Friday, August 5, 2011

Donna Parker and the Mystery of Arawak (1962)

GUYS! Donna Parker is THE COOLEST! If I'm lyin', I'm flyin'. Behold her girl adventurer life
in all its Kennedy Camelot perfection. Dear Donna, let me be like you! Today, we're bringing you Donna Parker and the Mystery of Arawak, a vintage 1962 girl power guilty pleasure mine and I hope, shortly, of yours.

You might remember my mentioning Miss Parker in passing a couple of months ago, right here, at this very blog location. I made her acquaintance while sidling past two gabbin' ladies digging through a box of discarded books at McKays' (way more gabbing that digging on their parts, which is how I sharked the vintage young adult titles I did end up getting). As I clasped a few musty titles bearing her name to my clavicle, while balancing others from the genre at the knee, while still passing more back to Babu, who was swiftly disappearing under a stack of similar goods, I thought, "Now, I know I know that name from somewhere."

Being just short of a thrift store/rummage sale book HOARDER, slightly more on the collector side but not by much, I've come across my fair share of the forties' through the sixties', plasticized cardboard teen book titles with promisingly colorful covers and yellowed, smudge-inked illustrations every half chapter or so. Needless to say, I love them. What is not to love? Uncle Atom did a great post on these back in January, where I spotted THIS, the exact copy of The Munsters' The Last Resort I left on top of a twelve foot high, home-welded slide at my grandmother's house, in the rain, in the fourth grade, after my mom had specifically told me to be careful with it because the book was old. How I remember that particular book! However dampened my Munster mania by this inadvertent act of destruction and its consequences, I still get a little thrill when I see the stocky shape of one of these type books peeking out of a Goodwill bin or a dusty dresser top at an estate sale. As for Donna Parker and the Mystery of the Arawak-- now, there's a humdinger of one!

Though she never had a TV show, Donna Parker was the star of a seven book run of young adult series titles, published between 1957 and 1964. Author Marcia Martin (real name Marcia Levin... I swear to goodness I need go ahead and get my pseudonym ready... what if fame comes a-knockin?) dragged our dark haired, dark-eyed heroine through many a pint-sized caper, while still managing to be one of the most popular girls at Summerfield Junior High.

Take a look at some of the chapter headings, and tell me you don't think you'd be in for a treat at the onset of this book.

"Midget-sized problems" is especially intriguing. Let's see how the plot unfolds!

Prior to our story, Donna spent the summer, with her best friend Frederica "Ricky" West, as a girls' counselor at Camp Cherrydale (see Donna Parker at Cherrydale, 1957). With Cherrydale fully staffed, and just back from a glamorous summer adventure in Hollywood (see Donna Parker in Hollywood, 1961), the beginning of The Mystery of Arawak has one unhappy junior counselor making the best of things at Camp Arawak. To the left, you can see Donna introduced to the kiddlings by Helene, the senior counselor, "a tall, slender girl with deep set grey eyes, thick black eyebrows, and beautiful wavy black hair." How jealous I used to be of girls in young adult books just based on their Elizabeth Taylor-like descriptions! And she's not even real! At right, Estelle, the saucy camp cookmaster, a little like Audrey Meadows in Pillow Talk in comportment. Top marks.

Sadly, Donna is Ricky-less on this trip. However, we do have distraction in the form of heartthrob Teddy Bair from the boys camp across the lake. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Teddy Bair. Let's let the man himself explain:

"You see, my real name is Thornton, and my last name is Bair. But who would call me Thornton Bair, when Teddy Bair is so much easier to remember? Anyhow, it's kind of got a swing to it... Teddy...Bair..." he said to himself.

Real card, that Teddy character. But I AM stupidly in love with the idea of Teddy as a first name. At left, older girl Kathi (at a time in which that was probably a cute, edgy spelling of that name, before we're just overrun by non-standard lettering) puts on her best cheongsam-inspired dress for a special program put on by the Midgets (which turns out to be the name of the campers group of which Donna is in charge). I'm not going to lie to you, I mainly read the text to find out what's going on in the illustration, and breeze on by, but something went on where older, glamorous Kathi bawled Donna out for not having the kids learn their dramatic league parts on time, or something, and Donna ends up sobbing with shame at her ineffectuality, but gets to stay on anyway. I told you, the illustrations are the main attraction here.

Sidenote1 : Isn't Ricky a cute, cute, cute nickname for a girl? Up there with Frankie as another of my favorite gender bender fifties girl names.

Sidenote 2: Whenever I hear the name Ricky, I immediately think of Amy Sedaris's "imaginary boyfriend Ricky" (always referred to by all three descriptors), and I want to be her. Plain and simple.

At right, Donna's family. Are we seeing the resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Nixon? Also, note kid brother Jimmy's colored, bunched up socks and sneakers. I want to cop this look. At left, you see Miss Tessie, who runs the camp. I love how even as an adult she has a pinafore with the camp named stitched into it! When I was a Girl Scout counselor, all we had were matching tie-dyed t-shirts we had to wear on certain days. For shame, Camp Sycamore. How perky I could have looked! How much like the much admired Helene!

Exclamations like "Yeeks!" and "Golly!" pepper every other page or so. At one point, someone warns Donna, "That Teddy is poison!", which, did nothing but reduce me to a hysterical fit in reminisce of the Bel Biv Devoe song. Oh, I cannot be contained. Some rustic atmosphere at the small, neighboring town's diner, in the right hand illustration (fly strip! Ew! Ew!), and some kind of camp activity on the left, building sets for the drama thing I was telling you all about earlier.

