Judy Bolton Mystery Series by Margaret Sutton

February 8, 2010
Confusion enveloped me as I stood in the center of the makeshift basketball court. Dotting the cul-de-sac, my friends dashed in and out of the lines chalked onto the pavement. Wandering across the court, my eyes stalked the orange ball streaked with black war paint. Counting slowly beneath my breath, I watched it travel from player to player. At just the right count I leapt from my stance and snatched the ball from an unsuspecting hand. Pounding against the jagged pavement, my feet propelled me into the air. My heart sped as I bounded towards the goal. My friends trudged wildly after me; their feet clobbered against the ground. Turning, I caught a glimpse of their chaotic expressions. Suddenly my toe struck the asphalt. I gasped and launched forward in slow motion; the ball froze. Frantically, my flailing arms groped wildly through the air in attempt to stop my fall. Gravity, however, defeated me. Collapsing into the pavement, my limbs stretched outward. I lay in a belly flop position. My head turned to see a long gash imprinted on my right arm. Plop…plop…plop…the ball skipped gracefully to the ground.
At the age eleven I was a misfit. With long, gangly legs I stretched about a foot taller than all of the boys. Intimidating, awkward, and terribly clumsy, I constantly tripped over my long limbs and tumbled across anything in my path. My towering frame made the other kids nervous – actually panic-stricken. I can only suspect that they predicted a slew of careless accidents in the making. After a while, I set out in search of a friend who I would not intimidate, feel awkward around, or frequently fall on. In the midst of my search I did end up stumbling, but this time it was not such a bad thing. In fact I stumbled across my new hero: Judy Bolton, girl detective.
My aunt, an avid reader and published author, introduced me to the Judy Bolton Mystery Series, a collection of books she had treasured as a young girl. Aware of my love for reading, she offered to send the first few books. I gratefully accepted, and anxiously awaited the package. Finally it arrived. As I carefully unwrapped the protective lining from the first book, I traced my fingertips across the worn cloth binding. My fingers lifted the cover; a strong musty smell tickled my nose. Sprawled annotations bordered the crinkled pages – no doubt countless hands had cradled the books before me. Flipping aimlessly through the yellowed pages, my eyes traced over the text; words like “superstitious,” “escaped,” “startling,” and “disappeared” caught my eye. Briefly touching the faded print, I imagined my aunt as a young girl doing the same.
Depicting the social differences of our generations, Judy’s adventures unmasked a world completely opposite of my own. Modern conveniences such as automobiles were not common in Judy’s hometown, Farringdon, during the 1930s. Local residents commonly drove horse-drawn buggies, walked, or even hitchhiked. Although Judy’s family owned a small car, she relished the thrill of riding her grandfather’s colt, Ginger, into town. In her first adventure, The Vanishing Shadow, Judy barely missed the Farringdon train in her first daring attempt to ride the colt. Margaret Sutton, the author of the Judy Bolton Mystery Series, dramatically describes the event, “The ten-fifty whizzed by, its whistle screeching. On a grassy bank not three feet from the railroad track, Judy listened to the grinding of its wheels and realized, with a sinking sensation, that she might have been under them.”
Judy’s adventures also revealed the cultural contrasts between our lifestyles. Farringdon’s society placed a strong emphasis on social classes. Its most wealthy and prominent families lived in luxurious homes on lower Grove Street. Upper Grove Street housed the mill and factory workers. In the series’ second book, The Haunted Attic, Sutton describes Judy’s reaction to the social segregation, “On the upper side of the road a row of houses, all exactly alike and all painted yellow, stood on a high bank and flight after flight of rickety steps led up to them. In almost every front yard clothes lines full of clothes, some white and some not so white, fluttered in the breeze. Judy set her lips tight together. She had not realized what it meant to be poor in a small city.”
Living in between the two segregated sections, Judy experienced the social hierarchy’s control over the girls her own age. Wealth and power segregated the schools in Farringdon. Farringdon Girls’ High exclusively accepted young ladies from wealthy and prominent families. Judy’s friends living on upper Grove Street attended Industrial High in the evenings after working long shifts at the mill. Demonstrating her maturity and boldness, Judy refused to submit to the social classes. She befriended girls from both sections of town. Her kindness eventually broke the social barrier between her friends, making her a local heroine to the high school students. Likewise, Judy became my heroine. Her maturity and boldness influenced me to overcome the low expectations of my peers.
Despite the differences between our cultures, I felt included in Judy’s adventures. Together we uncovered clues, caught crooks, and solved mysteries. Among the many mysteries we solved was The Invisible Chimes, the most intricate and complex, exciting and revealing case. In this adventure Judy solved the antique shop burglary and the disappearance of Grace Dobbs. Like Judy I heard the eerie chimes ringing in the night; the unknown identity of the brave heroine, Grace, puzzled me; I felt the doubt, panic, and surprise expressed by the characters.
Judy included me in her adventures, but more importantly she accepted me into her circle of friends. Like Judy her friends were observant, intelligent, curious, and always ready to solve a mystery; they contributed their unique talents and skills to unraveling clues and finding evidence. Peter Dobbs, Judy’s closest friend, was an aspiring lawyer and FBI agent. He used his quick thinking and logical reasoning skills to distinguish suspects and criminals. Irene Lang, the most superstitious of Judy’s friends, was always observant and attentive to subtle clues. Although she was not quick and logical like Peter, she used her attentiveness to point out overlooked facts and presumably irrelevant clues. I found myself examining each case through the eyes of a different character; I grew to distinguish between the characteristics and mannerisms of Judy’s friends. Eventually I felt as if they were my friends as well.
Amidst her adventures, Judy taught me the importance of analyzing the details of every situation. Although she thought through problems quickly, she examined every piece of evidence. Judy knew that each clue had a special value and even the smallest piece of evidence could have a large impact on a mystery. The impact she made on me as a clumsy eleven-year-old is emblazoned on my mind like the scar on my right arm. Judy demonstrated the meaning of character. She challenged me to stand up for my ambitions instead of stumbling over my faults.

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