The Tuckers, the rollicking family of five created for Whitman Books by "Jo Mendel" (a pen name for several writers including Gladys Baker Bond), are just one of a long series of families/groups of children involved in adventures, from E. Nesbit's Victorian Bastables to the ever updated Bobbsey Twins to the Happy Hollisters.
There were thirteen Tucker books written in the early 1960s, starting with "The Wonderful House," the book in which the Tuckers move from their crowded city apartment in Castleton to the smaller town of Yorkville, where they take residence in the big house on Valley View Avenue and where Bill Tucker goes to work for his dad in the family store, Tucker's Town Talk.
Bill Tucker--"Father" to the five Tucker children, he now runs the Yorkville variety store, Tucker's Town Talk, with his father, after working for several years in a department store in Castleton. Bill is tall and dark haired, and like all series' dads, seems to have endless time to help with his children's school projects. However, he encourages the kids to be independent and think for themselves. (For some inexplicable reason, Bill is named Jim in The Wonderful House.)
Lois Tucker--Like most mothers in these children's series, Mother is a stay-at-home mom, but that doesn't mean she sits home watching television all day long. She's on various school committees, including the entertainment committee, and of course rides herd on the five Tucker children and takes them to various practices and activities in the family station wagon. Life with her children is so hectic Bill at least once takes her away for a peaceful vacation to get her some well-deserved rest. She is short and slender, with blond hair.
Tina Tucker, age eleven, is the eldest of the Tucker children, tall, blond, and always capable. In the opening books of the series, she seems to see herself as a little mother, loves to keep tidy and bake (one of her goals is to be as good a cook as her Grandmother), and is very responsible for her younger brothers and sister. In the later books she appears to start going through the early pangs of adolescence and gets on a "high horse" about many things. However, Tina is never a bore: on several occasions has proven herself only human. A natural leader, she is involved in many school activities. She also plays piano and writes poetry.
Terry Tucker is the elder of the Tucker twins; he and his sister Merry are both nine. Terry is sturdy, athletic, and loves sports, especially baseball. Jim Jackson, a neighbor's high school son who plays baseball, basketball, and football, is one of Terry's great heroes. Often ingenuous, Terry comes up with ideas to help his siblings in their adventures, and enjoys building things such as bookshelves up in his attic workshop. He also loves testing out Tina's new recipes--and despite their occasional rivalries, stands by his twin. Indeed, he and Merry often play on the same teams if they can. Terry plays trumpet in the unofficial family "band."
Merry Tucker, dark-haired (she wears her hair in long braids) and blue eyed like her twin Terry, is somewhat of a tomboy. Although she loves the results of Tina's cooking and on special occasions enjoys dressing up, Merry likes action, including baseball, sailing, and other sports, and can hold her own, despite Terry's teasing. She's quite devoted to her twin brother, even if often they do act like the stereotypical "cats and dogs." Merry's other talent is music: she plays the violin and often participates in school and church concerts.
Penny Tucker is the youngest of the Tucker girls. She is small and slender, with long blond hair, and is seven years old. She loves romping with her brothers and sisters, but because she is prone to colds more than the other four, she is often left standing on the sidelines while they exert themselves, a fact that makes her very unhappy. Penny is a tender, gentle little girl who still loves playing with her large collection of dolls, but longs to join in both the domestic tasks Tina loves and the fun games of Terry, Merry, and Tom. She's very empathic to other people's problems, an attitude that often leaves her in a fix.
Tom Tucker, almost five, is the youngest Tucker child, but it has not left him with an inferiority complex! While he realizes he is not old enough to do things that the older children can, Tom makes up for it by being observant and thoughtful. His ideas sometimes show the problem-solving thoughts of a much older child, but at the same time is a typical four-going-on-five year old who can misunderstand people's words and intentions. Tom, with light brown hair, is stronger than Penny and almost weighs as much as she does because of her health problems; occasionally he takes care of her like a much older child.
Toby is the Tucker family's big shaggy black-and-white dog; he looks a lot like an Old English sheepdog, but he has a tail and long floppy ears. One wonders how the Tuckers kept big, romping Toby in a city apartment, as the big dog seems to be everywhere at once. Toby is a loveable mutt who adores the kids and would wander the neighborhood and make friends with everyone if allowed, but his bad habits--
Sugar is the family's black tomcat. While Sugar loves the family and even big woolly Toby, he is not so friendly with the neighbors' cats and is frequently battlescarred from his fights. Sugar seems to take the rest of life with the Tuckers in a contemplative manner and the family takes him along on all their excursions, even to their summer cottage on Lake Annabelle. Belying the "cat and dog" myth, he gets along with woolly Toby just fine.
Grandpa Tucker--Bill's dad is a big, booming elderly man who still has no trouble running Tucker's Town Talk on his own. He has a deep bass voice that seems to be manifesting itself in his youngest grandchild.
Grandma Tucker fits the bill of the typical series grandmother: she is a terrific cook and seamstress, and certainly someone you could run to for a good cuddle.
Jim Jackson, the high-schooler who is a neighbor of the Tuckers, has taught the older Tucker boy the fine points of baseball playing. He's a sports whiz and is star of baseball, football, and basketball at Yorkville High School. He works at Pitchers' Grocery after school and during the summer.
