Giving Horatio Alger Goosebumps, Or, From Hardy Boys to Hapless Boys: The Changing Ethos of Juvenile Series Fiction
While there have been studies of science fiction, fantasy, and horror written for children and adolescents, scholars often fail to discuss the stories that are both read by and requested by youthful readers: namely, juvenile series fiction. To be sure, the classics of children's literature, such as the Newbery Award winners, are meritorious and genuinely enjoyable for their intended audience, but these remain books that children typically must be led to; they do not ask for them. What they ask for--often to the dismay of parents, teachers, and librarians--are iterative, mass-produced books, of little apparent literary value, which provide familiar recurring characters, settings, and plots.
While the origins of such fiction might expansively be traced back to ancient myths and legends, in which popular heroes like Hercules and Roland figured repeatedly, a calmer literary historian would probably begin with American children's literature of the nineteenth century, especially the genre of dime novels, for which authors like Horatio Alger, Jr., and Luis Senarens churned out innumerable adventures featuring youthful heroes. Alger's characters had different names but were always variations on one type, the poor but virtuous lad who makes it to the top with pluck and determination, and Senarens was noted for stories about resourceful young inventors like Frank Reade, Jr., and Jack Wright.
However, while the fiction of Alger and Senarens soon faded from view, one of their younger colleagues, Edward Stratemeyer, would in the twentieth century establish a more lasting tradition of hardcover book series. Setting up his Stratemeyer Syndicate, and hiring writers to produce novels based on his outlines, Stratemeyer launched dozen of series with various sorts of leading characters, allowing the most successful ones to continue on with new titles as long as the sales were good. Noting the popularity of Stratemeyer stars like the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey Twins, other publishers followed his example, and series fiction has endured as a major area of children's literature, with new series like the Animorphs and the Baby-Sitters Club now competing with surviving icons