Edwards and the Secret and Mysterious Order of the Freckled Goldfish
1935, at age seven, I sent off two two-cent stamps to Leo Edwards
in order to become a member of the Secret and Mysterious Order
of the Freckled Goldfish. The club took its name from Edwards's
book Poppy Ott and the Freckled Goldfish. For my two stamps
I was to receive a membership card adorned with a comical picture
of the freckled goldfish (in top hat), containing the club's rules
and regulations along with Leo Edwards's autograph and a coveted
club button. I was a little worried because the invitation to
club membership had said, "Any boy can join who wants to," but
my fears proved to be groundless.
was living in a cotton mill community in rural North Carolina
at the time. Pleasure reading was considered a sort of frivolity
there, and most of the kids in my school were marking time until
they became fourteen and could go to work in the mill. So there
was no hope of my organizing a local chapter of the club as other
readers were doing. The local chapter activities were reported
in a special section called "Our Chatter-Box." Chapters sent word
of their libraries and their fund raisers, and one group even
had their own robes with the freckled goldfish on the front and
back. I would have given a lot to have had one of those robes.
Edwards was my favorite author then, and he had three series that
I read whenever I could get my hands on them the Jerry Todd,
Poppy Ott, and Tuffy Bean books. The Tuffy Bean books were my
initiation into Leo Edwards's world and had a special appeal for
me. Tuffy Bean was a dog and the narrator of his books. He had
various masters throughout the series the nice Mr. Bean
who used to spit tenderly on the end of Tuffy's tail in Tuffy
Bean's Puppy Days, a showman named Ebenezer Tiffet in Tuffy
Bean's One-Ring Circus. In Tuffy Bean at Funny-Bone Farm,
my personal favorite, Tuffy's master is Tod. Forced to move
to the country because Aunt Judy loses all her money, Tod and
his siblings undertake small money-raising projects, solve local
mysteries, and engage in various activities. Tuffy assists the
humans in their endeavors, even though he is plagued throughout
the book by a domestic problem. Sauerkraut, a female dog, wants
Tuffy to be a father to her pups. Here is Tuffy at Sauerkraut's
fake death bed scene:
lay on her blanket in the moonlight.
is it?" she inquired, too weak at first to glance up.
says I, as I crouched beside her.
our eyes met. And as I saw the yearning in hers a lump rose
in my throat. I never had loved her. I never wanted to love
her. For she wasn't my kind. But she plainly loved me. And
I pitied her.
glad you came," says she. . . . Then, with a supreme effort,
she turned to her blubbering pups. "Remember what I told
you," she further struggled with her sinking voice. "When
mamma is gone, papa will take care of you. . . . Don't forget,"
the words came faintly, as she fixed her expiring eyes on
me, "to squeeze little Oliver if he drinks too much."
passage seems just as fresh to me today as when I first read it
fifty years ago.
Todd, Pirate opens with an admirable sentence: "Now that we
had an island of our own, just like Robinson Crusoe, the proper
thing for us to do, Scoop Ellery said in good leadership, was
to stock it up with animals." That was my kind of opening sentence,
and at once the four all-male Juvenile Jupiter Detectives
Jerry, Scoop, Peg, and Red were off trading for whatever
livestock, mostly dogs and cats, they could acquire. The Juvenile
Jupiter Detectives frequently had to contend with ghosts, robbers,
and swindlers, and in addition they were bedeviled by a rival
gang, the Strickers, with whom they waged a constant and inventive
war. The Strickers weren't "on the square," so while the mud-ball
naval battle or the ripe tomato fight might occasionally go against
the Juvenile Jupiter Detectives, in the end justice and the good
Poppy Ott series was a spin-off from the Jerry Todd books. The
titles were fantastic: Poppy Ott and the Freckled Goldfish
(the swindler here had developed a mud which would cure freckles);
Poppy Ott and the Galloping Snail (the snail, I'm almost
sorry to report, was a car); Poppy Ott and the Prancing Pancake
(the pancakes seemed, for a while, to grow hair on the heads
of the bald men who were willing to wear them. At the time, I
thought the books more than lived up to their titles.
appeal of these books was the humor and the vitality which I found
lacking in the other series books of the thirties. Leo Edwards's
characters were based on real people, and the town Tutter
was based on Utica, Illinois, so there was a sense of real
place and real people, too. When I read the books now, however,
there is a Tom Sawyerish, bygone days feeling in the boys' activities
and in their instant, all-out belief in the whispering mummy,
purring egg, waltzing hen, or tittering totem.
the time I was about ten or eleven, I had outgrown the books.
My new favorite author was Margaret Pedler. Margaret Pedler wrote
about spunky English girls who flew airplanes and climbed pyramids
and fell in love with English men with gray eyes and dark secrets
in their past. The spunky English girls' love went unrequited
for the full four hundred pages because of the dark secret, but
that suited me just fine.
a writer, I never felt I owed much of a debt to Margaret Pedler,
but I can see Leo Edwards's influence in my books in my
preference for writing boys' books, my pleasure in the lighthearted
prank, my desire to have the parents out of the action, my love
of the outdoor story. Or maybe I just want to claim kinship with
a childhood hero. Certainly I envy Leo Edwards the fact that,
as a writer, he showed no signs of uncertainties or doubts about
where his next idea or book was coming from.
in the closing paragraphs of his books, just after most of the
loose ends were tied up (I say most because, for example, the
fate of the dogs and cats wandering loose on the island is in
doubt to this day), Leo Edwards would speak to his readers, either
as himself or as one of his characters, in order to describe the
next book in the series. There was a sort of theatrical excitement
to these last paragraphs. Coming soon! Don't miss it! A. rollicking,
hilarious, outdoor story full of mystery, surprise, and boyish
battles! You'll split your sides!
stories and apparently the man himself teemed with energy and
enthusiasm. And in the Our Chatter-Box section he did something
unique among children's authors ; he begged his readers
to write. "The more letters the merrier," he claimed. At one point
he even invited his readers to visit! "I'm always mighty glad
to have my young readers drop in on me at Hi-Lee Cottage, our
summer home at Lake Ripley, just out of Cambridge. Boys never
lack a welcome here, as many hundreds of boys already know."
maybe even a lucky girl or two.
published in The Horn Book;
v.61, n5, p533-35, Sept-Oct 1985. For information on childrens
author Betsy Byers, please visit www.betsybyars.com.
Published by permission of the author.]