- Taking Series Books Seriously
William Taylor Adams and Edward Stratemeyer both played pivotal roles in the history of American series books for children. Writing under the pseudonym of Oliver Optic, Adams wrote over 150 adventure books for boys between 1854, the year he published the first volume of his Boat Club series, and 1897, the year of his death. Stratemeyer's career as a series book author began around the same time that Adams's ended. In fact, one of Stratemeyer's first assignments was to complete a book that Adams had been working on shortly before he died. Like his predecessor, Stratemeyer wrote over 150 series books, most of which were published under pen names. He also oversaw the writing of hundreds of other titles and was responsible for such popular series as the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. Thus, though it is simply a coincidence that An "Oliver Optic" Checklist and The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate came out within a year of each other, they make a natural pair.
As its title indicates, Dolores Blythe Jones's An "Oliver Optic" Checklist is bibliographic in nature. Jones does, however, provide an introduction in which she briefly summarizes Adams's career and discusses how his books fared both commercially and critically. She points out that while his books were very popular among children, some book reviewers, librarians, and parents condemned them as being too "sensational." The introduction contains some interesting tidbits, but readers who are unfamiliar with Adams's books would probably find it disappointing. Jones writes little about the types of characters and plot formulas that Adams used, nor does she attempt to explain his popularity or evaluate his skill as a writer. Readers seeking such information should consult other sources, such as American Writers for Children Before 1900 (Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 42), which contains an excellent essay on Adams by Carol Gay.
With the exception of the introduction, the book is an impressive example of bibliographic research. Jones amasses a tremendous amount of information about Adams's publications, and she organizes her material in such a way that researchers can quickly look up the publication history of practically every book, story, and article that Adams ever wrote. Jones divides the book into several sections, the first of which consists of a chronological listing of Adams's works. In addition to providing publication information, this section includes descriptive passages from many of Adams's prefaces to his books as well as excerpts from some of the reviews that his books received. Also, for each title, Jones lists a number of libraries where the book can be found. The next two sections focus on Adams's various series instead of on individual titles. In the fourth section, the books are organized by publisher, while the fifth section is devoted to the stories that Adams first published in serial form. The four appendices consist of the addresses of the libraries that have large collections of Adams's books, a chronology of Adams's career, a list of his nonseries books, and a secondary bibliography.
This book contains a wealth of accurate information, but I cannot help but wonder who really wants to know the publication history of each of Adams's many books. According to Jones, "Students and specialists of children's literature, American literature, popular culture, and American studies, as well as librarians, teachers, book collectors, and booksellers will find this book very helpful." This claim sounds a bit grandiose to me. Scholars interested in children's popular culture might occasionally have a reason to consult the book, but for the most part it serves the needs of collectors. In this regard, Jones's book is similar to a number of other books dealing with children's popular culture. Usually, particular forms...