Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Well aren't you a regular Nancy Drew?

Hours. I spent hours curled up with Nancy Drew mysteries as a young girl. She was everything I wanted to be. Smart, brave, loyal and let’s not forget pretty and popular. Yep, Nancy has left her mark on generations of young women.

She was the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, owner and founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. He was a genius at coming up with premises for children’s books. Some of his most popular were The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, The Dana Girls, The Rover Boys, Tom Swift and of course, Nancy Drew. He came up with the overarching premise of each series, and then developed detailed outlines for individual stories. These he sent to contract authors for the actual writing. Multiple authors often worked on a single series, but Stratemeyer created pen names for each series before they were published. That’s right. There never was a Carolyn Keene sitting somewhere and dreaming up thrilling plot devices and shady characters for Nancy to puzzle out.
That was Edward, and later, his daughter Harriet's job. They developed detailed outlines for each of the stories in their many series. The outlines were then sent to a ghostwriters to flesh out and write the actual story. A young journalism major from out the midwest, named Mildred Benson was contracted to write the first three stories for the syndicate.
The first Nancy Drew was published in 1930 at what would seem like the worst possible moment. The Great Depression had just begun and would hold America in its terrible grip for years. On top of that, her creator, Edward Stratemeyer died weeks before her first release. Many heroines would have swirled down into the slough of despond when faced with such challenges, but nothing could hold back plucky Nancy Drew and her sporty blue roadster. Despite the money crunch and the loss of her mastermind, Nancy’s spunk and heroism prevailed. She was an instant hit with the younger set.
Over the years her popularity has exploded. Beyond the 56 original stories there have been spin-off series, board games, a cookbook, collaborations with The Hardy Boys, a television show, and even movies and computer games.
She has touched lives around the world. From bright-eyed little girls in suburbia, to European refugees fleeing from the Nazis, to young Muslim women hunched over bootleg copies of her stories, she has taught girls by example that they too can be courageous and intelligent and stand up for right.
She’s expanded our vision of what we can be and what we can do. Her adventures presented new possibilities. She’s taken on a life of her own, beyond ink on a page, beyond mere words.

Thank you Nancy. We want to seek truth as diligently as you do. We want to see justice prevail, and we want to step out when we can do something about a problem, rather than leaving it up to someone else. Just as she overcame difficult initial circumstances to become a reigning queen in children’s and YA literature, we too can forge ahead and pursue our dreams even through challenged by tightening belts on every side. Difficult does not mean impossible.
So what about you? Do you have a dream you are fighting for?
Do you have a favorite Nancy Drew mystery?
Are your more like Nancy, Bess or George?


  1. Ooooo, I'm so excited. You'd think a girl who read all the Nancy Drews she could ever find would know a bit more about her humble beginnings. I knew there was 'something funny' about Carolyn Keene (I'd heard that it was not the author's real name) but didn't know all these cool details. Someone, maybe Harriet?, must have been editing to keep the multiple writers true to one Carolyn K voice. Very interesting!

    I loved Nancy Drew. I can think of two titles--the Hidden Bungalow and the Whispering Statue. Not because they were my favorites but because I think they were the only two I owned. Thank goodness for school libraries.

    I always liked how Nancy had a boyfriend but she wasn't stupid over him, you know? And I liked the fact she did things that would be too scary for most girls her age. I remember her dad but I don't remember her having a mom. Is that true? Okay, I'll be back at lunchtime to check out the chatter.
    Thanks Lisa! Another great post ladies!

  2. You're right! Carson Drew, Nancy's father was a lawyer. Her mother died when she was very little. In the place of a mother there was the faithful old housekeeper Hannah Gruen who always made the best sounding meals and treats.

    Oh, and Nancy's boyfriend was Ned Nickerson. And you're right he was perfect for her. Supportive. Always there to help set a trap for the bad guys, but at the same time he didn't try to run the investigation. It was always Nancy in the lead on that score. Although he was the big man on campus due to his clean cut good looks and prowess on the football field.

  3. Oh, to be Nancy....

    My oldest daughter had read a couple Nancy Drew mysteries and doesn't seem interested to read more. Huh? What's with that? I loved Nancy Drew. I loved the Hardy Boys. What is it about the stories that doesn't interest my daughter?

    Maybe if the stories had a dragon and some sword-fighting in them.


    Great post, Lisa!

  4. I'm such a mystery and suspense loser. I don't know why you ladies put up with me. I haven't read Nancy Drew either.

    However, I really got excited when I read about the Muslim women learning about being courageous, intelligent, and standing up for what is right through Nancy Drew.

    I would say if I have one personal cause, it is the plight of Muslim women. I've written several songs about their situation which are available on itunes, but to date, I haven't claimed ownership of them officially. My husband and I have been discussing changing that. I may go on the 700 Club to talk about them at some point in the future.

    Both of the books I've been working on this fall discuss Islamic issues, so I guess it's time to come out of the closet. Even my first historical book has a minor Muslim character, and if I get to finish the series, I would like for at least part of one of the books to take place in the Middle East.


