Rearranging my study over the weekend, wondering for a moment why I’ve been collecting those Tom Swift books over the years. And then remembering the summer of 1955, when I couldn’t get enough of Tom Swift. The summer I re-discovered the joy of reading.
Generations of young folks have been enthralled by Tom Swift stories, beginning with the publication of “Tom Swift and his Motorcycle” in 1910. Tom was a boy inventor – smart, clever, industrious, creative, personable. And his stories were a breath of fresh air for children, who had been fed a steady diet of “moral instruction” tomes up to then. Tom had adventures! He invented fascinating things – an electric runabout, a submarine boat, talking pictures. Reading about Tom Swift was sheer fun, and if you were inspired to become an inventor yourself, more the better. The lesson: if you use your imagination, you can do intriguing things.
There were forty of the books in the original series, which ended in 1941 – all penned by Victor Appleton, who was actually a pseudonym for a series of ghost writers employed by the books’ creator, Edward Stratemeyer. Later, there were other series featuring Tom’s descendants – the last, according to Wikipedia, published in 2007.
Tom Swift saved me from a summer of crashing boredom in 1955. I was twelve – too young to chase girls, too old to play in the dirt with the little kids. I was at loose ends until my mother sent me to my grandmother’s attic. She and my three uncles had been great readers as youngsters, and the attic was full of their books – Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tarzan of the Jungle (my mother was the Tarzan fan…go figure). I spent much of the summer in the swing on my grandmother’s front porch, immersed in and enthralled by those stories, which took me all over the world in thrilling escapades. I’m pretty sure I would not be the writer I am today if not for Tom and his fellows.
These days, I’m thrilled when I hear school and library folks and parents talk about summer reading for young people. It’s a time to read just for fun – no stodgy old textbooks to struggle through, no term papers to write. Just fun. Kids are pulled and tugged by a staggering array of summer activities, but gee, there has to be some time squirreled away to kick back with a ripping good story. It’s the best way to stimulate imaginations, and like Tom, use imagination to do intriguing things.
The original Tom Swift books are hopelessly outdated now, but I still enjoy picking up one of them every once in awhile and letting it take me back to my grandmother’s swing. For today’s young readers, there’s a huge array of good stories to choose from. Picking up a book and turning to page one is, to me, the best summer fun of all.