Recalling Favorite Fictional Reads of the 60s: Charlotte\’s Web, The Boxcar Children — And the Much Less Popular “Maida Series”

By Anne Holmes
NABBW’s Baby Boomer Expert

I just read that it\’s been 60 years since E. B. White published Charlotte\’s Web. Hard to believe that wonderful classic is that old.

But reading about this got me thinking about some of the other books I read back in grade school – or as they call it now, “middle school.”

Charlotte, and a mystery series by Gertrude Chandler Warner called “The Boxcar Children” were among my favorite reads at this time. I liked them better than The Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew.

But truth be told, there was another series, also initially published at least 60 years ago, that I enjoyed more, though they weren\’t available in my school library and none of my friends seemed to know of it. Which meant this series was an early “guilty pleasure,” I guess.

My favorite books of this time frame were several stories about a “poor little rich girl,” Maida Westabrook. Like the Bobbsey Twins and the Nancy Drew books, all of the Maida books had a commonality to their titles: They were all called “Maida\’s Little (Something)”.

Written by the feminist author Inez Haynes Irwin over a period of several decades, they have recently been re-released. I hope the new versions have not been upgraded to reflect current times, as was done with the Bobbsey Twins series.

I mean, when Irwin wrote these books between 1910 and 1955, there was no Internet, no cell phones, no stereos or boom boxes – literally none of the technology we take for granted today. If radio or TV were ever mentioned in them, it wouldn\’t have been as ubiquitous as it is today. Which means kids reading the books today will think they are reading a reflection of ancient history. So I hope the new releases have not been “re-engineered” to involve today\’s technology. Doing so would mean too much of the original innocence would have to change.

The Maida books weren\’t popular in the 60s, though the other books I\’ve mentioned were. I only knew about them because I found the cache of dusty old books stacked in a corner of my grandmother\’s basement. And despite their slightly yellowed pages and musty smell, I started devouring them.

In addition to enjoying them for their entertaining plots, I learned a lot of new words from them. Words that are no longer used much today. Like “financier,” which is what Maida\’s father was said to be, “valise,” and “roadster.” (Maybe even “lap robe.”)

But I digress: The main character, Maida Westabrook, was the only child of “Buffalo” Westabrook a millionaire in the style of Little Orphan Annie\’s “Daddy Warbucks.” “Buffalo” was extremely benevolent, creative and generous, but actually didn\’t live with Maida, as I recall.

Seems he was always off doing “financier things,” but since he was a “mega-gazillionaire,” he was able to bring people into Maida\’s life who kept her company and assisted her.

And she did need help. As I recall, in the early books Maida was lame as a result of an unnamed illness, (was it polio?) and she needed to find something to occupy her time, since she couldn\’t play or go to school.

So in the first book, “Maida\’s Little Shop,” Buffalo buys her a cute little store that has caught her interest. He sets everything up for her to run it, and hires someone to cook and look after her. Soon she meets other young people from the neighborhood, with whom she quickly makes friends.

Eventually she and the friends go on to have many amazing adventures. I only had access to about four of the books, but Irwin actually wrote 15 books in the series. (And yes, historians agree she wrote them all herself. There was no “cottage industry,” working under a pen name, as happened with the Drew books and many other series.)

Of the Maida books I read, my favorite was “Maida\’s Little School,” written in 1926. In this one, Maida and her friends discuss how they don\’t like attending school, and as a result, Buffalo talks to their parents and arranges for them all to take a year off.

They go off to live together -my recollection says they went to spend a year in a cottage – but I can\’t be sure that was the scenario. Though I am pretty sure there was a lake involved. Somehow Buffalo manages to send three youngish adults into their sphere, and a good time is had by all.

It\’s only at the end of the year that Maida and her cohorts realize that over the course of the year they have studied many subjects without knowing that they are actually going to school. (You know, they learned fractions by cooking and baking, etc. And yes, the three adults were certified teachers, and all the parents were in on the charade.)

I wish I still had my Maida books. Does anyone else remember reading them?

As "Boomer in Chief" of the National Association of Baby Boomer Women, Anne is passionate about educating, empowering and enriching the lives of women in their middle years. Actively involved with a number of Boomer-focused organizations and committees, she keeps a steady finger on the pulse of this spirited generation, with the goal of helping you to enjoy life, stay healthy and live lives that are rich in every sense of the word. Anne is often interviewed by the media and in addition to writing on behalf of the NABBW, she publishes www.BoomerWomensWorld.com and blogs at www.BoomerLifestyle.com