine, the newer paperbacks yellowing, all bearing signs of having been read and loved by many of the women in my family when they were the right age.

My favourite books were always those with strong female characters having adventures. Trixie Belden was no exception. Trixie and her best friend, Honey Wheeler, were the ringleaders of their little club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen. They led the solving of the mysteries; they got everyone into and out of trouble. They were resourceful and spunky and mostly levelheaded, and they usually rescued themselves. And all this at the beginning of their teens.

The series was created by Julie Campbell and continued after the first six books by “Kathryn Kenny”, a pseudonym for the publisher’s in-house writers. I don’t remember noticing a difference in quality, though I might if I reread them now. In fact, some of my favourite titles came later in the series

  • The Mystery at Bob-White Cave featured spelunking, cave-dwelling salamanders, and ghosts.
  • The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon involved an old inn that was once a smugglers’ hideout, along with the elusive pirate ship of the title.
  • The Secret of the Mansion kicked off the series, and included a reclusive old man in a mansion, a runaway boy (later adopted by Honey’s parents), and the meeting of self-sufficient Trixie and shy, sheltered Honey.

As you can see, I was a serious romantic and gravitated towards the most otherworldly of the settings and the most melodramatic of the plots! I also loved the books where they got to crack codes, and the ones where they were exploring settings far from home (mine and theirs), such as Arizona or the Mississippi.

The series was published between 1948 and 1986 — mostly before my time, so they came off as quaintly old-fashioned, but endearingly so. The earlier books in the series were reissued by Random House within the last decade, but they must not have sold well, for the later ones haven’t been reissued. However, as of this year, several of them are available on Kindle (with the new covers, alas), so it’s now possible to revisit those days even if you no longer have your old copies.

(Side note: I was also a fan of Encyclopedia Brown, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Adventure series, and an American historical series whose name escapes me, about a girl in a boarding school with an inspirational bent (Edited to add: Got it! The Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard) — though I never read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Oddly enough, my love of the mystery genre hasn’t continued into adulthood, though my love of strong female characters most certainly has, and I still prefer stories with a mystery at their heart.)

Were you a fan of Trixie Belden or one of the other young detectives, or another ongoing series? What did you love about the series? Why do you think it spoke to you so much?

If you liked this post, you might also like my Nostalgia posts about Madeleine L’Engle and L.M. Montgomery.

29 responses to “Book Nostalgia: Trixie Belden

  1. anovelsource1

    OMG someone else in this world has heard of Trixie Belden! I read every single copy I could get my hands on growing up. AND as a side note – Madeleine L’Engle is my all-time favorite author

  2. Well, I’m going to the library tomorrow to discover this series! Maybe I was too full of waffles, lefsa and meatballs to discover the Trixie Belden books in the attic room- but most likely Sonja was distracting me with something else or we were reading night time stories to Teena!
    In the realm of strong female characters, I love Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers. I always come back to this book, intrigued by the character development and enamoured of the era.
    However, I do seriously cherish my few cracked and deteriorating Nancy Drew books and liken myself to George Fayne, the fearless “tomboyish” friend.

  3. anovelsource, sounds like we’re on the same wavelength! It’s always neat to discover someone else who’s read something beloved but obscure.

    Kirsten, it sounds like we each took away something different from our time at Bestemor’s (along with many of the same things), which is cool. I hope you’re able to track down the books! I’m not familiar with Rosamunde Pilcher — might have to look her up on your recommendation. The tomboy characters were always my favourite too.

  4. I was so pleased when I came upon this post. I read both Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden as a girl. I started out as partial to Nancy, but around the fourth grade or so switched to Trixie and never looked back. I think I bonded with Trixie in The Mystery in Arizona – Trixie had trouble with math! I could identify with that. Yet, she was clearly bright and was the one who solved the mysteries.

    I also loved that she was adventurous, took the lead and had faults – real faults, which meant real growth for her as a character. Also, she had to work for spending money. (This is all in contrast to Nancy Drew who was more or less perfect and had convertibles given to her.)

    I’m older than you – probably your mother’s age, truth to be told. I remember very clearly when the Kathryn Kenny’s started coming out – and I was very disappointed. I noticed the difference in the character development right away. But, I was also an older reader – really getting past the age for reading Trixie anyway.

    I loved Trixie so much, that when Random House started to reissue the books, I wrote an article on it for Mystery Scene:

    http://sleepysidezone.com/MysteryScene2004.html

    Unfortunately, the books didn’t sell well enough to reissue the entire series, but Random House did a crappy, half-ass job of marketing, imo. They didn’t even have a decent website, which, you know, costs nothing.

    Don’t know if you’re interested, but here’s a link to a forum of Trixie-fans:

    http://barbln.org/clubhouse/?board=social

    There are other sites as well. Quite a bit of Trixie “Fanfic” if you’re into that kind of thing.

