I found a copy of this tale while on a book hunt in dusty barn trunks on an old southern piece of farm land. Here’s the official information:
- “Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak”
- Written by Lela E. Rogers
- Illustrated by Henry E. Vallely
- Originally Published in 1942
- Hardback, (originally came with a dust jacket)
- 288 pages
- One of the 16 ‘Whitman Authorized Editions’ about film actresses
The plot of this book is a typical WWII children’s “patriotic” spy-ring mystery. Ginger Rogers is a telephone operator in a swanky hotel, who gets involved in breaking a plot to steal American bomb technology. Romance is just as much of the book as the mystery though…handsome and rich men abound and vie for the affection of the little telephone operator.
My thoughts on it fall into a couple of categories:
Writing quality: It was written by a movie star’s mother (not an official author), and I was curious to see how it would measure up to the average child’s mystery of it’s day. It started out nicely and had the charm I love in that old style. As I kept reading I noticed an abundance of adjectives and extraneous details which made the quality plummet quickly. There were a lot of extra sentences and words explaining things that the reader would have automatically picked up on. A stiff edit could have made it a very pleasant read. Of course, I’m by no means a qualified critic of writing! 🙂
The Story: A simple mystery, easy to guess in a few parts, but fun for it’s intended audience. The thing that I loved most about it, was Ginger’s attitude towards her work. She has what many folks would consider a dull and tedious job: eight hours locked in a tiny room working as a switch-board operator for a hotel. In the middle of the night. Day after day. Year after year. Yet she is cheerful and never complains. On the contrary, she find great joy in preforming her job to the best of her ability. She has the old-fashioned pride in her work that is consistent both in old children’s fiction, and among the old folks that I know from that generation. But it is lacking among the fiction and people of this generation.
To them it seemed the occupation never mattered. The pride was in how the job was tackled—not in what it was. The converse is what I find emphasized in today’s fiction: make sure that the job is good enough, “you need to do what you love,” “find a job that makes you excited to wake up and work everyday,” “Is this job fulfilling?,” don’t be satisfied until you find the job of your dreams” and so on. Whereas the old books tend to whisper the message: “the secret is not in doing what you like, but in learning to love the job you have been given,” “cultivate an attitude that makes you grateful for your job, and a joy for others to be around,” and on and on. This is a topic I could use an abundance of adjectives on. And a few pages of proof and quotes from old books. 😉
The old books did encourage ambition and lofty goals, but not to the exclusion of quiet faithfulness, contentment, and pride in the ‘here and now’… The attitudes considered important stand in stark contrast to the “inspiring” Pinterest quotes and memes of today which sometimes are encouraging, but often tend to make people dissatisfied with their life instead of being grateful and tearing into the job with a ‘gung-ho’ attitude and a cheerful whistle ….
The romance and the mother/daughter relationship areas of the story, which made up most of it, weren’t good. Ginger is a Disney-princess “follow what your heart tells you about this man” sort of girl. She has a few good thoughts and evaluations (based on valuable listening to ‘intuition’ that would make Gavin de Becker proud), but mostly it’s unsubstantial. Not the sort of reading that turns little girls into strong or wise women.
I was pleasantly surprised. From these pages came unusual words such as:
Overall I don’t think it’s a very worthy book. I was curious to read it mainly because of it being written by Ginger’s own mother. The historical aspect of this series had me curious as well, and I wanted to understand and study a few things about these Whitman books, their popularity, etc. It was a fun study, and light reading. But not one I’d recommend searching out, or adding to little girl’s libraries.
The folks who might like it are book collectors, as well as historians and Ginger Rogers memorabilia collectors. And there’s a copy in at least one museum that I know of…
“We’ve just not been grateful enough lately,” Ginger said emphatically. “That’s what’s the matter with us.”
“I haven’t been, I know that,” Mary admitted.
“It’s not only you Mommie. It’s both of us. We’ve been too busy about our silly little affairs to be grateful for all our blessings. That’s why we’re all mixed up.” Ginger thought a moment, then went on, “What a thing for two people like us to do! Both of us know that gratitude opens the way to joy, yet here we are…!”
Both of the above books are currently available in the Box Thirteen Shop!