Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Doll Book of the Month Club: The Mystery of the Silent Friends

  First of all, here's an update on the leg situation. I pulled an Elephant Man last night, and decided to 'sleep like a normal person'. I laid on my right side. Big mistake. A few hours later my leg was hurting bad enough to distract me from sleep, so I had to switch. It's afternoon now, and I have been stretching my leg, pressing the spot on my leg that feels like a tensed muscle to try to relax it, and laying on my left side, but today that's just not working. I am still having leg pain even when I'm laying still, and now my lower back is hurting too from laying on my back trying to stretch out my leg. This leg is definitely a work in progress! 

  This month's Doll Book of the Month Club entry is one I am pretty sure I read as a kid. It is called "Mystery of the Silent Friends" and is by Robin Gottlieb. 

  As a kid I read A LOT, and I would read almost anything that had a title that began with  "Mystery of the". This book was originally published in 1964, and the copy I would have read, and the one we have now, is a Scholastic paper back. I found our copy at the library book sale when the kids were little, and I read it to them. I don't remember any of their reactions to it, but ivy says she thinks she remembers it, and she liked it. And I like it!

  The story begins in Mr. Martin's antique shop, where his daughter Nina is playing with a pair of 200 year old automatons. (Automatons are mechanical figures that perform a specific action, or series of actions. Kind of like Horsman's 1970 doll Peggy Pen Pal, 1989's Susie Scribbles doll by Wonderama, or Mattel's 1970 drawing doll Sketchy.)  In this case, the figures are a boy, that writes, and a girl that draws pictures. Oddly, the girl draws four pictures of Swiss scenes, and one picture of a 'See no evil' monkey.) Nina's father has owned the automatons for years, and no one has ever been interested in them. That suits Nina, as she loves the automatons. 

She asks her father to never sell them, and he says that isn't very likely anyway, since nobody seems to want them. So of course the next thing that happens is that a man walks into the shop, asking about the automatons. (You know how these old books go!) He claims to be the son of the previous owner, and that he has the third doll in the series, and he wants to reunite them.

  The only thing is, the next day another man comes in, giving the same name: George Ballentine III!  (I had to laugh when one of the girls puts forth the idea that maybe the men are brothers, and the other says, "But who would have two sons and name them both George?" Uh, George Forman? Maybe he read this book.) But George the third the second offers to have them come to his house and see his doll. The father and daughter go, and are amazed by the guy's collection of automatons, which includes birds in cages, acrobats, jugglers, and the supposed 'third doll', who plays a spinet.

  Nina and her friend Muffin, a devotee of practical jokes, decide that the only thing to do is to ask the first man to show them his 'third doll'. This guy is kind of suspect anyway, since when he came in he was wearing a hat over his red hair, and seemed very upset when he bumped into some antlers in the shop and his hat was tipped. 

Nina tips one of the George's hat with a spear, to check his hair colour.

He also claims to be well off, but Nina, who was apparently born to be a detective, notices that he has a broken shoe lace that's been knotted back together. And it only gets more confusing. When the red haired man comes back to hear Mr. Martin's final word on selling the automatons, he now has brown hair, like the second man. And even more weird, he takes them to the exact same 5th Avenue Brownstone, and shows them the exact same doll playing a spinet. But he doesn't give them the full tour as the other man did, and whisks them out hurriedly after the doll plays her tune.

  Now what?! Mr. Martin has told both men he's not selling, as he wants to distance himself from the whole strange situation. But, of course, this is a 1960's kid's book, so Nina and Muffin, who have to know what the deal is with the two George's, do some detective work on their own, strolling unchaperoned around New York City and Central Park. 

  I won't tell you how the book ends and spoil the fun. And it is a fun book. Do kids these days like this kind of book? I don't know. If you're considering reading it to you own child, or grandchild, (or some random kid on the street. I don't know what you do...), you know them and what they'll like or put up with. As I said, Ivy liked it, but then Ivy was raised on the Scholastic kid's books of my childhood, and also has most of the tastes of an old person, so there you go.

  It's a short 154 pages, and an easy read. The illustrations are by Al Brule, and are fun pictures typical of the period. If anybody wants a copy of this book, I managed to get an extra copy recently, so let me know. I will ask you to pay shipping though. If you aren't into physical books, and you have an account with the Internet Archive, you can read the book HERE

  There is a sequel to this book, called "Secret of the Unicorn", which features Nina, but unfortunately not her more colourful friend Muffin. Muffin has been replaced by a girl named Polly. No word on Muffin's whereabouts... 


  1. Sounds right up my alley--I was into mystery books as a kid, too! Trixie Belden and Honey West were my favorite girl detectives, even though The Secret Garden was my all-time favorite book as a little girl (I read it when I was 7--I was a precocious reader. My grandmother used to berate my mother for making me word flash cards when I was probably 3, but Mom always said I ASKED for them!). Anyhoo, this sounds right up my alley, and I would be delighted to have your 2nd copy! Just email me the shipping and remind me of your PayPal addy. Thanks in advance!

    1. Okay Beth. Give me a chance to remember where I put it. (I'm sure that will elicit groans form those who've tried to buy dolls I can't find! But I think I know where it is!)
      I loved The Secret Garden too, but I preferred "The Little Princess", also by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
      Good for your mom on the flash cards. As long as you enjoyed it there's nothing wrong with learning early. I taught Ivy to read the year before Kindergarten, because she was already spelling words with her bathtub crayons without any teaching beyond the alphabet. She had a year or so to go before Kindergarten, and I thought she'd be so far ahead she'd find it boring. So I decided to school her a bit so she could start in first grade instead. I had her doing simple multiplication and division after she whipped adding and subtracting in no time, and she was reading Sally, Dick, and Jane. I talked them into testing her and she came 11 points short of first grade, so they wouldn't let her skip Kindergarten. Their other excuse was they didn't like to skip kids because they didn't want the age difference to be hard on them. But Ivy has a November birthday, so she turned 6 right after Kindergarten started. Fortunately I only wasted about 3 months of her time home schooling, because we quit after that! Once she started Kindergarten her reading and math levels dropped. Of course, this was the teacher who had a sign on her door, "...Lock is broke." That drove me crazy until I got a pen and added an 'en'!

  2. My eldest daughter loved the Trixie Belden books, which were old when *I* read them. I also remember coming home from school with lots of books I wanted from the monthly Scholastic catalog.

    1. I never read Trixie Belden, but I did read a few of the lesser known Robin Kane mysteries, which were another Whitman series. Emma started on Nancy Drew, which she quickly gave up in favour of Agatha Christie books. Ivy and I read a few Nancy Drews though. As a kid I loved those Scholastic mysteries by Mary C. Jane and Phyllis A. Whitney. I always got excited on book order form day! It came with the Weekly Reader. Of course, I'm a bit older than you are, so maybe that changed by your time.

  3. Ooh, this is right up my alley! I love all the others mentioned here. I think you've reviewed Ginny and the Mystery Doll before too, right?

    I'm sorry about your leg pain. Hopefully you are able to get some relief.

    1. Yes! Ginny and the Mystery Doll was another I read as a kid, that I also read to my kids. Luckily that one has been republished in recent years, and isn't too expensive or hard to find.
      Thanks. The leg is getting better, slowly..


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