    Glad to read about another Trixie-lover!

  5. Hooray for Trixie fans! There are a lot of us out here and in a large age range, too.

  6. Siri, you described my childhood almost exactly, except that the Nancy Drews (and Hardy Boys, and the crossovers) were the ones I read at Nanny and Papa’s, lying in the hot metal storage shed that had been their house when my dad was a baby; Mom’s old Trixie Beldens were always here at home, either on the bookshelf where us girls could get at them, or safely boxed away for the next time we go on a nostalgia kick. (And ooh, the spelunking is one of my favorites! *loves caves*)

    anovelsource, Siri, “beloved but obscure” is one of my favorite things to bond over too. I sometimes think I’d rather my books be that than a bestseller.

    Judith, I also loved Trixie better than Nancy for her less-than-perfectness; it made her feel more real and more sympathetic to me. ^.^ I hadn’t thought about Trixie fanfic before, and I’m a little afraid to see what’s out there, but I’ll probably take a look sometime.

    As far as Julie Campbell v. Kathryn Kenny, I think I did like the earlier/original ones better, but the only difference I remember really noticing at the time was the “Peter Pan Syndrome”: seasons pass and holidays repeat, but the children, they never aged after those first few books. Even that I could live with, since every other series does it, but when it got to the ones written in the seventies or so, it just wasn’t the same. I’m not even sure now if it was lower writing quality, or if the culture they were written in was just too different to reconcile to the originals, or both. I’d probably have to reread them to decide. (Such a chore that would be, I know. >.> )

  7. Kay, I agree, the “Peter Pan Syndrome” was one of the big disappointments when Campbell left the series. In some ways, though, it’s maybe just as well. There were at least half a dozen writers using the “Kathryn Kenny” pen name – and they had continuity problems just with the basic facts. (I think it’s in the Mystery at Bob-White Cave where Jim Frayne’s famous green eyes become momentarily blue.) Who knows how mixed up it would have gotten if they’d also tried to age the characters through time.

  8. Judith, that’s an excellent explanation of why Trixie appeals — she has flaws and real-life problems, and she learns and grows over the course of the books. Loved your article, too!

    Jill, always glad to meet someone else who’s heard of Trixie. :-)

    Kay Qy, funny thing about all the parallels there! “Beloved but obscure” is a great goal. It’s all about the people who fall in love with the books, never mind how many of them there are.

    I do remember noticing some of the timeline issues and other continuity problems as the series progressed, but give me a good enough plot and characters, or a fun enough setting, and I could forgive a lot!

  9. Your about the third person I’ve known to mention Trixie Belden in the last few months. Until then I though my best friend and I were the only ones who read her. I can find Nancy Drew books in every antique shop, but it’s rare I run across Trixie.

  10. I loved Trixie Belden as a child, but it’s been so many years since I read them… I don’t know how many I read, and I certainly was oblivious to the Peter Pan syndorme and the fact Kathryn Kenny was in fact a stable of authors. Wow! I think I had the first one, because I will never EVER forget the opening…. with Trixie yelling “rabbit rabbit”. I must have read that one at least several times. I have no idea what happened to it or any others I might have had (as opposed to borrowing them).

  11. Julie, there must be something in the air!

    Ellen, it’s funny what sticks in one’s head sometimes. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Hi Ellen – I certainly didn’t know that Kathryn Kenny as a young reader – not until I started searching out Trixie online.

    By the way, “rabbit, rabbit” is from #14, The Mystery of the Emeralds. I can understand how that would be a memorable opening.

    http://www.trixie-belden.com/books/series/book14.htm

  13. BTW, “Maidrya” is Judith – I’d posted earlier. For some reason it logged me in with a different account.

    Also, just curious, Siri. What other books do you have planned for your “nostalgia” series? (Or is that a WIP?)

  14. Judith, I don’t remember “rabbit, rabbit”…maybe I missed that one.

    As for the “nostalgia” series, right now I have Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton on my list — and there are many more authors/books I could feature, but I haven’t thought that far. Do you have any particular requests? Or maybe you’d like to do a guest post? I’d love to have you on! :)

  15. Hi Siri,
    I would be interested in writing a post for the nostalgia series – thanks very much for the invitation. I wondered if you have any particular expectations for the series – is it exclusively for children’s literature or…are there any particular criteria for what makes something “nostalgia?”

    Another childhood series I recall fondly is The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley.

    I guess I would consider most of my adult reading not to be “nostalgia,” but still something current.

    I am really slammed with work right now. I’d have difficulty preparing a post before July 20 – don’t know if that’s too late. Enjoy your hiatus!

  16. Hi Judith,

    Fantastic! No worries about the timing…I’m covered for the duration of my hiatus, and guest posts are always welcome. Shoot me an email at s_l_paulson at yahoo dot ca (that’s s underscore lowercase L underscore), or look me up on Facebook, and let’s talk!

