Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is running an Old Skool Challenge – asking people to revisit the romances of their past and see how they hold up. As an adult, I’m not much of a repeat reader. I like to move on. There are more books in the world than there are days in my life. But a Challenge is a Challenge, right? So I went even Older Skool.
Most of my personal books when I was a child were pre-1950, with the bulk being from 1900 to 1940 (it’s a long story) so my childhood reading selection might be different than yours. I was obsessed with Oz books, and the Stratemeyer Syndicate titles. (Although I remember Honey Bunch the most fondly, it was interesting to discover I have named both of my children after obscure Oz characters. By the way? The slippers were silver.)
So, for the Old Skool Challenge I chose the only Honey Bunch book available as an ebook. Honey Bunch is a sweet blue eyed blonde girl of upper middle class standing who lives with her father (an endless source of presents), mother and a beloved washerwoman named Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Miller is actually only day help. I was shocked to find she neither lives in nor is a nanny. (In my memory, I’ve turned her into a nameless nanny.) It’s easy to call the Honey Bunch books out for racism (you’ll find it in any pre-1940 children’s book, Honey’s is of a very liberal bent) but looking at the series as an adult I can see what so captivated me as a child. Early on, one of the neighbor children mentions how Honey Bunch travels excessively, her parents don’t leave her home as other parents might because she is so charmingly sweet (gender roles ahoy). Her mother always brings home small gifts for all the children Honey Bunch knows, much to the consternation of the other parents. (I do this!) Honey Bunch, she’s not like the other heroines. She’s got an intact family that adores her. When Honey Bunch is awoken by a storm her father gently lifts her into her mother’s bed.
Honey Bunch is usually attributed to Mildred Wirt Benson. She certainly did write five of them, much as Ruth Plumly Thompson eventually penned a few Oz books. Just as L. Frank Baum holds the heart of Oz, the true hand of Honey Bunch was an author named Josephine Lawrence. I could detail the plot of this book, but if you decide to try Honey Bunch for yourself, you’ll find that Ms. Lawrence wrote in an economical manner that nonetheless packs a great deal of detail into the characters. Take a scene where the family stops to offer a ride to a pair of crying children. The children have lost their money on the way to be recognized for their moral character. Without letting them know, Honey’s mother slips money into their lunch baskets, to be discovered later. In this brief scene we learn that travelers in 1929 thought nothing of picking up strangers, nor did the strangers think a thing of taking the ride. We find out what’s admirable about these children to eyes of that time period, have a gathering described to us, and learn that it’s not just the neighbor children Honey’s mom looks out for. While certainly idealized, Honey’s world is no less authentic than any other fictional place. Honey and her friends stand out as individuals, they convey a great deal about the wishes and dreams of her readers. Ms. Lawrence certainly holds up to my memory of her.