By Dorothy Sterling

Publisher: Doubleday
Price varying

I love the smell of old books.  When I was a kid I read everything in the junior/teen section in our small town library, and most of it was kind of old.  Cracking open a book that hadn’t been read in decades was always exciting for me.

I don’t know where I got this book.  It’s just always been there on the bookshelf at my folks.  I think I read it for the first time when I was about 13, which is slightly older than the target audience, but I loved it.  There’s very little on the Internet about this book, and it’s even hard to find apparently, so I’m going to go all out in describing it to you.

The book is set in the mid-1950’s, and Pat, our heroine, has just moved from New York City to Haven, the small town her father grew up in.  There’s a spooky old house set back from the road behind her house, and she learns that it’s owned by a family who lives just down the road.  They can’t afford the taxes on it, so it’s going to be sold at auction.

The house is Revolutionary War era, and the builder (Nathaniel Woodruff) was reputed to have done great things in The War, but no-one really knows what.  A local  history student comments that it looks like he was a Tory spy, and the three boys whose mom owns the house take great offense.  They’re direct descendents of Nathaniel Woodruff, and have always thought of him as a hero.  But the records show he talked to the British a LOT during the war.

Thye history student tells them of a letter he found at the library to Mrs. Woodruff about telling their son "the truth", and that the papers are in "the post box", and she needs to be careful not to burn her hands.  As it turns out, Mrs. Woodruff died the day before the letter was written, so the post box is probably still hidden in the house.  Thus begins the search.

Revolutionary War history is deeply woven throughout this book.  The local kids know all about who was in charge during the war, what they did, and why.  Troop movements, encampment locations; it was all common knowledge for them, since it had happened right around where they lived.  They rode their bikes past those locations every day.  Since Pat, our heroine, isn’t from there, they have to explain everything to her, thus educated our Dear Reader.

To make a long story short, the kids DO find the post box, which takes us into the second reason I like this book so much.  The box is full of letters, all in code.  The author goes into great detail about the basics of coding.  I don’t say encryption here, since most of it is simple re-ordering of the alphabet.  There’s also a code that involves using a dictionary (also in the post box), as a key for a numerical code.

The kids break the code, and find out that Nathaniel Woodruff was the man in charge of George Washington’s secret service.  The letters are sold to a local Rich Man, who places them in the Local Museum, and enough money is obtained to save the house.

The whole book is set in the heat of summer, and they talk about cool lemonade, and swimming, and picnics while they struggle with codes etc.  Considering the weather we’ve been having lately (exactly the same), it suited my mood exactly.

I wish this book were more available, I think every kid should read it, both to spark interest in history as well as codes.  The best site I could find for it is here.  The author has a section in the back where she tells of a good book to read to learn more about codes and encryption, I’m going to see if I can find it.

My copy is in excellent condition.  If you know me, and want to read it, you may.

7 thoughts on “Secret Of The Old Post Box

  1. ahhh. i love the smell of books, period. but the best is to walk into the archives of a library. or the rare books aisle at a used book store. i totally dig old books and would love to read this one, but i’ll try to find it at my library. fwiw, my bible smells GREAT. i think it’s the leather binder and the fabric they use in the pages. anyhow, everytime i open i smell it. and, of course, offer the pleasure to whomever might be sitting nearby. : )

  2. This was and is one of my favorite “comfort food” books. I loved the mystery, problem solving of being the new kid on the block, and the actual tie in to history. I first got this book out of the weekly reader, as a kid in elementary school. It got passed on to someone once I was in H.S. and now I check it out of the library when I need a “Fix”! I’d also recommend “Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians”! Another classic!

  3. I haven’t read this one (altho I think I would have loved it in the 5th or 6th grades!), but I’m searching for something similar I had as a kid in the ’60’s (my efficient mother threw away all my old books!!!). It was about a couple of kids who spent the summer in an old house, and it may have taken place near a nature preserve or a swampy area. The kids are in the woods, and find a metal box with a map in it, and can only make out the partial words “Pira” and “rub”, and of course they think its a map to “pirates rubies”! Turns out that it’s a reference to the scientific name for a bird species. All I can remember is that it was fabulous, and I read it again and again. Can’t remember author or anything else. Any clues? It probably came out late ’50’s or early 60’s…

  4. I remember our teacher reading this book to us in the fourth grade–I was spellbound. I think I read it again twice after that. You’re right, it’s a wonderful story and the setting is just wonderful, too. I remember all the summer and lemonade stuff and remember longing to have friends like that! Thanks for paying tribute to it here!

  5. What a thrill to find these comments about Secrets of the Old Post Box. A librarian visited our 3rd grade class and told just enough of the story and one other book, Silver for General George Washington. She got me so excited I ran all the way to the library after school — about three blocks — to check them out, panicked another student might have gotten there before me. Apparently, not to worry, I was the only one in our class that responded. Her storytelling and these two books got me started on colonial history at a very young age, and I am now writing my own historical novel set in New York well before the Revolutionary War. . . . just for the fun of it, I decided today to see if either book is on the Internet. Thank you!

    1. Hi Carol, thanks for your comment. I love love love getting comments like this on old posts and finding kindred spirits. 🙂 I hope you find a copy and have a great time with it. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *