Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Remembering Sweet Valley High and other dreadful books

My friend turned me on to The Dairi Burger, a most excellent blog, and now I can't tear myself away from it. If only—if only!--I had thought to reread all the Sweet Valley High books and recap them in snarky fashion on my blog, I too could be featured in the Seattle Times. Oh well. My favorite entry so far is Sluts don't make good cheerleaders.
But while we are on the subject of dreadful children's lit, let's take a trip down memory lane. I started this entry with the assumption that most people have at least heard of Sweet Valley High—a series about a pair of perfect twin sisters and their high school crowd set in Sweet Valley, CA. (Quick! Everyone get down to The Oracle office! Liz Wakefield just lost one of her matching barrettes!) The books came out in the eighties, and were really aimed at tweens. I was in high school, working in a public library and while brainy college bound prep school girls were not the books' intended audience I would sometimes read them for their ironic pleasures.
When I was younger, I lacked that sense of irony. The tradition of trying to brainwash children through literature is well established. I remember reading one of my grandmother's books—I was about seven at the time. The book, whose title escapes me, was about a girl, an impossibly saintly girl—I think her name is Griselda—who is about to make her First Holy Communion. Alas! She's an orphan and lives with a cruel, anti-Catholic guardian, who locks poor Griselda in the cellar, and as a result, Griselda nearly misses making her first communion, but she is rescued by a Kind Benefactor (Catholic, of course) and lifted out of her sad situation.
At this same period of my life I was an enthusiastic reader of two of my mom's old books, Wopsy, the Adventures of a Guardian Angel, and Wopsy Again by Gerald F. Scriven which, I have discovered, now sell for quite a lot of money on the used book circuit. My mother would see me with “Wopsy” and groan, “You're not reading that again, are you?” I couldn't help it. I loved Wopsy and the religious intolerance and racism went right over my head.
Wopsy is set in an African village with a Catholic mission nearby. An African toddler is burned in his mother's cooking fire. The priest is sent for and sees an opportunity to baptize the child, whose soul, we are told, turns from black to a clean white. Meanwhile, Wopsy, a young and, we gather, somewhat naughty angel, is assigned to be the toddler's guardian angel. The baby's name is —wait for it—Shiny. And so it goes, with “Father John” the priest, who rides the countryside on his motorbike, which the villagers call his “Tiki-tiki” and Shiny's mother who grumbles a lot and brews the banana beer (banana beer?) and Shiny's father, who, it is hinted, is a somewhat shady character, mainly because he resists Christianity, and of course, Shiny, who is always getting into trouble despite the busy Wopsy whispering in his ear all the time.
Sweet Valley High to Wopsy pretty much runs the gamut of awful books aimed at children and the presses are still churning. Now we have Goosebumps and Magic Tree House, Animorphs and American Girls.


  1. It's true, I grew up hating to read. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries especially for boys 8 - 13, who also may not like to read.

    NEWSPAPER CAPER, TERROR AT WOLF LAKE, NORTH WOODS POACHERS, MOUNTAIN CABIN MYSTERY, BIG RIG RUSTLERS, SECRET OF ABBOTT'S CAVE & LEGEND OF THE WHITE WOLF, are compared by readers and reviewers to Tom Sawyer, The Hardy Boys, Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Scooby-Doo, Lemony Snicket, and adventure author Jack London.

    My blog, Books for Boys, ranks in the top 5 on Yahoo and the top 20 on Google and you can find it at There you will also find links to my author's web site and another blog with 50 pages of reviews.

    If you have any questions, please let me know.

    Thank you,

    Max Elliot Anderson
    Now, from an author who hated to read...comes books kids hate to put down.

  2. That's nice, but this entry isn't really about hating to read and is more about how much fun it is to make fun of awful books.

  3. Dairi Burger rocks! So does SVH

    -Connie @