The Three "R's"

Ramblings, Reflections, Reviews … From the "Pen" of William Land

My Favorite Christmas Memories: Judy Bolton and “The Secret of the Musical Tree”

My Favorite Christmas Memories: Judy Bolton and
“The Secret of the Musical Tree”

by William Land

As a life-long fan of children’s series books, I have read many of these novels since I was eight years old. I have thrilled to the adventures of the girl sleuths including Connie Blair, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, the Blythe Girls and Trixie Belden.

Boys designed for boy readers have also been part of my adventures: Ken Holt, Rick Brant and, of course, the Hardy Boys are among the collections I have devoured. Naturally, the tots, such as the Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters, have not been overlooked.

However, my favourite all-time series are the adventures of girl detectives Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton. I like each one for different reasons and cannot chose between them.

Both Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton feature young girls who investigate puzzling mysteries. Both girls are clever, resourceful, have a keen sense of right and wrong, and a zest for adventure. Both have loyal friends and a devoted beau.

Nancy Drew’s world is more “fantasy;” she doesn’t significantly age as the series progresses, has unlimited freedom and money and doesn’t go to school or work. Her life’s role is “amateur detective.” Nancy has loyal friends, especially cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne. She also has a “special male friend,” Ned Nickerson. Carson Drew is not wealthy, but provides a very comfortable lifestyle for his motherless daughter and himself.

Judy Bolton’s world is more “realistic;” she ages as the series progresses, is from a middle-class family, her parents are more protective than doting Carson Drew. Fortunately, Dr. and Mrs. Bolton do allow their daughter her freedom and trust her judgment. Judy works after high school graduation as a secretary and marries her long-time beau, Peter Dobbs. As the young wife to the young FBI agent, Judy continues to sleuth following her marriage.

The tagline, “A Judy Bolton Mystery,” proclaims the 38-volumes (1932-1967) mystery series by Margaret Sutton. She was a real person as author and not a book packager ghostwriter; i.e., “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories” by “Carolyn Keene,” 175-volumes (1930-2003). With the permission of Mrs. Sutton’s estate, the 39th final volume, The Strange Likeness, ©2012 was written by two long-time series fans.

The books from the original series publisher have been out-of-print for decades. However, again with the permission of Mrs. Sutton’s estate, Applewood Books reprinted the now 39-volume series in trade paperback editions which closely mirror the original format. These cherished stories are again available for long-time or new Judy Bolton fans of the 21st century.

Last week, I chanced to read about a young girl who is a 21st century Judy Bolton fan. She posted her short YouTube Judy Bolton video summary for others to discover. The URL for “Judy Bolton Mysteries by Margaret Sutton” is .

A favourite plot device or cliché in series books in series books for me is doubles, doubles, doubles! I am referring to look-alikes, twins, uncanny resemblances, impersonators, impostors, or whichever adjectives one wishes to use to describe people who coincidentally resemble or are intentionally created to be mistaken as our favourite heroines or heroes.

Those sleuths who search for valuable objects, especially jewelry or gemstones, are very appealing to me. A missing priceless or costly jewel or a cache of glittering baubles, and the tireless search of a young detective for these precious stones, is exciting to read.

Family and friendship is very important to me so those stories which centre around times with loves ones, especially during the Christmas season, resonate with me.

One of my all-time favourite series books is from the Judy Bolton series; #19: The Secret of the Musical Tree (©1948). In this story, Judy Bolton Dobbs is Christmas shopping in Cleveland. Twice that day, she is mistaken for her look-alike cousin.

To her astonishment, Judy learns that Roxy Zoller and her father were in a plane crash. Callers to their home are met by a new housekeeper and not permitted to see them. Judy and Roxy had made plans since meeting to spend their first Christmas together (their mothers were long separated as told in #14: The Clue of the Patchwork Quilt, ©1941). But, as the holiday draws closer, Roxy is incommunicado except for sending Judy a Christmas present, in the form of a musical tree which plays a Christmas carol. Included with the gift is a strange message: “Hi, Cousin, Hope this arrives on time. Wish I were you this Dec. 23.” (page 81).

Judy deduces that she is to gain access to the Zoller residence by ladder. As instructed, the red-haired young bride braves a winter storm and travels to that home and climbs into Roxy’s bedroom at the stroke of midnight. The cousins trade identities and Judy is left alone with the criminals.

The new “housekeeper” at the Zoller home is really a cunning villainess, Tess Mendez, who quickly becomes suspicious of “Roxy!”  She and her cohorts challenge the young detective to fool them about her impersonation while hoping for rescue.

The cover illustration and frontispiece of this book, the last of prolific Judy Bolton series artist, Pelagie Doane, are exceptional. The charming scene on the cover accurately mirrors the text: Judy, her erstwhile ward, Roberta Dunn, and two of Roberta’s chums are shown on the cover at the bay window in the living room of the Dobbs home. The characters are attractively and accurately depicted, but Judy, in her signature brown because it “makes her hair seem less red,” is too tall. Through the window, the falling snow conveys the message that it is the winter season (page 76).

The inside illustration shows Judy and Roxy in the latter’s bedroom. Judy is dressed in Roxy’s night clothes and her cousin is framed in a bedroom window on the outside ladder. Judy is tugging at the window shade and draperies, whispering to the other girl to “be quick” because “someone is coming!” (page 116).


This is one of the few Judy Bolton novels I read as an age appropriate reader during the 1970s. I didn’t have access to many of the Judy Bolton series when I was a child. The series was out-of-print by the early 1970s and the publisher was only selling remainder stock to bookstores.

One of my classmates owned this book (and the previous one in the series) and she loaned both to me. I was lucky that some of my classmates, mostly girls, read the series books and we loaned them to each other.

This story captivates me every time I read it – once every few years – I love it that much. It is also one of the few children’s series books where the plot isn’t too implausible – these events could have happened in real life.

This December, I re-read this beloved book again. I continue to be charmed by this thrilling adventure. Judy Bolton proves she’s a loyal friend and relative to Roxy and that girl’s father by staging their rescue. In the spirit of Christmas and the with the magic of the holiday season, Judy, her husband, Peter, and their immediate and extended family gather, as planned, to celebrate Christmas Day together.

The conclusion of this novels warms my heart. Like Judy, I believe that, whenever possible, families and other loved ones should be together at Christmas. Judy Bolton proves this dream can be realized in this Christmas adventure.

Until another Christmas season, when I want to revisit #19: The Secret of the Musical Tree, I shall return my book to its proper place among the other 38 books in this captivating series to be discovered again when I must revisit the musical tree and its holiday secret.


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