I think I was in third grade when I received my copies of Key to the Treasure, and its sequel, Clues in the Woods. The books, by Peggy Parish with illustrations by Paul Frame, were a pair of mysteries starring three siblings, Liza, Bill, and Jeb.
My copies bear the Weekly Reader Book Club imprint. I remember reading and re-reading them many times as a kid.
I also remember, a few years later, finding another book in the series in a library. Turns out Parish wrote a total of six books in this particular series. From the descriptions of the plots, I think the book I found in the library was Pirate Island Adventure, which is actually the fourth book in the series. I remember being really disappointed by the book, primarily because the mystery solved in that book is nearly identical to the mystery in the first book.
It was probably also disappointing because the books seem clearly aimed at kids aged about 8 and under, and I was probably 11 or 12 when I found my third.
The books are currently out of print, so while I’m tempted to order the four volumes I don’t own, my choices are to spend either hundreds of dollars for old copies in “new condition,” or more reasonable prices for battered used copies.
Parish is, apparently, more famous for the Amelia Bedelia series, which I’d never heard of until I tried to track down information on these other books just this weekend.
I’ve re-read Key to the Treasure a few times as an adult (yes, including once this weekend). It doesn’t hold up too badly. The portrayal of the elderly Native America woman who had left a collection of “Indian artifacts” to the grandfather of the protagonist’s grandfather is a bit cringe worthy. And the artifacts themselves, representing a mish-mash of tribes—including the famous Gilligan’s Island Tropical Witch Doctor Tribe—is a bit more than cringe-worthy.
The dialog is a bit stilted, giving me flashbacks to my 1928 edition of a Hardy Boy’s mystery where the boys get scolded by their aunt because they got their ties messed up running home from school. Not sounding like the way real kids talked, even in 1966 when the first book was printed, but more like certain people thought children’s books should sound back then.
But I still enjoyed it. And even though I’ve read it a zillion times, enough years have passed since the last reading that I wasn’t certain how they were going to solve the puzzle. So at its heart the story still works.
And it passed the Lewis test. C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”