Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue Hollister visit Florida three times during The Happy Hollisters series and no one who has ever visited the Sunshine State could blame them! With its sunny skies, gorgeous beaches, and a vast menagerie of unique wildlife, Florida is equal parts thrilling and relaxing. While author Andrew Svenson may have taken some liberties with place names and map details while writing The Happy Hollisters under the pseudonym Jerry West, his three Florida-based books still take readers on a fun and educational road trip through the state.

Clowning Around in Sarasota

The Hollisters’ first Florida adventure takes place in colorful “Circus Island,” which Svenson based on the city of Sarasota. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota served as the winter home of the Ringing Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for many years, beginning in 1927. During the winter months, circus performers—and their animals—would flock to sunny Sarasota to practice their acts and prepare for the upcoming season. This meant that for Sarasota residents, an elephant or clown might be an everyday sight! Until 1997, Sarasota area was even the home of the first “clown college” in the United States. Here, clowns like the Hollisters’ new friend Peppo from The Happy Hollisters at Circus Island, could hone their silliest skills.

While the circus may not be active in Sarasota today, the rich history is still very much alive. Visitors to Sarasota can learn more about the city’s role in the “greatest show on Earth” by visiting the Ringling Circus Museum, which has displays covering everything from creative costumes to old circus equipment. The nearby Ca’d’Zan estate, formerly owned by circus magnate John Ringling, shows off the fancier side of circus life. Guests can visit the luxurious waterfront home to see how one of America’s wealthiest men lived during the glory days of the Sarasota circus.

Lift Off in Cape Canaveral

Another must-see stop on a Florida road trip is “Cape Kennedy,” the setting of The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery at Missile Town. Once again, Svenson drew on a real city while writing his fictional adventures, this time using Cape Canaveral on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Cape Canaveral has been the launching point for many missile and rockets missions, with the first rocket launch from Cape Canaveral taking place in 1950. Today, over 135 space missions have been launched from Cape Canaveral, including historic space flights like the one that put the first woman in space in 1983. They don’t call this part of Florida the “Space Coast” for nothing!

Cape Canaveral was known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973; the name was changed after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, intended to honor his contributions to getting Americans to the moon. The change was unpopular with the area’s residents, however, and was later changed back, although the Kennedy Space Station still honors the former president in name.

Exploring the Everglades

Finally, head south to the wild Everglades in The Happy Hollisters and the Sea Turtle Mystery. A 1.5-million-acre swath of swampy wetlands near Miami in southern Florida, the Everglades is home to some of Florida’s most interesting wildlife. Visitors can see everything from manatees to alligators and might even catch a glimpse of a highly endangered Florida panther. The Everglades and other nearby wetlands are also home to a variety of turtles, as the Hollisters learn when they help a local Native American tribe thwart the efforts of sea turtle poachers.

Search for Shells on Sanibel and Captiva Islands

Two fictional islands called Santabella, and Captive Island also play roles in The Sea Turtle Mystery. Svenson based these on the real-life islands of Sanibel and Captiva, which are both known for their beautiful seashells. Like Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue do in the book, visitors to the islands can search for shells like the pink rose murex, the uniquely spotted Chinese alphabet cone, or even a big lion’s paw shell. Looking for shells can mean spending hours combing carefully through the sand, but with the bright sun and white beaches, it’s easy to pass an entire day at Sanibel or Captiva Island.

Visit Florida with The Happy Hollisters

Whether you’re interested in the circus, shell collecting, or the history of space flight, these books show that Florida has something for everyone. Even if a trip to Florida isn’t in your future, you can still take an armchair tour of the state by reading The Happy Hollisters at Circus Island, The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery at Missile Town, and The Happy Hollisters and the Sea Turtle Mystery. These three exciting mysteries are available individually or as part of The Happy Hollisters 3-Book Florida Collection.

by Libby Svenson Kennedy


Research notes, Andrew Svenson Archives of The Hollister Family Properties Trust







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