Danny Dunn and the Random Futuristic Widget

As someone in a thread months ago summed up the series.

I was going to reply to this thread, but realized that I have so much to say, it would be a hijack. So here I go!

Uke, one nitpick: Irene was no one’s girlfriend. The kids were eternally thirteen, and anyway, a romantic pairing would have upset the dynamic of the trio. There was some friction in the story in which she was first introduced, which was resolved when Joe wrote her a poem (“Whose eyes are as blue as a new pair of jeans? Irene’s. Who will I pin up if I have to go into the army when I am eighteen? Irene.”) but after that, they were all friends of equal standing. Also, the inventor guy was Professor Bullfinch, who was described by Danny as “If he doesn’t know it, it’s not worth knowing.”

One thing I especially liked about the stories was how Danny was always screwing up, and it always came out better than okay.

Bullfinch: Bring me that whaddyacallit, Danny, and be careful not to drop it.

Danny: Okay. [drops the whaddyacallit]

Bullfinch: Oh, dear…well, accidents happen…Well, I’ll be! The whaddyacallit reacted with the hydrochloric acid when it fell! That’s just the effect I was unable to get after weeks of experimenting!

As I mentioned on the board a while back, I’ve ordered some of the books used from Amazon. I can understand why they haven’t been reprinted; technology has caught up to most of them and surpassed all of them. But for the most part, they were scientifically sound. Except for the anti-gravity paint and the smallifying machine (GMAFB), they were extrapolations of current technology. A lot of stuff in the automatic house is in common use today. And the invisibility device was not actually that, but a remote-controlled “insect” equipped with cameras and a microphone. We’ve almost come that far with surveillance, and the device was a lot like virtual reality. And the one with the satellite dishes that received a message from space reminded me so much of Contact. (That one was published in 1967, BTW. We’re still waiting…)

That said, I laughed for almost a full minute when Danny proudly demonstrated the computer that took up a whole wall, and held fifty thousand pieces of information!

Joe was an excellent sidekick. I loved his skepticism.

Danny: Okay, suppose you want to jump across a ditch—

Joe: Why?

Danny: What?

Joe: Why would I want to jump across a ditch?

Danny: You just do, okay? So you figure out how wide the ditch is, and then look in your memory to see how far you can jump, and compare the two to see if you can do it. Well, a computer can do that, but faster, and always accurately.

Joe: Okay. But I still don’t know why I’d want to jump across a ditch. Why can’t I just walk around it?

And Irene was just cool. I loved how she had a bit of a temper, and she was never in a maternal role. She was one of the two capable ones, often more so than Danny, who never looked before he leapt, and she didn’t have any of the timidity fictional girls usually had in that era.

And one thing I thought was a nice touch: they had an occasional antagonist by the name of Eddie “Snitcher” Phillips, and though he was a jerk, he was never shown to be dumb. He had a mechanical turn of mind, which is how he was so easily able to tamper with the computer, and although he cheated to win the school spelling bee, he was already good enough that no one suspected a fix.

Mr. Rilch read one of the books at my insistence. He adores the Three Investigators, and scoffs at Encyclopedia Brown, so I made a deal with him: I’d read one Jupiter Jones if he’d read one Danny Dunn. Haven’t been able to sway him on EB, though. Anyway, after he’d finished it, he asked, “What do you think became of them as adults?”

“…My guess is, Irene went to work at Los Alamos, and Danny got a job at NASA, where he stands around in the control room wearing a headset and looking anxious. Joe got drafted into the army, and when he got out, wrote a book about his experiences. He also hasn’t shaved or cut his hair since then, and the first time he went to visit Irene, he almost got arrested as a suspected saboteur.”

Wasn’t there a Danny Dunn book where they were stranded on a deserted island?


Going on an ancient (45+ or - years?) memory, they found themselves on Mount Desert Isle off the coast of Maine, and I seem to remember there being a good deal of canned goods involved. Danny collects cans, and they take over the house, and Professor Bulfinch suggests that he collects stamps instead. Or maybe that’s a different book.

