HELP! I’m A Prisoner In The Library! By Eth Clifford

They didn’t mean to spend the night in the library!

Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library!

Sure, suuuuure you didn’t…

The Plot: It’s hard to beat Eth Clifford’s (AKA Ethel Clifford Rosenberg) set-up for childhood wish fulfillment: tweenage Mary Rose and Jo-Beth Onetree are entrusted to the care of their absent-minded father to drive them from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis to stay with their Aunt on the eve of the birth of their new sibling. Despite sensible Mary Rose’s warnings that the gas gauge is getting low, Doofus Dad insists that he can coast for miles on fumes. When the car sputters to a stop in a ritzy neighborhood, he takes the gas can (one gets the feeling Mr. Onetree is often in this predicament) and hikes off to the nearest service station. 7 year old Jo-Beth immediately announces that she has to use the bathroom and it is an EMERGENCY. Mary Rose notices the nearby children’s library and decides it’s their best bet.

It’s just minutes before closing time and the librarian is nowhere to be found, but he sisters are charmed by the old mansion that has been converted into a library, and are immediately distracted by a display of an antique horse-drawn school bus.

Meanwhile the librarian is closing up for the night, fazed only by a stranger pounding on the front door asking if she has seen two little girls:

Miss Finton had read many stories in the newspapers about people who came to one’s door and asked to use the phone or made up excuses about accidents or whatever. Once inside, they attacked anyone foolish enough to let them in.

“There are no children here,” Miss Finton insisted, and she closed the door firmly in Mr. Onetree’s face.

Mary Rose and Jo-Beth are startled out of their browsing when the lights go off and alarmed to find that they’re locked in!

[“Oh no. Whatever shall I do? It is like all of my wishes have been granted at once!”- Ed.]

Always sensible, Mary Rose finds the phone and dials “0” and asks for the police department, but the desk sergeant dismisses them as kids playing a prank when ever-melodramatic Jo-Beth grabs the receiver and shouts that they’re being held prisoner. Mary Rose patiently redials and gets the same operator, who recognizes her voice and also scolds her about tying up the lines for emergency services- doesn’t she know that the blizzard of the century is on? She eventually convinces her to connect her to the fire department, but both lights and phone suddenly go dead.

The girls have to contend with a number of spooky sounds (including the librarian’s pet mynah bird), before making their way up to the third floor to investigate a distressing thump.

They find the librarian’s quarters, and poor Miss Fenton sprawled out on the floor after having tripped over a decorative cat sculpture. Mary Rose carefully applies ice packs to the bump on the librarian’s head, but when she comes to, she takes one look at Mary Rose and Jo-Beth and faints, convinced that the mannequins from the display downstairs have come to life!

That’s about it for the “mysteries” and the rest of the book is about Miss Finton and the girls trying to attract help in the blizzard-wracked city (lacking a flare gun, they eventually shoot fireworks off the roof, but to no avail).

Miss Finton is the usual crotchety spinster with a soft spot for children; over the course of the evening Mary Rose and Jo-Beth learn that she’s grumpy that the city has built a fancy new library, replacing her volunteer operation in the old family mansion and leaving her feeling directionless. The three pass a lovely evening in front of the fireplace, eventually falling asleep.

The awaken the next morning when the power comes back on, the TV news informing them that two girls have been reported missing by their father and fireworks were spotted on the north side of the city in the middle of the night. All’s well that ends well as they’re reunited with their father, learn that they have a new little brother named “Harry Two” and suggest that Miss Finton could run the library as a Children’s Museum.

The book is not bad, but seems like it was written for a much younger audience than Apple (Scholastic) marketed it to: Miss Finton’s penchant for old-timey exclamations (“Well, if that doesn’t beat buttered parsnips!”) is amusing, but past the initial set-up, not much happens.

Additionally, Jo-Beth is possibly the most annoying younger sibling in all of Middle Reader-dom:

“What kind of a library is this? I’ll tell you one thing Mary Rose. I’m not going up any more steps. If I do, it will be to our certain death.” Jo-Beth liked the sound of that. She repeated it with joyful gloom. “Certain death.”

I know that there is supposed to be a Beezus-and-Ramona type contrast between the sisters here, but seriously, I can hear Jo-Beth whining right off the page. Ugh.

Sign It Was Written In 1979 Department: Ma Bell is surprisingly helpful:  “The operator says the phones are down in Fort Wayne. On account of the blizzard.”

Sequel Department: The Onetree sisters go on to become involved in several more “mysteries” in various museums!

This entry was posted in Vintage YA Fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to HELP! I’m A Prisoner In The Library! By Eth Clifford

  1. miss amy says:

    Oh, man, I have totally read this one! I loved Apple Paperbacks as a kid (and am pretty much always pondering an Apple-Paperback-themed recap blog–if only I had a little more time, lol!), and while I don’t remember much about this one, it totally rings a bell. It sounds pretty annoying in retrospect, though. Lol.

  2. Pingback: Secrets Of The Shopping Mall By Richard Peck | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

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