Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tom Stetson, Book 1 - and the Giant Jungle Ants

This is the first in a three-book series written by John Henry Cutler.  I picked up this book, along with books 2 and 3 in the series, all in dust jacket, while I was in Atlanta last month, and to be honest, the only reason I picked them up was because it was the complete series, the dust jackets (while not perfect) were beautiful and strong in color, and the final title in the series ("Blue Devil") made me laugh, as it is also the name of a DC Comics character from the '80s that I really liked.

So, I finally got around to reading the first book - and while I'm not normally much of a fan of boys' series, as they are usually more about adventure than mystery, I have to admit, I found this book to be rather unique.  First, while I am not overly familiar with Whitman books from this era (Copyright 1948), I was surprised to see that the dust jacket cover art literally covered the front, spine, and back!  It is a beautiful rendition of a scene from the book when Tom is attempting to rescue his uncle, who was captured by the natives in the Brazilian jungle.  It also details a number of jungle animals and plant-life (yet, noticeably, fails to render any image of the named "Giant Jungle Ants" from the title of the book).

There are a number of internal illustrations by artist Ursula Koering.  Surprisingly, a number of these illustrations show the barely dressed natives (the men wearing nothing more than a loincloth), which is certainly something you don't normally see in children's series books.

Thanks to information provided by James Keeline, I discovered that John Henry Cutler, the author (who is not credited on the cover, but only on the title page inside) is not a pseudonym, but an actual person.  The Tom Stetson series could very well be based upon his own travels through the Brazilian jungles, which would explain the amazing detail with which the author describes the wildlife, the fauna, and the natives of the jungle. Like the early Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books from the '30s and '40s, this first Tom Stetson book provides ample description of the settings and characters, putting clear and easy pictures into the reader's mind as he or she reads the story.

Now, the story itself was certainly not a mystery (the closest thing that comes to a "mystery" is when Tom stumbles upon a strange tall, round bamboo building with no doors or windows), it reads easily and there is plenty of suspense as Tom and his uncle ultimately have to trick the natives in order to rescue his uncle's adopted son, Manolo.  Tom and his uncle face the dangers of the jungle's wildlife, the poisonous plant life, and the very dangerous natives, the Tapintins.

The book is definitely a product of its time, with its innocent language and its numerous reference to Uncle Leo's work as a missionary and his desire to change the ways of the Tapintins from "savages" to more acceptable "Christians."  There is also some stereotyping, of Manolo, as well as the natives that they meet.  Something that is worthy of note is the author's use of real history within the story - when Tom asks about English explorers who have disappeared in the Brazilian jungles, his Uncle Leo tells him of Colonel Fawcett, and from pages 31 - 33, he tells the true-life tell of the Colonel, who disappeared in the jungles back in 1925 while searching for an alleged lost city.

This is a book I would definitely suggest to fans of children's series books, whether you like mystery or adventure, or both.  While I do buy some series books with uncertainty as to whether I will actually like them or not, this is one I am definitely glad I picked up!

RATING: 8 giant jungle tocandeiras (ants) out of 10 for keeping my interest and actually letting me enjoy a boys' series book.

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