Or maybe that’s a different character. But that’s my association with Danny Dunn and the Desert Island. Maine and lots of cans.

Yes. That was the second one. Bullfinch and his friend Dr. Grimes were arguing about something; I remember that this was led up to by Danny, his mom and Joe watching the two of them arrive on their light plane, which was jumping all around because, presumably, they couldn’t agree on the best way to approach for a landing. Anyway, each was insisting that he was more capable than the other, which ended with Grimes roaring, “I challenge you to a duel of desert islands!”


“What are you going to do? Throw them at each other?”

Not quite. The plan was for Bullfinch to spend two weeks on one island with Danny, and Grimes to spend two weeks on another with Joe, and see which one was better able to adapt to their surroundings. (Which I didn’t think was really an accurate gauge: they would each have had a teenager to do all the fetching and carrying; how was their endurance being tested?) Anyway, the plane crashed, and they all ended up on one island.

Except I don’t remember any collection of cans.

Hmmmm…I think you’re right and I’m wrong. I may be remembering another boys’ series about a character named Herbert Yadon. Or again I may be hallucinating this whole thing. Herbert wants to go to a desert island and his parents take a vacation on Mt Desert Isle ME, which is a poor substitute. I’m not sure how the cans figure in to all this.

I think I have some Googling to do.

How great is Google? Instead of wondering if I’ve lost my mind completely, I was able to locate a website that told me that there was a series about a kid named Herbert written by a woman named Hazel (Hutchins) Wilson (8 April 1898 - 20 August 1992)
Hazel Wilson was born in Portland. She lived on Munjoy Hill, just a few streets away from the Portland Observatory and attended Portland schools.

The Hill, as it is known in Portland, is the location of The Surprise of Their Lives, published in 1957. Wilson graduated from Bates College in 1919 and the following year earned a Master of Library Science from Simmons College. She returned to Portland where she was employed as the librarian at Portland High School from 1920 to 1923. Later, she was a librarian at the Northeast Missouri Teachers College (1923-1926), the American Library in Paris (1926-1928), and at Bradford Academy (1928-1929), and was supervisor of Denver school libraries in 1929 and 1930. Although her library career ended when she married, Wilson’s knowledge of children and books helped her create characters and plots that make her books appealing to both child and adult readers. She was also a book reviewer for publications in the Washington, D.C., area and was a lecturer at George Washington University from 1956 to 1967. She died in Bethesda, Maryland.

Wilson’s first book, The Red Dory was published in 1939, with a new edition released in 1959. Like many of her books, it was set in Maine. Other books with Maine locations are The Owen Boys (1947), Island Summer (1949), Thad Owen (1950), Tall Ships (1950), and His Indian Brother (1955), as well as the previously mentioned The Surprise of Their Lives (1957).Her son Jerry’s childhood experiences were the inspiration for Wilson’s “Herbert” series, which include Herbert (1950), Herbert Again (1951), More Fun With Herbert (1954), Herbert’s Homework (1960), Herbert’s Space Trip (1965), and Herbert’s Stilts (1972). Two other books influenced by her son’s adventures are Jerry’s Charge Account (1960) and The Three and Many Wishes of Jason Reid (1988).

No desert island stuff there, nor any cans, but I’m sure they’re there somewhere.

Meanwhile I remembered that I bought a copy of DANNY DUNN AND THE HOMEWORK MACHINE for my daughters when they were little, and I’m holding it in my left hand now (well, just while I was typing that last ‘w’), copyright 1958, and also listed are DD AND THE ANTI-GRAVITY PAINT, DD ON A DESERT ISLAND, DD AND THE WEATHER MACHINE, and DD ON THE OCEAN FLOOR.

Well, I’m sorry to say I’ve never heard of Hazel Wilson, but her stuff sounds interesting.

Meanwhile, check the link in the OP for the complete DD series!

There was also one with a time machine where they went back to colonial times and met Benjamin Franklin.