Mel and Butch Smith--Really Melvin and Rodney, these two boys live on a farm near the Tuckers' cottage at Lake Annabelle. Their parents, Bob and Lucy Smith, moved from the city to the country when they started to fear Mel and Butch would get involved with gangs. Both of them have white-blond hair, but Mel, the younger boy, just a little older than Penny, has blue eyes while Butch, who is Terry and Merry's age, has brown eyes.
Yorkville--The Tuckers' new house is in this small (pop. 50,000) midwestern town on the shores of Lake Annabelle. One of the founders of Yorkville was Grandpa Tucker's grandfather, who started the town's first blacksmith shop. His son, Grandpa Tucker's father, founded the family variety store, Tucker's Town Talk, in 1898. On the square in Yorkville, the Town Talk shares business space with the town courthouse, Walker's Drugstore, a newsstand, the Acme Cafe, the Bijou Theatre, Watson Brothers' Florists, a hardware store, a grain-and-feed store, a dress shop, Steppins Garage and filling station, Yarborough Dry Goods Emporium, and a dime store. Yorkville also boasts a motel, a municipal swimming pool, and a railroad station.
The Tuckers' big house at 222 Valley View Avenue (at the edge of town) used to belong to the Swift family; Bob Swift, now a famous author, was Bill Tucker's best friend. Downstairs there is a long living room the length of the house, a study, a dining room, and the kitchen. Upstairs is the bathroom, rooms each for Tina, Merry and Penny, Tom and Terry, and Mother and Father, plus a sewing room, playroom, and a sleeping porch. Plus there is an attic where Terry sets up a woodworking shop, and a stone-foundation basement. It has a big front porch and is surrounded by a big yard and has an old coachhouse that was converted into a garage. Their neighborhood consists of Pitcher's Grocery, their neighbors (the Turners, the Haines, the Millikans, the Browns, the Jacksons, the Corbetts) and the playfield, which borders on the Tuckers' backyard. Since there are no streets to cross on the way to the playfield, the children are allowed to go there any time. The Tucker children go to the Mitchell Grade School on Lincoln Avenue; Yorkville also has a new high school.
Castleton--The family used to live in this big city not far from Yorkville. There is an Army base near Castleton as well.
Lake Annabelle--The Tuckers have a summer cottage on the other end of this large lake that also touches Yorkville. It is surrounded by other summer cottages as well as small farms like those belonging to the Smiths.
The first nine Tucker books are the full-size Whitman books typical to anyone of the late 1930s to 1970s who ever bought these inexpensive hardback books. (Early Whitman books had dustjackets, but this practice had disappeared by the 1950s when the shiny or matte covered artwork covers became the standard. These books were printed on inexpensive paper and are now typically yellowed or browned if kept in a warm area.) The spine of each of these Tuckers books were a different color. They run a uniform 282 pages except for the final two, with the text at about 12 or 13-point type, and the endpapers have stylized silhouettes of the children playing on them; the color used for the silhouettes is also the color used for the line drawings inside the books.
As mentioned earlier, the Tucker books had different authors, perhaps as many as three. One site I have seen mentions that Gladys Baker Bond wrote the books from The Cottage Holiday onward. It's pretty easy to distinguish the writing styles by the actions of the children; in the early books they pretty much stuck together. If they quarrelled, it wasn't for too long. In the later books, perhaps whomever did the editorial duties felt the children were just "too good," because it seems they are always having disagreements in Tell a Tale of the Tuckers, The Turn-About Summer, and Here Comes a Friend, and Tina goes from a friendly, if occasionally bossy eldest sister, to an occasonally annoying pre-teen who gets into snits. According to Writer's Directory, Mildred Geiger Gilbertson wrote the following Tuckers books: Trouble on Valley View, Adventures of Plum Tucker, Tell a Tale of Tuckers, Turnabout Summer, and One Big Happy Family.
It's my own theory, however wrong it may be, that some third person wrote both The Cottage Holiday and That Kitten Again! Both focus on Penny and are not only more gentle, but are more introspective than the other seven books.
Due to the multiple authors, it appears, the novels are written in a kind of chronological order, but one that's extremely loose. The first book takes place in spring, but then The Special Secret implies the family is spending the entire summer at the cottage at Lake Annabelle, while the third book tells us the children are spending their "entire summer" with an aunt and uncle in Oregon. In Trouble on Valley View, Penny declares she hasn't been sick once all winter, although it doesn't appear the Tuckers have been in Yorkville that long, and in the very next book, Cottage Holiday it is winter, and Penny has had a cold! (Also, Tom, bored at not being in school in Trouble on Valley View, leads a march along with another kindergarten girl in the school Christmas pageant in Cottage Holiday.) Yet in the following book, it's fall, Thanksgiving takes place, and it's time for Christmas again. Also, although we go through several summers, birthdays are never celebrated; indeed the children never do seem to age...
The nine full-size novels were followed by four "Tell-a-Tale Books," which were written for younger children, with correspondingly larger print and only 92 pages. I own two of the four; all titles are listed below. All of them seem to have been written in 1965.The Novels
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