Sad occasion prompts a “Happy (Hollisters)” recollection

I can still remember the excitement as the package arrived each month.

I’d come home from school to find a small brown cardboard mailer on the kitchen table. I’d rip it open and out would slide a book—another in the Happy Hollisters series of family-based mysteries.

While I still have all of the books I received packed in a box in our basement, I had not thought of them in quite some time—even though I would credit the series with instilling in me a love for reading that helped to launch my own writing career—until today.

That’s when our news-clipping service emailed an obituary to me. The obituary was of Helen Stroud Hamilton, a resident of Diakon’s Twining Village in Bucks County, Pennsylvania—and the illustrator of the Happy Hollisters books!

If I had only known, I would certainly have paid her a visit while at Twining Village—to let her know of the impact these books, written by Andrew E. Svenson under the penname Jerry West, had had on me early in life.

(It’s often the case in life that we miss these opportunities. Within the past year or two, two other obituaries I happened upon—one for the woman who mentored me in journalism, the second for a favorite high-school English teacher, both of whom, it turned out, had lived their final years in nearby senior care facilities—prompted me to sigh, If I had only known.)

The Happy Hollisters hardcover books were published between 1953 and 1970; my late father had purchased the series’ subscription service that brought the monthly book delivery to our home at a cost of $1 or $1.50 per title. I would say I began receiving the books probably around 1964 or so.

In total, 33 books were published with titles such as The Happy Hollisters and the Trading Post Mystery, The Happy Hollisters at Circus Island, The Happy Hollisters and the Secret Fort, The Happy Hollisters and Pony Hill Farm, and The Happy Hollisters and the Old Clipper Ship. Reportedly, the family of seven—two parents and five children who loved to solve mysteries—was based loosely on Svenson’s own family.

Mrs. Hamilton, a graduate of Wellesley College, taught design at the Philadelphia College of Art—now the University of the Arts—where she met her husband, William They married in 1950, shortly after which she was approached to illustrate a new series of family-based books.

In addition to illustrating The Happy Hollisters, Mrs. Hamilton was mother to three daughters and a son and was active in community issues. Her illustrations also appeared in numerous magazines and books.

The couple returned to Pennsylvania from Florida in 2000, settling at Twining Village. After he husband passed away 12 years ago, Mrs. Hamilton began teaching weaving and created beautiful tapestries until the day before she died, Nov. 22.

In doing brief research for this article, I was surprised to learn that The Happy Hollisters books, beginning in 2010, have been reissued in trade and eBook formats. There is even a website for them.

And so the impact the books have, along with that of Mrs. Hamilton’s wonderful illustrations, may well inspire another generation of young readers to pick up their pen or brush.

By William Swanger
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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  • The Happy Hollisters, in their Spanish translation, were my first literary love in the early 80s in Spain, starting a lifetime of reading. My heartfelt respect to Ms. Stroud’s memory . Her illustrations were also present in the editions I read.

  • I too loved the Happy Hollisters. And not only did I grow up to become an English rhetoric major with a journalism minor, I also married “Pete Hollister,” the oldest of a family of five children, whose dad owned a hardware store! I met him in a journalism class! Our son read my old copies of The Happy Hollisters. Ah, the circle of life!

  • Great post. The Hollisters very much have become a second family to me. Helen and Andrew created a happy escape (and love of reading) for thousands of kids around the world.

  • Great post, Bill. How frustrating when we discover such an important link too late. Thank you for sharing.

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