My favorite was the mechanical spy fly. That seemed so cool to me as a kid. I must be a closet voyeur or something.

The “homework machine” is almost comically quaint now. I can’t seeing internet generation kids being impressed by a slow, creaking monstrosity like that.

I seem to remember some sort of submarine as well. Where did Bullfinch get the cash for all this stuff and why didn’t he ever sell any patents?

Sorry for the hijack, Rilchiam. I got carried away trying to think of what I was trying to think of. I forgot the OP, your links, or that anything other than my wisps of memory existed for a minute there.

I’m going to reread DD and the HW machine, I think. Excuse me for a few minutes.

And that’s a cool link. I even found myself listed on it, for a part of a book I wrote in the 1980s and had almost forgotten about.

What was the name of this one? I don’t think it was mentioned in that linked site.

I think it was Danny Dunn: Invisible Boy. The remote control fly made them figuratively “invisible” so they could spy on people. I think there was like a whole helmet thing that went with it so the kids could see and hear everything the “fly” did.

Yup, see:

For a pic and comments, many backing up points mentioned above.

I don’t think the main problem was that Danny was clumsy or incompetent, it was that he was headstrong. They would say this a lot in the stories.

Although the story that got me started was Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective, which I found in a stack of library books someone had left in an apartment we moved in, the one that sticks out is Danny Dunn and the Swamp Monster, because it made me look smart in high school to already know about superconductors when the term started to become a buzzword.

I was a big fan the Danny Dunn series. I bought Danny Dunn: Scientific Detective from one of those school book sales and later read all I could find at the library during the summer reading program.

Here’s one, though. Did anyone else ever come across the record of the musical adaptation that was made from Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine? I still remember the chorus from the number Irene sang when her report on Peru was ruined…

“Peruvians live in Peru
Just like you’d expect them to do
Just like Romans live in Rome
And the (don’t remember) live in their homes
Peruvians live in Peru
Just like you’d expect them to do”

I had that record. I can still vaguely remember the chorus for the title song.

Yeah, the title song is coming back slowly and vaguely. Something about “Minnie” working while they sit in the shade.

Don’t remember any other songs, though.

This is what I love about the SDMB–collectively, we have nearly one fully functional brain between us.

BTW, Danny Dunn makes the argument (to his teacher, Miss Arnold, in DD AND THE HW MACHINE) that I’ve grown to despise: the (now) old “Why do I have do my homework myself when the machine does it better and faster, and I could do it if I wanted to, only slower and worse, and scientists use computers so why not kids?” argument. And she freaking concedes that he “has a serious point.” YOW!

pseudo: I understand your frustration, but the difference is (correct me if I’m wrong), your students want to take advantage of other people’s research, while Danny, Joe and Irene input the data themselves. They had to understand the material in order to program the computer, so they were basically doing a year’s work in a few days, as opposed to stealing the results, Laura K. Krishna style. And it seemed like a lot of their assignments only involved spitting back information, as opposed to analysis and drawing original conclusions.

So Miss Arnold called their bluff by giving them advanced textbooks. I’ve got my copy right here…

So I’m not sure it’s the same thing you’re up against. But if I’m wrong, I’ll concede.


Well, perhaps he did, and we just weren’t told about it!

Also, something I wonder about the “mechanical spy fly”. Two things seem off to me, but perhaps that’s because I’m looking at it from today’s perspective. First, it seems odd to me that the general would be Mr. Fumblethumbs when it came to trying out the device, but perhaps military types didn’t have as much techno proficiency in the early '70s as they do now. Secondly, Bullfinch was cautiously amenable to the idea of the device being used to spy on the enemy; it was only when the general suggested that it could also be used to spy on citizens that he refused to cooperate. Not that I blame him, but it seems to me that spying on Joe Lunchbucket, as opposed to an Al-Queda cells, would be a government decision, not military. But it was the early '70s, so of course the military was always bad and dumb, and the government not much better.