Friday, 3 August 2007

Roger Red Hat and Tracker Books

I know lots of people have fond memories of learning to read in school with Shelia McCullagh’s characters – Roger Red-hat, Billy Blue-hat and Johnny and Jennifer Yellow-hat. These characters lived in The Village With Three Corners, which was part of her ‘1,2, 3 and Away’ series of books, starting with pre-readers and building into stories for older Infants.

God, how I hated them. By now, I was reading quite a bit at home, and it felt like starting again in a way to me, even at that young age. So I raced through them, quickly becoming rather bored in class. So my teacher told me I could pick any book from the school library to read instead…

I chose Tracker books.

Brief Interlude

Incidentally, you have no idea (actually you will, as I am about to tell you) the difficulty I just had tracking (sorry) these books down. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what they were called and kept bumping into 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, which were definitely not the ones I remembered. The ones I remembered were in a landscape format, had strange black and white illustrations on every facing page and were somewhat creepy. Then, just as I was about to give up, my brain spun up the word Tracker books and here we are!


Tracker books were probably the first series of gamebooks on the market. They had an odd landscape format, and the reader chose his or her fate according to either text choices or picture arrows in the strangely stark illustrations that appeared on each opposite page. Their titles are as follows:

1. Mission to Planet L
2. Secret of the Seventh Star
3. The Black Dragon Mystery
4. Treasure of Shark Island
5. Codebreaker
6. Skyjacked
7. Action Football
8. Three Men in a Maze
9. Rugger Final
10. Road Racer
11. Reporter on the Trail
12. Codebreaker International

Although I recall Mission to Planet L, Treasure of Shark Island and Skyjacked – it was the Secret of the Seventh Star that gripped me. The blurb was:

"Will you be able to follow the clues, or will the murderer escape and the house retain its secrets?"

It was scary, the illustrations were dark and menacing, the people drawn were ugly and there was an old shrunken man dead in a bath tub. Also nearly every decision I took seemed to end up with me dying a horrible death.

Thinking back, this does seem an odd choice to be allowed to read. The later 'Choose Your Own Adventure' series seemed a hell of a lot tamer than the Tracker books, although I had a couple of those where my fate always seemed to be being eaten by a minotaur.

I didn’t have much luck with these books.

But I can see why they held my attention.

(Incidentally, I actually do own the Tracker books I mention up here, I liked them that much at the time that my parents bought them for me. So there will be a scan or two appearing here at some point this month.)


Max said...

Hi there,
I had Treasure of Shark Island, Mission to Planet L and Mystery of the Seventh Star when I was a kid in the 70s. I loved them - and, like you, especially enjoyed the dark illustrations in Mystery of the Seventh Star. My daughter, who's just about to turn 9, really enjoyed them, too - especially 7th Star! So was really pleased to find a list of the books on your blog.

Jayne said...

Many thanks for your comment, Max!

I don't quite know why it was the Seventh Star that held my attention out of the Tracker books I owned, looking back it could have been that creepy houses seemed more real to me as a kid than strange planets, islands and planes. Good to hear your daughter is now enjoying the books you grew up with! It just shows that, in their own sort of strange way, these books are classics!

nosferatu said...

Are you still planning on uploading some scans? :D

I'm doing research on game books but can't seem to find any decent information on the Tracker books ;-;

Jayne said...

Hello Nosferatu!

I did search for my old Tracker books but so far have drawn a blank. I doubt I would have got rid of them, so they are probably deep within a box somewhere. Hopefully one day I'll unearth them, and then I will scan what I have, but until then... I am sure you have already seen this site, but this link has more info.

nosferatu said...

They got eaten by your house then? XD Aww thankyou for your help anyway! I hope you find them one day ^<>^

Unknown said...

Hi Jayne, I would also be very interested in seeing some of the scans of "Secret of the Seventh Star" book, hope you get the chance to unearth it sometime.


Jayne said...

Hello Jez,

I will do my best! And if / when I finally do find them, I will put a link on the front page of my blog, so they'll be easy to find. 'Secret' in particular seems to rank highly in people's memories - the creepy old house must have struck a chord!