  5. Hey Gina, do you know what 'version' your daughter is reading? In the late 50's the syndicate began a campaign to clean up the books. In some ways it was a good thing since they removed some of the racial stereotypes and so on that weren't even recognized as such at the time they were written. Unfortunately, in the process, they also changed the intrepid Nancy into a sometimes too pious shadow of her former self. She wasn't the goody-goody portrayed in later stories. For example, in the first story, her discovery of the plot hinges on having to steal a clock. Sure she thinks it was stolen from her friends, but she's not sure and she takes it anyway.

    Dina, I think you personify Nancy in at least one way. In nearly every story I can think of, Nancy was moved to action by the plight of people. Some she knew well because they were friends, some she had just met. But she cared about them and wanted to help them in the best way that she could. You minister and offer grace and hope. Nancy helped solve their mysteries.

  6. I loved Nancy Drew stories. And the Hardy Boys. And the Happy Hollisters.

    Kids solving mysteries. Great stuff.

    If I remember correctly, Bess was a bit cerebral so maybe I was like her. Kind of like relating more to Jo in Little Women than to Amy or Meg.

    And I remember the less than sanitized versions. I'm not sure I'd enjoy reading the latter ones as much. Kids need to experience kids doing things that kids do--and working through the morality issues as they read.

  7. Lisa, I might be the only guy that posts a comment on Nancy Drew here, but I don't mind that distinction! When I made it through the library's collection of Hardy Boys books as a kid, Nancy Drew was next in line and I eagerly read her adventures, too. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Team-Ups are still great memories for me. Nancy's interest in Frank Hardy, and the love triangle between Nancy, Frank, and Ned was always entertaining, even for a pre-teen boy who didn't want too much romance cluttering up the mystery :) When I solved the mystery of Edward Stratemeyer, I was stunned. A school teacher dropped a few hints and I was on my way to discovering that Franklin W. Dixon was as fictional as Carolyn Keene. Still, it made me respect Stratemeyer's genius. When the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew moved into modern times with the Casefiles, I kept up with the stories all the way up until college, and have gone back and read a few of their mysteries since then. I'm so glad to see Nancy's continuing impact through the series of computer games. Before we know it, her 100th anniversary will be celebrated, and I think that speaks volumes for the enduring power of an intelligent and strong-willed young woman!

  8. Lisa, I love love love Nancy Drew. Still. I like to collect the original versions. I have a very hard time picking my favorite. If pressed, I'd have to say They Mystery of the Tolling Bell. But Then there's the Clue of the Broken Locket and the Message in the Hollow Oak. I really enjoye the ones that were written in the 30s, in the 30s version, the very best. Some of the illustrations in the books would set my imagination on fire.

    Thanks for the fun post.

  9. PatriciaW I'm with you. I loved that the books weren't preachy. They were exciting, and yet the moral was absorbed and embraced. Concepts like fair play, and doing unto others, it was all acted out without being force fed.

    Oh and Bess was the pretty, bubbly, blond who liked fashion and liked to date boys. Her smarts were often underestimated, but she was loyal and kind and always had Nancy's back.

    And George was the requisite tomboy. She and Bess were cousins, but opposites in many ways, she was tall and athletic and, with short, dark hair. In the original stories it was revealed that her name really was George, she was named for an uncle who had passed away. And she was proud of her different kind of name. But later editions changed it so that George was a nickname for a more feminized version.

    RM4Draw thanks for bravely stepping in and speaking where no man has gone before! I'm so with you. I read all the Hardy Boys, and several of the Tom Swift books too and thoroughly enjoyed them. I don't know why girls can get away with 'crossing over' and guys can't. But that was exactly why Stratemeyer created Nancy. He noticed that all the little girls were reading their brother's books about the adventurous doings of young people and he saw a hole in the market that could be filled. I'm so glad that he did and that Nancy was born!

    Suzie, I know exactly what you mean about the illustrations. They weren't frequent but they always held a high degree of intrigue. I used to stare at the cover art noticing details and in my mind I was within that scene, Nancy's daring (and brilliant!) partner.

  10. Good morning everybody! I'll take a page out of Hannah Gruen's cookbook this morning and offer everyone coffee cake.

    Lisa, in your honor, we listened to Relient K's "Nancy Drew" on the way to school today.

    I've been awaiting this post! My daughter is a huge Nancy buff. I enjoyed Nancy's adventures when I was growing up (my favorite was "The Secret of Shadow Ranch"), but you're right: there's so much more out there now. The "new" adventures, the cute movie out a few years ago... and we are slaves to those computer games in my house. We do them as a mom/kid activity. The one you pictured has some of my least favorite puzzles, so hard. Ugh.

    I am such a klutz at sports, no one would ever confuse me for George. The romance reader/writer in me related a bit to Bess' boy craziness, but I definitely don't have her fashion sense or cute hairdos. I always envied Nancy's intuitive abilities, and loved her confidence and no-nonsense way of making the right choices! What a role model!

