Donna Parker On Her Own (#3) By Marcia Martin

This is living!

Donna Parker On Her Own

This week, our Whitman Fall Classic checks in with Donna Parker, the heroine of Marcia Martin’s extremely pleasant series about Junior High life in the 1950s.

The Plot: It is now early spring in the New York suburb of Summerfield, and Donna and her BFF Ricky (“called Fredericka only by her mother”), have recovered from their adventures at Camp Cherrydale and their celebrity status as award-wining student journalists and thwarters of Communist spies.

The book opens with the beleaguered Mrs. Parker and her daughter arguing over whether Donna should be allowed to go with the gang on a camping trip the following weekend. Mrs. Parker is steadfast in her refusal:

“I never heard of such nonsense, Donna. It’s much too early in the year. The weather is still too treacherous. As for cooking out, I know the kind of meals you girls would have… I’d worry every minute.”

This reader was inclined to be sympathetic towards Mrs. Parker, between Donna’s complaining about how she’s not allowed to have her own phone line (or even an extension in her room!), younger son Jimmy constantly being late for dinner due to baseball try-outs, and her husband, who is just full of good ideas: one of his clients had trained doves left over from a publicity stunt and he brings one home as a pet, just wrapped in a towel!

“A dove!” said Mrs. Parker, in a tone which said better than words that this was really beyond belief. “Oh of all things, a dove!”

She is truly a woman deserving of a vacation, so I guess it’s a good thing when her husband announces that they will be moving to India for a few months. Yay?

Donna watched her father. He looked as though he had just handed her mother a diamond necklace which he knew would overwhelm her, but was afraid he would be told that his wife no longer liked diamonds.

The news sends the household into a flurry of activity, although complications immediately arise. For one, Jimmy refuses to go because he’d miss out on baseball season. Then when the Parkers discover that taking the whole family is more than their modest income will bear, they try to reverse-psychology Donna by telling her about how many malaria shots she’d have to get.

Next they try bribing her with a semester at boarding school:

“A real boarding school, where they have pajama parties, and make fudge late at night on somebody’s little cook-stove that the headmistress doesn’t know about, and you get invited to somebody’s mansion for the holidays?”


Also, boys:

Maybe even some of them would have older brothers who would be very anxious to meet her!

“So you’re my little sister’s roommate!” She could hear the male voice, even if she couldn’t see the face “Why didn’t she tell me you were so attractive?”

(Aside: whatever happened to Popular Square-Dancing Richard?)

However, Donna’s dreams of studly older brothers and non-stop midnight fudge are dashed when they investigate the local boarding school and find it full of stuck-up girls with their own horses. Back to the drawing board.

Luckily, a family friend comes to the rescue, suggesting that a hip, young school teacher named Miss Dengrove would welcome the opportunity to get out of her cramped boarding-house and live in a real home for awhile. The Parkers invite Miss Dengrove to dinner, and both Jimmy (who instantly develops a crush on her) and Donna (who is thrilled to be treated as an equal, even being asked to call her ‘Marjorie’) are won over. The Parkers can go to India after all!

Except the morning they are to leave a massive snowstorm hits the area, stranding everyone at home. Luckily the delivery truck for the local butcher shop has chains on its tires, so Mr. and Mrs. Parker hitch a ride all the way to Idlewild airport tucked in amongst the hams and sausages.

The ‘mystery’ element of the series has been its weak point. While Marcia Martin added a few mysterious happenings in the previous books, here she wisely ditches most of the pretense of this being a ‘mystery’ series, and instead focuses on Donna’s trials in keeping house while her parents are halfway around the world.

While Marjorie Dengrove is nominally the adult in charge, both Donna and Jimmy regard her more as a friend than an authority figure, and Donna is ‘on her own’ in navigating the various crises that arise.

They start the morning of her parents’ departure, when her pet dove seems to develop a nasty cold. Donna brings his cage in from the back porch and spends her savings on a long-distance call to a bird specialist and a prescription of castor oil and charcoal.

At first Donna enjoys the lax attitude towards rules that Marjorie allows- dishes sit in the sink overnight, Jimmy is allowed to play baseball in the basement, and Donna is allowed to babysit past midnight! Additionally, the household money that Mrs. Parker left with them is constantly being spent on hamburgers and black-and-white milkshakes down at the local Sweet Shoppe.

