What can you say about the old-school Bobbsey Twins? The bottom line is that they just don’t hold up well over time. My versions were the ones set in the Edwardian Era. The illustrations even show Mrs. Bobbsey in large Victorian hoop-skirts with a bustle, and the family’s main mode of transportation is a horse and buggy. Set in the fictional town of Lockport, Somewhere on Lake Metoka, United States, at the turn of the last century. The Bobbseys are an upper-middle class family with a large house and two servants, Sam and Dinah.
I have the first three books of the series, all from Whitman Publishing, which are the ones before the Stratemeyer Syndicate started sending sibling twins, eight-year-old Nan and Bert and four-year-old Freddie and Flossie, on mystery adventures. In the first book, the most exciting things that happen are a girl’s fainting from too much jumping rope, a neighborhood bully’s talking trash on Bert and Nan, Freddie’s getting lost in a department store, and an ice boat’s steering out of control. Yet as unlike these books are to exciting modern YA adventures, I adored them!
I read them now, though, and even though there is a certain naïve charm to the writing style, the main take-away is that they are incredibly racist. To their credit, their African-American servants, Dinah and Sam, are truly a beloved part of the family. It’s more the characterization: the artwork depictions, their superstitious nature, and, oh my goodness, the dialect. I read it now, and I find myself involuntarily wincing. I’ll keep the books to pull out occasionally and reminisce, but mostly they serve as evidence that children’s literature has, in many ways, changed very much for the better.