Sinbad and us

She is probably the only teacher I had whose name I cannot recall, which is a pity because she brought me together with hands down the best young adult mystery book I ever read. Her classroom at Enatai Elementary in Bellevue was at the south end of one of the halls and on the west side. She was an older woman with a pile of gray hair and glasses and lots of chins and a scowl. I don’t remember her as unkind, just serious. This was sometime during fifth grade, I believe, and it may be that by that time we had a homeroom teacher and then got shipped out for particular subjects. If so, this grand old dame was my “language arts” teacher. Her name might have been Smith.

The way I remember it I was having trouble choosing a book to read for a particular assignment, and Mrs. Smith, if that was her name, assigned me Sinbad and Me by Kin Platt. I remember that the first thing I thought when I went to the Bellevue Public Library to check the book out was that it was intimidatingly thick. I was lazy and didn’t want to read that much.

But Mrs. Smith had read me right, and Sinbad and Me turned out to be thoroughly my book. It had everything I wanted in a story: a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old mystery, the ghost of a sea captain, a spooky old house on a cliff, pirate treasure, secret passages and secret codes, riddles written on gravestones, a friendly but sad old lady with a secret past, a dangerous tidal cave, and invisible ink! And the hero was a twelve-year-old boy. Actually the hero was his pet English bulldog Sinbad. They solved the mystery together.

An old friend.

The edition I read was a hardback with a library binding in which the jacket illustration had been pasted or laminated permanently on the front. The illustration showed a caricature of a boy who reminded me of Ron Howard — Opie from The Andy Griffith Show — hunched over an old tombstone writing something on a notepad with a big bulldog at his feet.

Years later I wanted to find that book again, for auld lange syne, because I’m sick that way. After the Internet came out (“the Internet! Is that thing still around?!” — Homer Simpson), but long before I had children — even before I was married — I looked it up on the pre-Amazon Bibliofind and discovered that it was out of print. Way out of print, like if you could find a ratty paperback you’d pay sixty to seventy-five dollars, and if you wanted the hardback copy with a tattered jacket you’d have to lay out upwards of three bills. Too steep for me.

I decided to wait until it was reprinted. It would have to be reprinted, right? Why wouldn’t it be? As soon as comments were invented for the Internet (“the Internet!…”), I learned that everyone who ever read the book shared my fondness for it. Everyone asked when it would be published again. People said they had children that were ripe for it and they were desperate to find an affordable copy. By lurking on eBay in the days when I had time to do that, I managed to snag first edition copies of two of the sequel books, The Mystery of the Witch Who Wouldn’t (1969) and The Ghost of Hellsfire Street (1980), but these were not cheap, and still Sinbad eluded me.

Life got busy and I forgot about Sinbad for a while, but by chance a year or two ago I encountered a website run by Christopher Platt, son of the author and the inspiration for Steve Forrester, the dog-owning narrator of the story. His posts chronicled the sad tale of his unsuccessful attempts to get his father’s books reprinted. Apparently he holds the rights to most of them (the author died in 2003), but publisher after publisher has turned him down, saying that the Steve Forrester and Sinbad books wouldn’t be big sellers today, despite the apparent legion of people my age who are looking for them and the fact that Sinbad and Me won the 1967 Edgar Award for best children’s mystery. Some good news came eventually from Christopher that some of Platt’s long-unavailable adult crime fiction was going to be reprinted. But that just made the wait for Sinbad and Me that much more intolerable.

Steve and Sinbad at it again. This one I don't have to return.

I recently did searches in the Seattle Public Library system, which doesn’t list the book, and in the King County Library system, which supposedly had one copy, but as a Seattle resident I am ineligible to borrow from the King County system, even if the book were sitting on the shelf. Which it’s not. It’s in some warehouse hold bin somewhere — probably an underground vault watched by armed guards and a three-headed dragon. It’s probably perpetually checked out. I imagine that the book is listed as “missing” on a lot of library databases.

I asked a librarian blog-pal for help (tip o’ the hat to Librarian Girl), and she suggested I try an interlibrary loan, in which Seattle Public Library would send a rider on a fast horse out to all the libraries in the land, asking if they had the book and if SPL could borrow it for a teensy bit because they had a patron with a fever. If the quest was successful, I would pay a fin for their efforts, if not, not.

Five bucks for a chance to read Sinbad and Me to Mara seemed like a good deal, so I signed up right online (“the Internet!…”). More than a month and a half went by and I had honestly given up hope, but the book eventually turned up in the Danville Public Library in Illinois.

!

Danville was willin’, so a few days ago I got word from SPL that my book was waiting for me behind the counter at the Central branch and that I could have it for a month, no renewals.

I’m reading it to Mara and she loves it. She’s a little young for it, but by the time she’s twelve the book may have completely vanished from the earth. The narrator’s best friend is a girl named Minerva who’s smarter than he is and can run faster, so there’s a good female role for her to identify with, but she would do fine even without that. She has an uncanny ability to absorb the meaning and import of things read to her that many kids wouldn’t be able to listen to for five minutes.

The best part? The version they handed me at the library is a first edition and so has the original jacket on it, which means we get the whole, unadulterated experience. It’s a library book, but even so it’s the most valuable book in our house at this moment. But the real thrill for me is simply having access again to the text of a story that I remember so fondly, and being able to share it with Mara.

