SVK #67: The Secret of Fantasy Forest

94420fa86b0ca0f819522006368dcadcAs with the original series, the Sweet Valley Kids books seem to have gotten less realistic the longer the series went on. Plus there are spin-offs where the “Super Snoopers” solve mysteries, and while I personally have read about a gazillion junior mysteries, as an adult the concept always makes me laugh. (See also: The Babysitters Club Mysteries.)

In this one Jessica and Elizabeth go to “Fantasy Forest,” along with their parents and Steven and his friend Joe. I was hoping for something really way out there, with unicorns and stuff, but it’s just a theme park. Not the same theme park they get all excited about when they’re twelve, though.

I was almost ready to give the Wakefield parents credit for actualy parenting, as dragging two seven-year-olds and two nine-year-olds to a theme park is a serious investment of energy. But the Wakefields were not doing it the way you or I might do it, with the “keeping an eye on the kids” part:

Then Dad gave us a wink. “Since both groups want to do different things, we think it’s OK if we split up,” he announced. “After all, Fantasy Forest is supposed to be the safest amusement park around. Steven and Joe, you can explore the park by yourself.”

“Us too?” Jessica demanded.

“Yes,” Mom said. (p. 12)

You’d think since there are two adults there, each one would stick with one set of children, but no: they just arrange for the children to meet them for meals. Awesome. The parents are going to shop for souvenirs.

I briefly held on to the hope that maybe this was a really small, local theme park, but when Jessica and ELizabeth line up to see the Enchanted Castle they’re next to the ONE HOUR FROM THIS POINT sign, and later on Steven and Joe say they’ve spent two hours and forty-six minutes in line for a ride. So I think the Wakefields are just basically letting seven year old twin girls roam a Disneyland knock-off alone. It’s amazing Elizabeth wasn’t kidnapped more often.

Anyway, Elizabeth and Jessica befriend a mysterious boy named Billy, who has a red day pass that allows him to cut to the front of lines and play games for free. He gives the girls red passes for the day as well. They notice a muscular guy follows them everywhere, watching them. He’s clearly Billy’s bodyguard, because this is Sweet Valley and not any place even a little bit like the real world.

I thought (or hoped) Billy would turn out to be royalty, but alas, he’s only theme-park royalty: his parents own Fantasy Forest and their home is inside the Enchanted Castle (in the parts off-limits to visitors, of course). At the end the entire Wakefield family (and Joe) get invited to dinner there, and Elizabeth solves everyone’s problems by talking Billy’s parents into shifting Butch the Bodyguard to running the Screaming Squall, so that Billy can wander the park without a bodyguard while still not having to worry that Butch is out of a job. Awww.

I would say this is the most unrealistic of the non-supernatural kids’ books I’ve read, but I just remembered that when I was eight I not only read The Bobbsey Twins and the Doodlebug Mystery but completely, unquestioningly believed that it could happen, because naturally there are such things as private collections of clockwork whatever-those-were and six year olds absolutely solve mysteries, why wouldn’t they? So I don’t think I have a leg to stand on, criticism-wise.

 

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SVK Super Snooper #3: The Case of the Haunted Camp

Jessica and Elizabeth are attending day camp at Camp San Benito, because God forbid the Wakefields look after their own kids for the summer. 94420fa86b0ca0f819522006368dcadc

Unlike the day camps I’m familiar with, which run for an hour or two each day, this one seems to literally go on all day every day, plus one night they get to have a sleepover.

Elizabeth loves day camp and being a porpoise (the name for the seven year olds at camp), and Jessica hates it because she doesn’t like being in the hot sun, playing sports, getting messy, or carrying her damp swimsuit home at the end of the day. Wow, even as at seven she was the living embodiment of first world problems.

Anyway, they belong to a “mystery club” called the Snoopers; the other members are Todd, Winston, Amy, Eva, Lila and Ellen. What, no Bruce? Although it’s cute to think of a time when Lila and Jessica would have voluntarily hung out with Winston.

They get caught in the rain with their counselor, Jennifer, and take shelter at the San Benito mission museum, where they hear a ghost story. Apparently the bells ring if trouble is coming, though Mr. Sanchez (the museum director) assures them there are no longer any ringers inside the bells (I assume he means clappers).

Then the camp starts being plagued by minor acts of theft and sabotage, and the twins overhear a man arguing with Mrs. Branson, trying to get her to sell the camp even though it’s been in her family for forty years. Anyone who has ever watched Scooby Doo understands the relevance of this. But the Snoopers spend the second half of the book tracking footprints and hearing the bells ring and finally, on the night of the sleepover, catching the man and the camp cook, Joe, with a tape recorder of ringing bells.

As far as children’s mysteries go it was brisk, cute, and as plausible as these things ever are. Plus it had hints of ghostly monks, and a camp setting, both things my own seven-year-old self would have adored.

SVK Hair Raiser Super Special Edition: A Curse on Elizabeth

a curse on elizabeth This is written in the first person (from Elizabeth’s point of view), which confused me so much I had to go back and check the last one I read. (For the record, that one was third person). So…okay. We’re in Elizabeth’s head. I suspect most of the readers of various Sweet Valley series were more Elizabeths than Jessicas anyway. I know I was, until I got in touch with my inner Jessica and stopped trying to please everyone.

Anyway. I would have loved this SO MUCH if I were the right age for it. Even the cover is wonderful, with embossed hieroglyphs along the edges. Plus, mummies. I wish I could mail this back through time to my younger self. Instead I’ll have to hang on to it until my own daughter is slightly older.