Marjorie’s swingin’ single gal life is also a source of endless fascination for Donna, what with her bottomless wardrobe of cashmere sweaters and flirtations with Summerfield Junior High’s male staff. She’s also invited to the most exciting places, and always takes Donna along with her, including a dinner party at new Frank Lloyd Wright house (it’s really a cover for a magazine shoot) and to visit her mother’s oldest friend, the widowed Mrs. John Q.X. Cunningham, who is “a real character”:

There, framed in the archway, stood a woman whose age she could not begin to guess, with the brightest orange hair she had ever seen. From her ears hung huge gold circlets, and on her arms were dozens of bracelets, each loaded with charms. She was wearing a high-necked scarlet blouse and green velvet slacks. On her feet were green slippers covered with sequins, with toes that turned up.

Mrs. Cunningham announces that she’s going to call Jimmy “Jamesie” and offers everyone a cup of tea and cigarillo, but Marjorie suggests that maybe the butler could look after the Parker children in the kitchen while they visit. Jimmy inquires if they can have milkshakes and the butler goes looking for some milk

“Madam isn’t much of a milk-drinker.”

“I’ll bet she isn’t,” Donna thought. “Anyone who dresses in an outfit like that probably drinks nothing but champagne.”

After their lunch of cake and milkshakes, Donna receives permission to explore the mansion, and after getting lost, makes her way out to the empty swimming pool, and eventually finds Jimmy and the butler chatting in the greenhouse…

…which leads to the next complication, when Donna is reveling in telling Ricky about her adventure the next day, and Ricky has THE BEST IDEA EVER for the Junior High spring dance- couldn’t Mrs. Cunningham see her way to donating some flowers to decorate the gym, so they’re not stuck with the same old potted palms? Donna is embarrassed to ask, but agrees to add her name to letter drawn up by the dance committee requesting the donation.

But Donna has a lot on her mind, and that’s dealing with the nominal mystery: dollar bills keep disappearing from the cookie jar where her mother keeps the pin money. Could it be Jimmy? According to the Child Psychology book her mother ordered, he is at the age to take a keen interest in buying things! Could it be the Parkers’ cleaning lady, disgruntled about the state Marjorie allows the children to keep the house in? Could it be Marjorie herself, who Ricky theorizes is a kleptomaniac over cashmere sweaters?

This mystery is so boring, that I am just going to remind readers that birds are pretty much the worst.

Besides, Marjorie is allowing Donna to throw a real boy-girl party, complete with square dancing, sandwich loaves and a make-your-own-sundae bar! (Again: where is Popular Richard? He loves square dancing!)

After the party Donna and Marjorie are all tuckered out, content to leave popped balloons and ice cream drips on the carpet, when they discover that Jimmy, previously disgruntled about being offered leftover sandwich-loaf filling for dinner, has gone missing! (Also not a mystery: pouting after being cut from the baseball team, he’s been hiding in the basement all night.)

Donna has just a few more teenaged crises to navigate, as the spring dance approaches: first she discovers that the cleaner has shrunk her dress, but Marjorie allows her to dip into her own wardrobe, making Donna the belle of the ball. Mrs. Cunningham comes through beautifully, supplying more than enough flowers and shrubs to transform the gymnasium into an enchanted garden. And yes, finally Popular Richard puts in an appearance, now the lead singer of the band playing at the dance; he promises to TOTALLY call Donna next week.

Afterward at the Sweet Shoppe the gang is scolded by the manager for their loud and unruly behavior, but the real trouble turns up the next morning when a police officer knocks on the door asking to speak with Donna. Does the town of Summerfield really take such a dim view of throwing napkins?

Actually it is about Mrs. Cunningham’s flowers- due to a misunderstanding, the dance committee arrived at the estate and helped themselves to the greenhouse after Jeeves had already delivered flowers to the school. Oops. Mrs. Cunningham is very understanding about the whole thing, via cablegram from Bermuda, and allows the class to help replant her flower beds as penance.

Finally Mr. and Mrs. Parker return home and Marjorie takes Donna and Jimmy to the pier to meet their ship. Mrs. Parker compliments Donna on how grown-up she was in helping to manage the house, and hints that she will be allowed to fly to California for her Uncle’s wedding later that summer!

Sign It Was Written In 1957 Department: “It’s been snowing all night,” Mr. Parker said. “We’ve been calling the weather bureau every few minutes since we got up.”

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Meg: The Mystery of Black-Magic Cave (Meg Duncan #3) By Holly Beth Walker

What was the sinister secret of the black-magic cave? Meg and Kerry were soon to find out…

Black Magic Cave

Background: From the 1950s through the 1970s Whitman published a huge number of these squat, dust jacketless hard covers, separately targeting boys and girls. Some of these were based on TV shows, some were based on celebrities having imaginary adventures and solving crimes (Annette Funicello! Patty Duke!), and some were original series about plucky eponymous girl-heroines solving mysteries, having adventures and learning valuable lessons: your Trixie Beldens, Ginny Gordons and Donna Parkers.

While Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series is probably the only one of these that can be considered a certified classic, the others are, at least by reputation, satisfyingly solid efforts.

We’re getting a late start on our annual autumnal extravaganza, so let’s start by checking in with our old chum Meg Duncan. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Please Don’t Eat the Daisies By Jean Kerr

Click here for information on the 2014 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the August selection, Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.)

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

Jean Kerr’s phenomenal best-seller of the late 1950’s might be the earliest archeological example of “Mommy Snark”- here in the future, parents are constantly baring the souls online (always with a knowing wink) about letting their kids eat Pop Tarts for dinner or concerns about how Avery or Madison is probably going to grow up to be bum or a serial killer.

I can only imagine that such confessionals had more shock value in 1957, when Kerr confessed that her “special chicken creole soup” was made by mixing together a can of Campbell’s chicken soup with a can of Campbell’s creole soup or that when none of the children will fess up to throwing the calendar in the toilet she “relies on blind instinct” in selecting the probable culprit for a spanking, shrugging off the fact that “this undoubtedly leads to an occasional injustice, but you’d be surprised how it cuts down on the plumbing bills.” Continue reading

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‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty By Pat Boone

Teen-age can be a confusin’ time, but it can also be a great adventure.

Twixt 12 and 20

Pat Boone was a teen idol who rose to fame recording sanitized cover versions of Rhythm & Blues songs deemed too scary for mainstream radio. The pros and cons of this practice of musical “whitewashing” are still up for debate: while Boone had the #1 hit version of “Ain’t That a Shame”, it was eventually and irrevocably eclipsed by Fats Domino’s original, with Boone’s becoming little more than a pop music footnote. If they’re feeling charitable, music historians credit Boone’s popularity with bringing R&B to a mainstream audience (not to mention royalty payments to songwriters).

And Boone embraced his white-bread image all the way (his cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” gives the impression of a man who had no idea what the song was about until the moment he stepped up to the mic, and is desperately trying to improvise clean lyrics on the spot), so it’s no surprise that his advice to the teenagers of 1958 focuses on clean living, going to church, concentrating on school and near-constant spankings. Continue reading

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Love Comes To Anne By Lucille S. Warner


This week, something from the archive…

Originally posted on Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989:

The last Wildfire title that appeared in this space, Recipe for Romance was basically a stupid story that was well-written. This one is just a stupid story that is badly written. Whereas that title at least had a gimmick, a main character with a goal and some local color, Love Comes to Anne is set in a generic suburb of an unnamed city (all we know is that it’s not Chicago) and features a main character who does not do much of anything. It is also the first book under the Wildfire imprint, so I assume much of this is because they haven’t really decided what to do with the series or built up their stable of reliable Cooneys, Cavanaghs and Claypool-Miners.  Luckily for you, readers, there is at least enough weird stuff going on in this one to make it worth taking a look at.

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Rhapsody in Orange and Brown: 15 Favorite Classic YA Covers

A few weeks back there was a something of a kerfuffle over Penguin’s 50th Anniversary cover of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was a holder of the minority opinion that the new cover was kind of  great… at least it was memorable!  

What was the last really memorable cover art you saw on a YA title? A glance at Amazon’s bestsellers in the “Teen & Young Adult” category reveals plain graphics, boring stock photos, and movie tie-in reissues.

It wasn’t always this way! Illustrated covers of decades past were constantly compelling, evocative and terrifying. Mostly terrifying.

Some of the best covers (regardless of literary merit) of books reviewed in this space include…


…with additional special mention to artists, designers and photographers behind Fridays, Green Eyes, Holly in Love, Just Dial a Number, and Since That Party.

As far as books that have not been reviewed in this space, I’d like to to bring your attention to 15 of my all-time favorite covers: Continue reading

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Barbara Nichols: Fifth-Grade Teacher By Bernard & Marjorie Palmer

It had seemed to Barbara that she had always wanted to be a teacher…

Barbara Nichols 5th Grade Teacher

Back to school! Time to start the year with a good attitude cautionary tale wacky scheme inspirational message!

The Plot: I have been pleasantly surprised by the Palmers’ “Career Books” for the Moody Bible Institute, in that they present fairly progressive tales of young women pursuing their career dreams, even when their parents or society may not entirely approve. Continue reading

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