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Tom Slade on Mystery Trail

August 17, 2007

Usually when I read an old book I’ve bought, I think a little about what I’m going to write about it here. It’ a testament to how much I love the Tom Slade books that it wasn’t until I was practically done with Tom Slade on Mystery Trail that it occurred to me that I probably ought to post about it on my blog.

I first encountered Tom Slade and his author, Percy Keese Fitzhugh, in Tom Slade at Temple Camp, which was a gift from a friend, and he has since become my favorite boys’ series character. Fitzhugh wrote several other series about Tom’s boy scout friends, but Roy Blakeley, Pee-Wee Harris, and Westy Martin aren’t quite in Tom Slade’s league.

It’s hard to explain why Tom Slade is so cool. He’s sort of the strong, silent type, and he’s a little awkward with people sometimes. He’s the perfect boy scout, but he doesn’t always appear to be — like when he avoids saving a boy from drowning so that someone else can do it and get the badge awarded for saving someone’s life. He’s very low key, and I love that.

In Tom Slade on Mystery Trail, Tom isn’t the central character. He’s just helping out another boy, who, although he’s completely unlike Tom in personality, has that same selfless-boy-scout-honor thing going on. Hervey Willetts is one of those kids who obsesses over a project until it’s done and then forgets all about it. So his troop decides that he’s the ideal scot to win the Eagle badge — which, unlike today, simply involves winning 21 different other badges. But it’s just a few days until the Temple Camp awards ceremony, and Hervey is one badge short.

He almost got the tracking badge, but the tracks he was following were also being followed by Skinny McCord, the Bridgeboro troop’s newest — and weirdest — member. If Hervey claims the tracks, he gets the tracking badge and the Eagle badge. If Skinny does, he gets the tracking badge and becomes a second-class scout — pretty much the lowest honor there is, but Skinny’s really excited about it, so Hervey pretends he never saw the tracks and lets Skinny take the credit.

Hervey’s troop is really upset — they feel like he’s let them down, and they call him fickle because he says he doesn’t care about being an Eagle scout anymore. That’s because he’s been talking to Tom Slade, who understands that by the time a boy is a true Eagle scout, he doesn’t care about the honor anymore. It’s adorable, really. And then it turns out that Hervey has earned some kind of animal rescue badge without realizing it — because he never looks at his boy scout handbook — and is an Eagle scout after all, although no one would know if it weren’t for Tom Slade.

Also, there’s and oriole and a turtle who help Tom and Hervey rescue a kidnapped kid. But while that’s cute, the storyline about Hervey’s honor and self-sacrifice is even cuter.

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