Unfortunately, since I’m not in first grade, the “it was all a dream!” explanation stood out a mile. But it was still adorable, and I bet it would have been exciting if I were young. Half the pleasure of series books is seeing familiar tropes deployed, anyway.

So the book opens with the twins learning about King Ramses the Thirteenth, because Mrs. Otis is going to take them to the Los Angeles History Museum to see his mummy and grave goods. Man, the Sweet Valley school system is amazing. Lila wants to see the mummy’s jewellery, which makes me laugh, and Jessica wants to see the coffin. Elizabeth finds the whole thing creepy. Andy, Elizabeth’s partner for the research project that goes hand-in-hand with this, is most interested in the actual mummy. A college student named Henry who was part of the expedition that found the mummy comes to speak to their class, but rushes off in a hurry.

Naturally Elizabeth and Andy find out about the Curse of the Pharaohs and conclude that Henry is cursed. Andy’s mother is a librarian, which is cool, but I do wonder why she was letting two seven-year-olds scare themselves witless. (Although…my own kids also gravitate to anything creepy/disgusting/completely unsuitable for their age, so perhaps it is beyond the power of librarians to do much about that.) Also naturally they share all this “information” with the other kids on the bus en route to the museum.

The bus gets a flat tire, which they take as further proof of the curse. That’s too cute. When they finally arrive they pass by some armour (which Jessica says is scary…this from a kid who wants to see a coffin, mind you) and a mammoth (which they all find scary, and which none of them can identify until Mrs. Otis tells them what it is).

They visit the mummy exhibit. There are a lot of snakes in glass cases; Andy likes the snakes. Andy is slightly creepy. Two classmates waiting their turn to see the mummy, shove Jessica and she bumps the coffin, and then all the lights go out suddenly.

Jessica thinks the lights went out because Ramses is mad at her for bumping the mummy case. Awww. That WOULD be scary if you were seven. The museum guide brings flashlights and leads the kids safely to the bus, except Elizabeth can’t find Andy. She was his partner and feels responsible for losing him, and also doesn’t want to admit to the teacher that she lost her partner, which honestly is the sort of thing little kids do all the time. This is why you have to WATCH THEM constantly, which no one is doing here because in Sweet Valley minimal standards of childcare don’t exist, so Jessica agrees to sneak back into the (dark, scary) museum with Elizabeth to look for Andy.

Elizabeth runs straight into a suit of armour, hard enough that it falls on top of her.

Then a bunch of scary things happen. They find Andy. Andy loses his glasses. They get variously lost, trapped, beset by mysteriously-escaped snakes, chased by a mammoth, nearly suffocated, chased by a mummy, and discover Henry is a thief planning to rob the mummy’s tomb. None of this is real, of course, but the reader doesn’t find that out until the last chapter.

Elizabeth wakes up, still confused, and it takes her a while to work out that she’s dreamed the whole thing. Andy was on the bus the entire time; they just didn’t see him. Jerk. Jessica ran and got Mrs. Otis right after Elizabeth knocked herself out (yay Jessica!). The lights were out all over Los Angeles because of the storm, although Elizabeth spookily remembers that the same thing happened the night Lord Carnarvon died. Elizabeth’s jacket is missing, and she remembers that she stuffed it under the door to keep the cobras from chasing them. So was it all a dream, or did it really happen? DUN DUN DUN.

Okay, that was seriously cute, and a nice retelling of pop culture mummy mythology. I honestly love it when familiar characters (from books or television shows) do their own version of familiar stories or tropes. See also: every “A Christmas Carol” episode ever, including the Sweet Valley Twins one.

 

 

SVK #6: Lila’s Secret

lila's secret Elizabeth and Jessica, twins and best friends, decide to have a sleepover in their backyard.

At school Eva, Amy and Ellen are enthusiastic. But Lila first claims she might not be able to go because she’ll be visiting her grandmother (unconvincingly making this claim before she knows which night theyre talking about) and then says her parents are strict and might not let her go. Ha.

The next day at the dance studio she tries to hijack the party and get everyone to stay at her house instead. Jessica’s having none of it. Elizabeth thinks something is going on.

At school in the cafeteria Todd Wilkins and friends (Winston, Ken, and Charlie) threaten to raid the sleepover. Also, they tease Lila about her reluctance to attend, suggesting she’s afraid of the dark, or ghosts, or wetting the bed. One of those is foreshadowing.

Todd and Steven get into trouble for spraying the tent with a hose when the girls have gone to bed. I would put Steven up for adoption if he were mine, I swear to God. Ellen cries and wants to go home, but changes her mind after talking to her mother on the phone. As a parent, I can attest this is a pretty accurate depiction of little-kid sleepovers. Except the hose part; I’ve never known that to happen.

All the girls have stuffed animals to sleep with except Lila, who claims she’s too old for that, then gets caught by Jessica sneaking her blankie out of a paper bag. Awww.

Later that night Elizabeth is woken by the sound of someone crying. It’s Lila, and her big secret is that she still wets the bed sometimes. Again: awww. Also, why didn’t her parents just pack some overnight pull-ups? They make them for big kids now. Maybe they didn’t when this was written, I guess.

Elizabeth promises to never tell anyone, and all is well. The book ends with a set up for the next book: Elizabeth’s favourite author is coming to Sweet Valley! In second grade her favourite author is apparently someone called Angela Daley, author of the gripping work Rabbit’s Strange Visitor.