Reading Time: 4 minutes
I can definitively say that I would not be the geek I am today were it not for two fictional boys named Danny Dunn and Alvin Fernald. Danny and Alvin were geeks themselves, though they were created years before the term "geek" popularly referred to anything other than the folks at carnivals who bit the heads off live chickens.
Danny Dunn was the main character in a series of books by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams (Abrashkin died after the fifth book came out, so Williams wrote the final ten alone). He wanted nothing more than to be a scientist when he grew up, and he hung out with his best friends Joe and Irene. His widowed mother was the housekeeper for Professor Bullfinch, who was Danny’s mentor and friend, and was constantly inventing things. Every book was an adventure, usually set in motion by Danny and his friends accidentally doing something with the professor’s latest invention. They were all a lot of fun, and, refreshingly for a series that ran from 1956 to 1977, the character of Irene was just as interested in science as Danny, and was frequently more knowledgable about it than he. It was Joe who was the poet, and who was baffled by all the scientific things going on about him.
Alvin Fernald was featured in a series of books by Clifford B. Hicks. He loved to invent things and to devise intricate schemes, driven to do so by his "Magnificent Brain." His best friend Wilfred "Shoie" Shoemaker always came along with him in his adventures, and his little sister Daphne, known to Alvin mostly as "The Pest," usually ended up saving the day. Every book involved some kind of problem, the Magnificent Brain coming up with a solution, the solution getting Alvin and Shoie into some kind of trouble, and The Pest helping them get out of it.
The books are mostly out of print at this point, but an Amazon.com search for Danny Dunn comes up with lots of cheap used copies, and there are new copies available of The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald and Alvin’s Secret Code. The books were somewhat dated even when I read them–consider the computer on the cover of the Danny Dunn book shown. But they sparked an interest in science, and invention, and in using creativity to solve puzzles. The Danny Dunn books even contain a lot of useful scientific knowledge–I still remember the mnemonic ("Oh be a fine girl, kiss me") for the classification of stars from one of the books, about 25 years after I last read it.
I would probably still be a geek today if I hadn’t read the books I’ve mentioned, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the same. They were better written and more scientific than the Hardy Boys books, I thought. I haven’t introduced my kids to them yet, but I plan to, and I have a feeling my daughter will like them almost as much as my son will.