By Margaret Sutton
When a Muslim family is burned out of their store and Mosque, Judy gets involved. Who set the fires and why? And who pulled the fire alarm across town diverting the firefighters from the real fire? Suspicion has landed on 10-year-old Ken Topping because his hands now glow under ultraviolet light. The police had coated the alarm handle with a chemical to catch those responsible. But Judy thinks he is innocent partly because Ken is friends with the Muslim boy who was injured in the fire.
As Judy investigates, she discovers an organized international group of bigots that share more than a passing resemblance to groups who are operating today, almost 60 years after Margaret Sutton wrote this book. They are called The Wasps (John Birch Society?), and yes, they are against anyone who is not White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Their mission is to infiltrate high schools and church groups to spread their hate disguised as Patriotism and traditional Christian values. A number of Judy’s acquaintances, including the snobby trouble-making Vincent family, have found much to like in their agenda.
While trying to find the real culprits, Judy finds plenty of excitement, including riots in the streets of usually peaceful Farringdon. A house that the Muslim family, The Wards, was buying in an exclusive neighborhood is set on fire and burned. According to Lindsay Stroh, Margaret Sutton’s daughter, The issue of inclusion and diversity hit close to home for Margaret. Her nephew Victor married a Muslim woman and also converted to Islam himself. Margaret was also heavily involved in encouraging the integration of her community and joined Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. This book is based on an actual incident, as all of the Judy Boltons are. One of Lindsay’s schoolmates was Indian and when they moved into a wealthy white neighborhood, they were the victims of arson.
Unfortunately, Margaret’s message for her young readers was muddled somewhat by the introduction of the controversy of the local high schools becoming co-ed instead of Boys Only and Girls Only. The ”Anti-Wasps” who were protesting the segregated schools were almost as unsympathetic as The Wasps. Also, a number of loose ends were left untied, and we never really see if or how the original families who were against “Heathens” living in their exclusive neighborhood had a change of heart. We are told that the whole community banded together to welcome the Wards and their mosque to the neighborhood once the outsiders were arrested by Peter and the rest of the FBI. A little too pat and rushed.
According to a friend and fellow member of The Judy Bolton Discussion Group, William Land, Some of the problems with some of Margaret’s later books could possibly be laid at the feet of the publishers who considerably reduced the page count of the Judy Bolton books and other children’s series starting in the 1960s. Sometimes Margaret seems to have been trying to tackle too much in the fewer pages allotted to them. Also, the series was coming to an end and Margaret still had a lot to say (my speculation entirely).
Nevertheless, despite its lack of clarity and lingering questions, This book deserves 5 stars for the difficult and controversial issues that Margaret Sutton addressed in this particular volume. Especially for the time it was written. There are a lot of tense scenes, and Judy proves her moral and physical courage on more than one occasion. She was a real heroine in this. I’m sure many of Margaret’s young readers were influenced by her take on the integration and inclusion of those of different faiths and ethnicities. Although there is no doubt where Judy and her friends stand on the issues, it is not always easy, simple, and straightforward for all of the characters we meet in this book.