  17. I love this blog! I also thought I was one of a very few people who lived (not a typo) Trixie Belden as a young girl. Since my family house was near some beautiful woods and a creek, my best friend – also a Trixie fanatic – and I would pretend Bob Whites all day long. Everything, and I mean everything, we saw became a mystery. We could turn the sight of an elderly lady driving a VW bug into a kidnapping plot. We tied ropes to the handle bars of our bicycles and they became our horses. My two older brothers were, unbeknownst to them, Mart and Brian. We aggravated them to no end by calling them these names. I was Trixie – always – and my friend was Honey. Playing Trixie Belden and the BobWhites was a dream escape from home difficulties and the emotional upheaval of being an adolescent who didn’t want to give up being a kid – a girl who always felt she was looking at the inside from the outside during junior high.

    Just seeing the cover of a Trixie Belden book brings back the feeling of comfort this series provided me duing that roller coaster period of growing up. It’s the true definition of a how a book can be a friend.

    Re: nostalgia books
    Pre Trixie Belden comfort books for me were The Magic Pin and The Secret Circle by Ina B. Forbus. Unfortunately, I can not locate a copy of The Magic Pin. I have been collecting Trixie Belden books and found a hard back copy wth an inscription on the inside – the date was Christmas 1951. I read and re-read the Caddie Woodlawn books and much preferred them to the Little House on the Prarie books.

    Thanks for this wonderful blog!

  18. Elizabeth, what a wonderful story! I don’t remember ever playing Trixie Belden, though I was fascinated by codes and Encyclopedia Brown and the like. I did play pretend quite intensely, much the way you did, only with different books as inspiration — Little House on the Prairie being one. Only problem was that I was the eldest and redheaded and my sister was younger and brunette, so she got to be Laura and I had to be Mary. Thanks for the lovely comment!

  19. I stumbled across 10 Trixie books in a thrift store this week, and have been devouring them! I remember the creepiness from when I was younger, but now I love the innocence and friendship. It’s like taking a step back to a simpler time…

  20. Kathleen, what a great find! The “simpler time” is part of the appeal for me too. The books feel very quaint sometimes, but in a charming way.

  21. Oh, so lovely to find this post! I loved Trixie Belden…the camaraderie, the intrigue. Makes me smile remembering it. (Loved Encyclopedia Brown too :) I see that you’ve got another post about Madeleine L’Engle–another favourite. I would love to find an adult version of Trixie Belden–or other books like the Wrinkle in Time Series. If you think of anything, I’d love to know (or hear about your recommendations for books with strong female protagonists–though that may be somewhere else on your site.). Looking forward to exploring your site!

  22. Hi Sarah,
    A few years ago, I interviewed a few authors of adult mysteries who were Trixie fans when they were younger:
    http://sleepysidezone.com/Authors_&_Fans.html

    One writer, Earlene Fowler, writes the popular Benni Harper mystery series – her heroine has been compared to Trixie Belden. One of her books, Sunshine and Shadow, is set in a Dude Ranch and she went back and read the Trixie Belden mystery, The Mystery in Arizona, prior to writing it. You might like to check her books out, if you haven’t read them.
    Link to interview with Earlene Fowler: http://sleepysidezone.com/Earlene_Fowler.html,

  23. Judith, apologies — your post got caught in my spam filter. Thanks for the fascinating links!

    Sarah, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! For L’Engle, if what appealed to you was the mix of science fiction and fantasy, I’d recommend Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s Stardancers trilogy or Elizabeth Bear’s DUST (a darker story). If what appealed to you was the big questions she raised about religion and death in a speculative fiction setting, try PASSAGE by Connie Willis.

    As for strong female protagonists, here are a few SF&F suggestions:

    PALADIN OF SOULS by Lois McMaster Bujold
    HAMMERED by Elizabeth Bear
    SOLITAIRE by Kelley Eskridge

    and on the non-SF&F side, anything by Jennifer Crusie (take your pick, she writes a variety of romantic genres, all with awesome female leads).

    Hope that helped!

  24. Oo-ooh, I second the recommendation of Passage by Connie Willis. I also liked her Doomsday Book – both featuring strong female protagonists, natch.

  25. Thank you, Judith and Siri! I appreciate your quick and thoughtful responses :)

  26. Thanks for all the wonderful comments. It’s people like you who keep memories of Trixie Belden alive. I had no girls to share my books, but have recently introduced them to my grand-daughter. She loves Trixie! I hope she will one day pass my books on to her children. IMHO Trixie is timeless!

  27. Susan, what a wonderful thing to do — passing on beloved books to the next generations. It’s good to hear that Trixie isn’t too old-fashioned to appeal!

  28. …I once owned these books.

    I am determined to track down the original copies and buy them all anf read them again.

  29. A worthy quest. :) Good luck!

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