How many books have you hung on to since childhood? As the daughter of a librarian, my answer is, “not many.” I did hang on to my Scholastic Book Club copy of Marden Dahlstedt’s The Stopping Place, from fifth grade though. I recently came across my slim paperback story of a girl from Brooklyn forced to move to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens when her hippie family relocates. (The horror!)
I saved a few books from my childhood, but most of my favorites came from the library. I still remember the thrill when my mother showed me the rest of the Oz series under F BAUM, and I thought, “wait, there are MORE??” And thus my love of long book series began.
In The Stopping Place, thirteen-year-old Lissa moves to South Jersey with Barbara and Nils, her parents – of course referred to by first names – and their dog, Dewey. Lissa meets a boy, a new friend, and the “scary” old witchlike lady down the road who turns out to be a font of wisdom, books, and snark. The crisis in the book is a forest fire that the new friend accidently sets while they were *gasp* smoking during a sleepover, but no one is killed, no one goes to jail. Looking at it now, it is a sweet little story, with illustrations by Allen Davis.
Having been born and raised in the Garden State, I particularly liked the setting in the Pine Barrens. The cool, older boy works at Batsto Village, the Jersey Devil gets a mention, and Lissa and Mrs. G visit the cranberry bogs for a little lesson. I will say that almost 40 years later, the language does come across as a little hokey. with “gosh” and “this is really neat.” And oddly, she does make a point of Lissa missing going to Pizza Hut in Brooklyn with her friend. Personally I’d have made the pizzeria a local joint, rather than the chain founded in Ohio in 1955.
In 1978, I was in Mrs. Soskin’s fifth grade class. I remember Mrs. Soskin as being a tough teacher and what our classroom looked like. Fifth grade as the year we separated by gender to have the sex ed talk, and I remember Mrs. Soskin taping paper over our classroom door’s window.
I don’t remember how I found out that Ms. Dahlstedt lived on Long Beach Island, but our family had vacationed there for years, and I was so excited to try and go find her. Mind you, this is pre-internet, so tracking down a local author wasn’t easy. Somehow we found out that she worked at the library in Beach Haven? So my mother took me to the library to find her. When we first went there, she was not scheduled to work that day. So we went back a second time, and the person at the desk told us where to find her. She called down to us from the balcony where she was shelving books, and my mother hesitated. All this time, Mom thought that Marden Dahlstedt was a man! I knew it was the author. I don’t remember much about actually talking with her except that for once I couldn’t think of much to say. She signed her autograph in a little pad I had, and I was happy to tape it in the book when I got home.
Dahlstedt’s bibliography is slim, with only two other titles on Amazon. I guess you’d call them YA now, though in 1979 it was either Children’s or Adult as far as book classifications. The other books are also about young girls coming to terms with their place in the world: The Terrible Wave, about the Johnstown flood and Shadow of the Lighthouse, a historical coming-of-age tale.
From what I could find about the Dahlstedts, Marden volunteered at the Beach Haven Library on Long Beach Island, NJ during the summer, and was the school librarian at Beach Haven Elementary. Her husband, Dick, was a self-employed antiques dealer, printer, and long-time owner of “The Attic”, which featured collectibles and art glass, and apparently Marden wrote him into Shadow of the Lighthouse.
I’m also including the book’s dedication so that the fine folks who inspired this book don’t get lost in a back catalog. Now they’ll be indexed by Google and the story of the author of this book won’t get lost either.
After all these years, I’d like to think Ms. Dahlstedt would be proud of our efforts here at Cannonball Read, and and yes, I will always come back to the library.