The first four volumes in The Happy Hollisters series were originally released on August 3, 1953. The set was written by author Andrew Svenson under the pen name Jerry West on behalf of his employer, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a well-known book packager in the children’s publishing market. Other Stratemeyer series that Svenson was involved with included the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew.
The Happy Hollisters starter set, published by Doubleday & Company, included The Happy Hollisters, The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip, The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach, and The Happy Hollisters and the Indian Treasure. By releasing all four volumes at once, the sales team at Doubleday would be able to determine whether those first four books generated enough excitement and adventure to hook young readers and warrant continuation of the series.
Apparently it worked. Within six months, letters of appreciation from children—and notes of gratitude from their parents—began to arrive at the Doubleday office in New York almost daily. Each letter was answered with a personalized reply. This exchange between Dick V. and his mother and Jerry West is a typical example from 1954.
As the number of titles in The Happy Hollisters series increased, so did the number of letters from children. They asked questions about the plots, told which characters they liked best, and suggested locations and themes, but above all, the young readers wanted more books! Andrew Svenson obliged them with new Happy Hollisters stories, and the children continued to write letters, which were now arriving by the dozens each day.
The Happy Hollisters series ended in 1971 with The Mystery of the Midnight Trolls, but fan mail continued to arrive at Doubleday. Even after Andrew Svenson’s death in 1975, the Stratemeyer staff continued to respond to the letters for a couple of years. Eventually, the task was handed over to Andrew’s widow, Marian, who was given a supply of letterhead and the entire archive of past letters and responses to use as a guide for replies.
By the early 1980s, the series had been out of print for almost 10 years, and the fan mail slowed to a trickle, then stopped. The box was sealed and put away. It made the move from New Jersey to Florida when Marian relocated, and then to daughter Laura’s Florida home when Marian moved back north. Then the box was put in the deepest, darkest corner of a spare bedroom and forgotten.
Until 2019. Then, just when the final book in the series was being reissued in paperback, Laura was preparing to downsize and move. She discovered the sealed box and gave it to her nephew, Andy Svenson III, the publisher of the reissue project.
Andy and his wife, Callie, began to read through the box of letters and realized what a goldmine it was, filled with more than 2,000 amusing and sometimes poignant letters from young Happy Hollisters fans. With the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, they thought that maybe reaching out to some of these letter-writers would be a way to spread some happiness and joy at a time of uncertainty in the world. Plus, they had some downtime on their hands. So the sleuthing began.
One by one, Callie and Andy started tracking down current addresses—not an easy task, particularly with names changes due to marriage and numerous address changes over several decades. So far, they’ve sent out hundreds of letters and have received replies from more than 30% of the recipients (not a bad batting average!) As you might expect, the recipients have been “flabbergasted,” “over the moon,” and “shocked” to receive a copy of a letter they wrote so many years ago, along with the news that the books are back in print.
Dick V. was one of the first people to reply to Andy’s “blast from the past” letter. He now goes by Rich, and sent this email:
“I was amazed when I got your letter along with copies of the letters that we exchanged with your grandfather long ago! They took me back all those years ago to a happy time.
“Thank you for the background on the stories. Very cool. I think that it’s great that you are reissuing all the volumes in modern format and that the series is alive and well. Hopefully the kids of today will enjoy them as much as we did!
“Thank you so much for finding me and sending the letters. I loved reading them. I’m sure my brother and sister will enjoy seeing them also. My mom passed away in 2005 but I’m sure that she’s looking down on us enjoying them too!
“Thank you again for this ‘blast from the past!’”
We’ll be sharing updates on this very rewarding time capsule project as we receive them. Stay tuned! And keep those letters coming—we still answer every letter or email we get.
Write to The Happy Hollisters, 2990 Northfield Drive, Tarpon Springs, FL 34688 or send an email to email@example.com.