Friday, December 4, 2009

Ink Spells talks Tom Swift

My son, Dark Omen, started reading Tom Swift when he was six. We had several of the stories left over from Dad's youth, the only books he read as a child, according to him. Tom was a swashbuckling boy-genius inventor who, along with his wealthy family, owned Swift Enterprises and had access to all kinds of gadgets, labs, and explosive devices. Dark Omen's Dad grew up to be an engineer/inventor/basement tinkerer of explosive devices (I've promised the ATF that they are only rocket motors), so you can understand the attraction.

Unfortunately, the original Tom Swift books were hard to come by, once we finished the original six. We took to scouring garage sales, libraries and friend's childhood book collections, before turning to the modern day flea market known as Ebay. There, we were able to purchase an entire collection (nearly all of the 33 books), albeit one book at a time.

These lovely little tomes were the first books we found at our son's reading level that could be read without fear of teen angst, kissing or other "love stuff" as he puts it. Or excessive violence. All the gee-whiz rocket-ride fun of the original Tom Swift books reminds me of the Hardy Boys, if they were genius inventors with a really cool, and wealthy, Dad.

Once enamored with young Master Swift, we found that the Tom Swift books actually encompass 5 series over the course of nearly 100 years, with the first series appearing in 1910! I don't think even James Bond has that kind of staying power. Victor Appleton, it turns out, is a pseudonym which has covered a number of ghost writers. Some of the first series books have even entered the public domain and are text-available online.

RL: unknown but likely 5.5 - 7.0 CSM: n/a Rating: G Content: very mild peril

When I think of the Original Tom Swift, I'm actually referring to the second series which was published from 1954 to 1971, starting with Book 1, Tom Swift and His Flying Lab. This series captures the gosh-wow attitude of a nation enthralled with the rise of technology and the shot to the moon. The technology is fantastic and still technically accurate, and Tom Jr. is hip deep in inventing Damonscopes and flying suits for use with the Sky Queen, the titular Flying Lab.
Excerpt from The Flying Lab:
"What's this gadget?" Rip asked.
"The Swift Spectrograph," Tom answered, unable to keep the note of pride from his voice. "In a matter of a split second you can analyze anything, including radioactive ore."
"Well, all I can say is, congratulations." Rip grasped Tom's hand. "I'd call this a scientist's dream come true."

And these books are a parent's dream come true for their small budding scientists with advanced reading levels. However, the dream comes at a price. If you're lucky enough to have a library that stocks Tom Swift, or an uncle that saved them from his childhood, then you won't have to scour Ebay for them. But even if they are a bit pricey, they are treasures that found their way under Christmas trees for several years in our household.

RL: 4.8 - 5.7 CSM: 8+ Rating: G Content: very minor peril

Less exciting is the more recent incarnation of Tom Swift, young inventor, the fifth series of books. These books are updated for the 2006-2007 publication date, and are still in print, so you can purchase them through regular bookstores and on-line, but they are also watered down versions of the originals. Where the technology is more up-to-date, it is also less technically challenging for these eager young minds that want to know how the Swift Spectrograph works. The reading level is also substantially lower, which probably makes these books more accessible for the younger readers they are targeted to, ages 8-10.

I prefer the original Tom Swift books over the new ones, but any Tom Swift is probably better than no Tom Swift at all. Overall, I HIGHLY recommend these books for advanced readers ages 8+, and they are safe for really precocious readers as young as six.

Happy Christmas Shopping!


  1. Just had to stop by after reading your comments about boy books (at Natalie's). You're my kind of person!

  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    You are are woman after my own heart, with your writing and your boys . . . and now representation! Congrats on that!