At left, fellow boy camper Scott looks like he's about 57 years old. At right, my favorite illustration in the book. Doesn't it look the hilt of 1962? There's one guy at the dance named Hascoe Helfenbower, which I found just fascinating. Donna takes a moment of devilry to remark: "Amy's date is sort of short to have such a long name!" Ah, Donna, you sly thing you. Serena and Francine are two other names I noted. I mean, just the living end, right? I love how solid the names sound.

Co-counselor strife, as Helene (who, neither in this illustration nor the other one, really lives up to her Ava Gardner description) angrily packs her things. Turned out she lied on her application and said she was 18, when she was really fifteen. Monstrous! She is SO disqualified as senior counselor! The other photo shows how woefully inept the boys camp is at putting on a decent stage production (though, honestly, I got a good laugh out of it, and what else can you expect from an audience?)

At the costume ball as Alice in wonderland (now, whoever heard of a dark haired Alice? But I guess full-immersion in character wasn't an option) and a scuba diver. Which, is totally what I want to go as this Halloween. If not the Grady twins from The Shining (I was only recently made aware of being in existence when looking for a Shining themed screen print dress... look at this! Now if only I had a twin...), then definitely both Bab and me as scuba men. At right, Donna gives Teddy a piece of her mind. And how!

Hope you liked the Donna experience! Do you have any favorite 60's, teen age book selections I need to keep an eye out for? Lemme hear from you!

Donna Parker website with more info, beautifully laid out, HERE, and I'll leave you with Mr. Valens having a word or two to say about our lovely leading lady. Til next time!


  1. Great post! As you know I love these kids books, now I have the urge to go back and check out the illustrations inside. I can't count how many Donna Parker books I've passed up over the years (please don't shoot me!)

  2. Keep it coming Lisa....Dick and Pat sure have a nice little girl.

  3. Fabulous! The illustrations are wonderful and your abridged version is excellent. Thanks for sharing this gem.

    I'm afraid I don't have any series of stories to point you in the direction of. I grew up on Enid Blyton and just loved those stories and illustrations, but that's about where my knowledge of 40s-60s teen fiction ends. There is an absolutely lovely shop here in London with shelves stacked full of girls and boys annuals though - it's just too wonderful. But that doesn't help you!

  4. Oooo, I LOVE the illustrations!! I've always had a thing for that sort of late '50s/early '60s illustration style. Gorgeous!
    I'm always on the lookout for teen 'comics' of the era. I have a few that were my moms that have been read to death! Hmmmm, I think I sense a post idea coming on....
    As for Donna, I've never heard of her. I was always a Nancy Drew girl. But now I'll have to be on Donna patrol everytime I'm at a used book store/thrift shop! This title sounds so lovely I want to read the whole series!!! Cheers for making the introduction!

  5. What about Trixie Belden? They were my mom's favorites, so we had the first fifteen or so in the house and I believe I read a few of them. I just remember that Trixie's best friend's name was Honey. I looked online, and turns out we had the editions that are referred to as "The Uglies" by Trixie Belden collectors.* Ah, well.

    Love your commentary, by the way. Teddy is a great boy's name that needs to be revived and yes, Donna's parents do look like the Nixons!


  6. "That girl is poiiiissson!" That reference cracked me up! I really enjoy your abridged versions, they include the core of the story with all the right interjections! Good job :-)

  7. @Uncle Atom: There are so many copies floating around, I'm not surprised! And the illustrations in these old books are top notch, you're exactly right.

    @Living Vintage: Am I right? Ha ha!

    @Miss Marie: Enid Blyton! YES! Also, I am pea green about your stacks of annuals in your English bookshop. Someday....!

    @Dolly: Dolly, Donna Parker; Donna Parker, this is Dolly. It's a match! :) Look forward to the comics post, do it, do it!

    @Lauren: AAAAAaaaah! Trixie Belden! I'd forgotten! My mom was a dyed in the wool Bobbsey Twins + Happy Hollisters gal, but I think we might have had one lone copy of one of her adventures as well. That's mean of those collectors to call your copies the uglies! I think they have a lovely, "Night Gallery" feel to them.

    @Amber: Thanks, thanks! PS Bel Biv Devoe for life. I just heard that song again a few weeks ago after not hearing it since whenever it came out, they're using it in a segment of the Kinect MTV dance game. So you can even do the choreographed dance to it! Too much. Love it.

  8. Love it! And how much does the idea of a masculine-named best friend hearken back to Nancy Drew's chum, George Fayne? It bugged the tar out of me that in later printings they put in a note that her real name was "Georgia", which it most clearly was not in the original printings. But I digress! I love the images from the book you shared, I'm sure I would have loved this series!

  9. I love the Donna Parker books! I have a few of them and am always on the lookout for the rest at yard sales etc. Thanks for making my day with this post. As for other books I always liked the Trixie Belden series, she wasn't perfect like Nancy Drew.

  10. True dat, Donna Parker is the shiz! You can't go wrong with these illustrations. That lady in the mandarin collar is rocking it.

  11. This is fantastic! My older brothers and sisters had lots of these types of books and I used to gobble them up voraciously - even in the late 70s they seemed so dated but I loved them so much. Books like these with those drawn illustrations were like friends;)) xo



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...