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One of My Favorite Book Characters is Eighty (80!) Years Old This Year!!
I hope I look this good when I am 80! The character I’m referring to is Nancy Drew, who made her debut in 1930, at the tender age of 16 years. Nancy Drew lived “the life” in Midwestern River Heights, a town I always thought might be a Chicago suburb, but I have no proof that it could be. Nancy had it all: an understanding father who gave her free rein, a dashing blue convertible roadster (this morphed into a Mustang-type car in later editions, and then into a hybrid in very recent updates), a housekeeper who was a great cook and who took the best of care of Nancy and her widowed father, lawyer Carson Drew, and two friends, cousins Bess Marvin and Georgia (George) Fayne who supported Nancy in all of her adventures. Speaking of Nancy’s friends, I remember a very early story where Nancy visited her friend Helen Corning, at a lake resort/campground/association type place. There was a definite suggestion of affluence in these stories. There was also the element of boyfriends for each of the girls.
I always thought that the “author” of the Nancy Drew books was Carolyn Keene... a single, female type person with a wonderful gift for writing. As an adult, I learned that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym, often for a team of ghostwriters employed by the actual creator of the series, Edward Stratemeyer. It seems that Stratemeyer himself wrote outlines and plot summaries for the stories, and then found writers to complete the stories, for a one-time fee of $50-$250. All copyright remained with the syndicate. Stratemeyer also owned the pseudonyms.
I began reading Nancy Drew after I finished the Bobbsey Twins (also a creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate). I would get the books as gifts, and devour them quickly, and often. I would trade with girl friends so that I didn’t have to wait for the next occasion to get another book. So, I was about in third or fourth grade, and was already an avid library user. But, I couldn’t find my newest favorite books at the library! An article I read by Meghan O’Rourke in an issue of The New Yorker from 2004 said that “the Stratemeyer Syndicate came under attack from educators and librarians from the start.” The article continues with calling series published by the Syndicate “tawdry, sensationalist work taking children away from books of moral or instructional value.” I knew that my teachers didn’t allow me to do required book reports on Nancy Drew titles, but sure didn’t understand why.
I have always said that if I hadn’t read series books (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames [not a Stratemeyer series]) that I wouldn’t be the reader that I am today. I see these books as stepping stones to more sophisticated literature…and I’ve read them all from Treasure Island to Tom Sawyer to Gulliver’s Travels to... I could go on and on. I’ve read biographies, and loved them. I’ve read romances, mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy (Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was wonderful)… I’ve read Newbery Award winners and nonfiction and...
Nancy Drew titles have been updated, and modernized and have had mentions of racism/sexism removed. Why have they survived? Back to Meghan O’Rourke’s article, it’s because of the re-writes, and because “as Nancy has aged, children’s book publishing has become more sensitive to psychological issues”, and Nancy now “acknowledges her flaws, and shows herself to be a more inclusive soul than the old Nancy.”
I sure wouldn’t hesitate to re-read these books, even now. And, to me, it would be a good way of saying to Nancy Drew and friends, “Happy Birthday”!