Secret of the Old Post Box by Dorothy Sterling


Short plot summary, as this is another of those history or social lessons thinly veiled as bits of fluff that Scholastic so loved to reprint…and indeed, I found this as a Scholastic reprint a couple of years ago. Pat’s moved from New York City to a small town, and one summer morning her mother shoves her out to take up a neighbor boy on his offer of a game of baseball. Things aren’t exactly going swimmingly–three brothers, clearly proto-thugs, are angry about a GIRL playing with them, though it turns out there’s an underlying cause. They used to live in the Revolutionary War-era house nearby. This is brought to a head when Pat slams a line drive through one of the windows of the house.

They explore, and find papers that suggest there’s a treasure hidden in the house. They search and, because this is a feel-good afternoon-special sort of book, they find it. But because this is also a veiled history lesson, it’s not the treasure the kids were expecting (cash, jewels, something like that) and they can’t understand why the adults all get so excited about what they DO find.

Like Julia Sauer’s Fog Magic, I can’t really imagine this being read by modern kids in the intended age range. Literary styles have changed too much. not to mention the ways in which educational information is woven into the text. Basically, this is a thinly veiled lesson in Revolutionary War-era history. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would someone else who cut their teeth on Scholastic reprints appreciate this? Possibly. Would I consider giving it to a kid? No, but I certainly wouldn’t wrest it from their grasp.

Dated, absolutely. A girl putting on pedal-pushers to play baseball? Oh, Please! Didactic? That too. Stopping in the middle of the action to explain about George Washington and his network of Revolutionary Spies? YAWN!

But on the other hand…and this is important to me. That girl IS playing baseball. With boys. Not very well, perhaps. But at no point did the author stop to say “because Pat was a girl”. Rather it’s more likely that this is because she’s played baseball only in her school’s gym, having just moved out from New York City to the suburbs; this is the first time she’s played proper baseball out in a field.

Not to mention the fact that the girl in question then wallops out a home run…which leads to the primary action of the book: discovering the treasure in the Revolutionary War-era home, which belongs to three of the four boys with whom she’s playing.

Or rather belonged, before the family lost it because they couldn’t pay the taxes, much less keep up the house in the way it needed to be–the furnace was, apparently, installed some time shortly after the Civil War, almost a century before this book was set.

(Rest assured, baseball has very little to do with the book. It’s about family pride, and settling in to a new neighborhood, and learning a bit about history while we’re at it. This is just what struck me about my copy of it.

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