Friday, February 24, 2012

Nancy Drew Fans Unite!


I've been thinking lately about the books I read as growing up. Many of them, I realize now, were actually popular a generation before I came across them. Anyone else remember Maida's Little Shop? Or the Outdoor Girls? Or even the Uncle Wiggly stories?

But many hours of my childhood were spent with my best friend, Nancy Drew. Was she your best friend, as well? I have a vivid memory of my first encounter with Nancy. My family had moved to a new town over the summer, and I was finding it difficult to make friends without the common bond of school. In desperation, my mother took me to the library, thinking that might give me something to occupy me until school began. Little did she know what she was starting! For the rest of my childhood, she was constantly telling me, "Put down that book and go out and play!"

That library had a lovely, sunny room for younger children, but it also had some strict rules. Kids were not allowed into the section for the longer chapter books until they had started fourth grade. That sounds so odd to me now, but then I simply accepted it as one of those inexplicable adult regulations that governed our lives. I read my way through most of the picture books that summer, but my attention constantly strayed to those rows of forbidden chapter books.

Finally the day came when I was officially a fourth grader. I roamed through the stacks, gloating over the treasures I found, but the first book I took home was The Secret of the Old Clock. The story mesmerized me. Most little girls, upon reading their first Nancy Drew, wanted to become Nancy. Not me. I wanted to be the one who created those wonderful adventures for her. So, at age eight, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, thanks to Nancy.

Or, more accurately, thanks to Edward Stratemeyer, whose Stratemeyer Syndicate created the series in 1930. Stratemeyer had already launched the Hardy Boys series, and knowing that many girls were reading the books, had the idea of creating a similar mystery series with a girl detective. Stratemeyer initially conceived the plot lines and hired a series of ghost writers to author the books, all under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Those early ghost writers, most notably Mildred Wirt Benson, were paid the magnificent sum of $125 per book, flat fee. During the Depression, that dropped to $100!

Stratemeyer's two daughters eventually took over the line, with Harriet Stratemeyer Adams adopting Nancy. She created the plot lines and wrote many of the books. I was fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Adams at a time when my career was just beginning. She spoke at a small writers' event in New Jersey, and I talked a couple of friends into joining me for the trip from Pennsylvania. That was my first writers' workshop, and I was entranced by every bit of it, but the highlight, of course, was listening to Harriet Adams. She was a lovely, gracious lady, and I treasure the signed copy she gave me of one of the books.

What is it about Nancy Drew that has intrigued and delighted girls for over eighty years? Today there are still new volumes coming out, Nancy Drew games, websites devoted to Nancy, and a vibrant market in Nancy collectibles. Maybe the fascination is that Nancy exemplifies the sort of female all of us yearn to be...capable, intrepid, curious, lively, kind, and ready for any adventure life brings.

Cheers for Nancy--long may she reign!

Do you have a favorite childhood book? Why not find a copy and reread it sometime soon?

2 comments:

  1. That's a great idea. When we moved to Tennessee when I was a girl I found a whole collection of Nancy Drew books in the attic (I hit gold) and loved them.
    By the way, I just finished Vanished in Plain Sight. It was a great story. I liked how it was different from Murder in Plain sight but you kept some of the same characters. My next to read is True Devotion.

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  2. What a treasure trove you found! I have a few very old Nancy Drews--the ones with the orange outline of Nancy with the magnifying glass--and I'm saving those to pass on.

    Glad you liked Vanish. Danger in Plain Sight will be coming out in June!

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