How Do You Lose Those Ninth Grade Blues? By Barthe DeClements

Will Elsie be able to accept her (beautiful!) new self?

This is the first of two (sadly out-of-print) books following up on the life of Elsie Edwards from Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade, the school fatty with a horrifying mother who eventually loses weight and makes friends with Jenifer Sawyer and her group of friends, who are then maybe-kidnapped to add some excitement at the end.

The Plot: Starts up on the first day of high school, now from the point of view of a still-slender Elsie:

“Hey, Fatty!”

That wasn’t me any more, so I kept walkin’.

While now a beautiful young woman in the 1980s mold (Jenifer says that she looks like “a thin Dolly Parton”, although on this cover she reminds me more of Horse Lovin’ Barbie), Elsie is still emotionally scarred by her experience of being loathed and resented by her mother, absentee father and entire fifth grade class. While still a mathematical genius (she finished her algebra requirements in 8th grade) and talented singer (she gets First Soprano in the school choir without breaking a sweat), as well as a GENUINELY NICE PERSON, she is completely lacking in self- confidence. Continue reading

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Barbie and Ken By Cynthia Lawrence and Bette Lou Maybee

How these popular high school classmates solve their dilemmas makes for many hours of entertaining reading!

Upon her introduction in 1959, Mattel’s Barbie doll was intended to be something of a blank slate: a glamorous avatar on which girls could project there future fashion dreams and career aspirations. Not until the doll became a massive hit (and Mattel started licensing various ancillary products in Barbie’s image) did her creator, Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler, consider what kind of personality she should have.

This was mostly done through the pages of Barbie: The Mattel Barbie Magazine which was published starting in 1961, and included short stories featuring Barbie, her boyfriend Ken, her BFF Midge (and eventually Midge’s boyfriend Allan) along with various characters who did not appear in doll-form in the Mattel line.

Beginning the following year some of the stories that appeared in the magazine were published as a series of hardcover books by Random House, which ran 12 volumes (plus a cookbook) through 1965. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Up The Down Staircase By Bel Kaufman

(Click here for information on the 2017 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 June selection, Bel Kaufman’s Up The Down Staircase.)

It’s only fair to state at the outset that I come to Up The Down Staircase with a bias- like Bel Kaufman, I am a Hunter College alumnae who teaches in the New York City school system, so I feel I can answer with authority the question of the hour: how much, exactly, have things changed in the last 50 years?

Not. Much.

Right down to the draconian dictates on the raising and lowering of classroom shades.

Ok, I exaggerate, but slightly. In 2017, there may also be fewer H-Bomb drills than in 1964.

In Kaufman’s introduction to 1991 edition she outlines the origins of the book and her own career as a high school English teacher, first in the gray area of a “Per Diem sub” when the Board of Education repeatedly flunks her on the oral portion of the licensing exam because, as the child of Russian immigrants, she had practiced too well- apparently they feared she would make her students’ pronunciation too affected. Continue reading

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Promised Kiss (First Love From Silhouette #14) By Veronica Ladd

All her friends think Roger is weird, but Karen knows better…

Background: 236 First Love titles were published between 1981 and 1987 by Silhouette, “AMERICA’S publisher of Contemporary Romance” (distinguishing itself from its main competitor, the Canadian-based Harlequin, which would fold Silhouette into its own operations in 2012).  I have commented in the past that I thought that First Love titles compared unfavorably with the similar Wildfire, Sweet Dreams and Caprice YA Romances…

But I think I actually have to take all of that back. While Silhouette certainly released its share of dogs (talking or otherwise), I find myself surprised more often than not by the quality of writing. Or at least willing to suspend my disbelief as long as they keep the titles with bird-crazed meddling neighbors coming.

The Plot: While this one includes neither talking dogs nor perilous bird sanctuaries, it turns out to be a pretty serious and angst-filled title, as 16 year old Karen is pushed by her bitter divorced mom and older sister into following in their footsteps and campaigning for the title of Harvest Queen, in the town of Wilks, Wilks County, Kansas. Continue reading

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Magazine Madness and/or Mania: Co-Ed, May 1963

Published by Scholastic between 1959 and 1985, Co-Ed’s somewhat confusing tagline was “The High School Magazine For Homemakers and Career Girls”, which covers pretty much every group of young women except collegiate co-eds. Continue reading

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Robin West: Nurse’s Aide By Louise Christopher

The pretty nurse’s aide becomes involved in the strange life of a beautiful debutante…

It’s easy to see why nurse books were so popular amongst young, female readers of the 20th century: nurses got to actually do things: live away from home to train, solve mysteries, fight in a World War (or II), romance “groovey interns”, escape from Nightmare Islands, minister to Hootenannies… in fact, just go over to the Vintage Nurse Romance Novels website for the rest of the afternoon.

The age of the vintage Nurse Romance has mostly passed: Harlequin still publishes “medical” category romances, although I rarely see them for sale, and General Hospital is currently trudging into its 55th year on TV, but nursing seems to have lost some of its glamour for the kids these days.

I went searching to see if this was the beginning of a series, but info was difficult to turn up. “Louise Christopher” is a pen name for romance writer Arlene Hall, who has a number of “nurse” romances on her CV, but apparently Robin West only rated one follow-up: Robin West: Freshman Nurse in 1964.

The Plot: And frankly, I’m surprised Dell even bothered, since Robin West is the most fatuous heroine I’ve encountered since Polly French. Continue reading

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Prank By Kathryn Lasky

How can the words of the past give Birdie hope for the future?

Well, this another one where the cover-copy barely matches the actual content of the book: it’s sold to readers as being about a high school student who learns about the horrors of the Holocaust after her brother is implicated the vandalism of a local synagogue…

The Plot: …but, whoa, there is a whole lot more going on.

High school Junior Brigid (Birdie) Flynn is a rapidly lapsing Irish-Catholic living with her nightmare family in a housing project in East Boston. Her barely-literate parents are frequently physically abusive toward Birdie and her brother (who was flunking out of school even before he got picked up by the cops) and her oldest sister regularly returns home with her young daughter to escape from her own abusive husband, whom she was forced to marry after he knocked her up. Continue reading

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