I wish I had thought to go back to Mrs. Smith, or whatever her name was, years ago and thank her for turning me on to such a brilliant read. I’m still waiting to hear the news that Sinbad and Me is coming back into print. Meanwhile, once we finish Sinbad and Me, it’ll be on to The Mystery of the Witch Who Wouldn’t and The Ghost of Hellsfire Street, neither of which I ever read, even after paying through the nose for them on eBay. Or wait…maybe I won’t say anything about them yet. They’re safe on the shelf, and it might be more fun for the girls to just discover them there on their own.

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13 Responses to “Sinbad and us”


  1. 1 J F Norris January 27, 2012 at 10:07

    What a great reminiscence! I found this via a link posted at The Rap Sheet.

    I have similar longings for long out of print books from my childhood. So many have seemed to vanish from Earth. I only know of Kin Platt as the author of THE BODY BEAUTIFUL MURDER and other crime novels for adults. Never knew of his juvenile fiction. I think it’s a darn shame that scarce books like this are offered by online sellers at exorbitant prices. $75, $100, $175 all the way up to $262! What a sad world it is when a book that could be shared with a child by his father costs the equivalent of my condo’s insurance payment for an entire year. Glad you found one via interlibrary loan. A blessing and a relief for some of us suffering from these kind of nostalgic pangs. Maybe you ought to photocopy the book before you return it and keep it for posterity!

    • 2 Matt January 27, 2012 at 10:28

      Hi JF,
      Believe me, I have had numerous meetings with my conscience about what it would cost my soul to do just that. But it’s a huge book from a “let’s just throw this on the scanner” perspective, so even if I could justify copying it for “home use” it would still be untenable by other measures. I haven’t checked out Platt’s adult fiction or the things he wrote under other names.Thanks for coming over from Jeff’s Rapsheet and for commenting. By the way, that’s a nice-looking site you’ve got there.

      [Click on JF Norris' name above his comment to visit his blog Pretty Sinister Books, "devoted to the sale of out-of-print & vintage crime, supernatural, adventure and other genre fiction".]

  2. 3 Librarian Girl January 29, 2012 at 09:00

    A hearty yahooooo that you got your book!

  3. 5 Darlynne January 29, 2012 at 11:50

    Thanks for this (followed the link from The Rap Sheet). I, too, would love to hear news of a reprint or a digital edition. I don’t know what is involved with the process, but self-publishing in ebooks is happening everywhere. If those sales took off, which they probably would through word-of-mouth, would a print publisher finally take notice?

    • 6 Matt January 29, 2012 at 14:10

      Hi Darlynne,
      That’s an interesting possibility. My own interest in e-books is almost nil (right now, anyway), but when it means being able to read the book at all, well, that’s something to consider. I don’t know if publishers use ebook sales as a gauge to determine what to bring back into print, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? My thought is that Chris Platt should take orders for print-on-demand copies via the Espresso Book Machine. He would not make a killing, and we readers would have to settle for a paperback instead of a hardback, but it would at least get the physical book out there under the noses of a new generation of young adult mystery lovers. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. 7 Jana February 10, 2012 at 16:59

    Very cool!! Your post got me so interested, I checked the Lake Washington school district library system to see if I anyone had a copy I could check out – (no luck).
    If you are so inclined, I wonder if you might write the librarian at Enatai – perhaps she could tell you the staff members from the year you were in 5th grade (she might not have that info but she might know who would). It would be pretty awesome to find out if THEY still have that copy of Sinbad and me!

    • 8 Matt February 10, 2012 at 19:22

      I should do that just to track down the teacher and thank her, but the school didn’t have the book (that I know of). I checked out my copy from the Bellevue Public Library, which is part of the King County Library System, and they still have one copy, which is the one I mentioned in the post, the one I am not eligible to even cast my eyes upon. For all I know, it’s the exact same copy. You’re in Kirkland, right? You would be eligible to put a hold on that copy.

      • 9 Jana February 11, 2012 at 12:09

        I reserved it from KCLS – it says “Central Storage” and I wasn’t really sure what that means. But it looks like I’m still in the queue so we’ll see!

        • 10 Matt February 11, 2012 at 23:33

          Central Storage, yup. That’s the underground concrete bunker I was imagining in the post. Congratulations, you did it. Because I’m a Seattle resident I had to go to the gol-darned Great Lakes to borrow a copy. Life’s funny, isn’t it? Let me know what you think of it. Mara liked it but the plot sure was complex — probably I should have waited a few years.

          • 11 Jana April 28, 2012 at 13:43

            I finished the book! I’m embarrassed to say it took me a little while because I was working through a Seattle history book that I found at the school library I work written by a granddaughter of Arthur A. Denny which was a slow read even though I enjoyed it. I was allowed three renewals of Sinbad and Me and used them all (hard to believe no one else reserved it to disallow my renewal request!) A great story and even better I imagined you enjoying it as a boy – possibly the very same edition – as I read.
            (I just found another Seattle history book by another Denny party granddaughter that I’m now reading and I’ll probably blog about them together in the near future)

  5. 12 Matt April 28, 2012 at 22:33

    Jana,
    I’m so glad you got to read it and that you enjoyed it. I feel glad to have widened certainly the current and potentially the future readership of this book since you picked it up. Someday it will be back in print!


  1. 1 Book Bits #131 – ‘Suzie Wong’ re-release, Salem witch trials, Poe’s ghost, writers’ tips | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions Trackback on January 28, 2012 at 06:52

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