    Thanks, Lisa!

  11. Isn't it awesome how books forge a link between us despite distance, culture, and background?
    Nancy Drew was my alter ego from age 6-9. I had every copy (the ones with the bright yellow covers, remember those?) and read them again and again. In first grade, I insisted my best friends play "Nancy Drew." I, of course, had to be Nancy, because my name started with "N". My other friend's name started with "G" so she was George, and our other friend... well, she was a little heavier than we were, so she got to be Bess. I can't believe she forgave me.
    All that Nancy Drew-play must have affected my DNA. My daughter came out with titian-colored hair. : )
    I loved Nancy's ability to keep a cool head and find a way out of every bad situation. She never gave in to fear, always sought out truth and justice. Yep, definitely a good role model!
    Thank you, Lisa!

  12. HI Lisa,

    A wonderful post...I, too, LOVED Nancy Drew...and probably read all of her adventure books...Just the other day I was at my local 'half price bookstore' and they had a shelf dedicated to these wonderful books...thanks for the memories.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.


  13. Susanne, I'm glad to see Nancy being embraced by the younger generation. I'm sure she leaves some people flat, no one can please everyone. But I love her and can't wait to share her with my own daughter.

    Niki, I'm completely jealous of your titian hair. I always, always wanted to have hair like Nancy. Oh, well. I guess I'll have to settle for living through her vicariously. And yep I've still got lots of those yellow hardcover books.

    Karen, I'm so glad you stopped in to say hey. I think she is a source of fond memories for many many people. And the fact that we do so clearly remember her and her friends just goes to show what vivid character she is, and how she realtes to people.

  14. Whaddya mean, LIKE Nancy Drew? I was one of her partners?

    My favorite book? Without a doubt Sign of the Twisted Candles, which created a bond between Ella and Sally in What the Bayou Saw--once Sally learned that "colored girls could read," that is...

  15. Hi Lisa -

    I love getting the inside scoop on some of my childhood favorites! Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins rated high on my list of favorites back then.

    Do you know who inspired and wrote the Cherry Ames series? I think I read every book during my, "I want to be a nurse stage."

    Susan :)

  16. Great post, Lisa!
    Gina, my daughter wasn't interested in Nancy either. But my boys enjoyed Hardy Boys. I think my youngest son has read them all. There were a few Nancy Drews in there. Sorry to say, I only started reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys when my kids started reading them.
    Lisa, if yours are out, I will have to catch up on Nancy!
    mrstgr at msn dot com

  17. I thought Nancy had another gal pal named Patti Lacy!

    Susan, I believe Nurse Cherry Ames was another of the series produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but beyond that I don;t really know anything about that series.

    Momma R, I have a few Nancy's and a few Dana Girls out. You'll have plenty to read while you're here!

  18. Why didn't I think of this before? Lisa, we should remind our readers that you have an awesome blog called INSPIRED ADVENTURES and a 'serialized' story . . . strangely enough called GIRL SLEUTH.

    I think there's a connection here, eh?

    What a great post. Picking Nancy brought out some great memories.

  19. Lisa, I just got home from work and came back to reread your post because it was so fun to read the first time. I loved the Dana Girls, too. They are so hard to find now, and I never owned any. I always had to get them at the library.

  20. Aww, Deb you're making me blush. Actually the last chapter of Girls Sleuth went up on Tuesday. If anyone does check it out we started in January, with chapter 1 and I wrote it based on votes from the readers, in a kind of choose your own adventure interactive type format. you can find it at

    Thanks, Suzie. I found a couple Dana Girls over the summer at a used book store and snapped them right up. I can't think of the name of it right now, but it was a favorite. One where they are at a summer camp and make artificial flowers. Just so much fun.

  21. Great post, Lisa. Nancy is one of my childhood faves! I owned all the hardcover Nancy Drews - the ones with the yellow spines and matt covers (not those shiny ones that came later). I loved The Clue in the Velvet Mask and The Ringmaster's Secret. But The Secret of Shadow Ranch holds a special place in my heart because it was my first ND book. Even though it was number 5, I picked it because of the horse on the cover. (I had all the Black Stallion books, too.)

    Of the three girls, I think I'm most like Nancy, just because I love solving puzzles. I look at context clues and postulate theories all the time. Which makes my husband smile, shake his head, and say "You're such a Nancy Drew."

  22. You are a great Nancy Drew, Jen. You even have the hair. And your husband's comment only goes to show what an iconic character she is. People all over the world equate sleuthing (i.e. problem solving) with Nancy Drew.

  23. I didn't know that!

    I've read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and of course the Bobsey Twins but I didn't know they were all ghost written. That man was a genius!

    I still have 2 old Nancy Drew books one of which has something to do with a clock tower. ?

    Great post, Lisa. Thank you for the info.

  24. This was interesting! I loved Nancy Drew. Didn't really have a favorite book, liked them all. Also liked Trixie Belden.
    Blessings to you and your readers,

  25. Having been a huge Nancy Drew fan since my childhood, I knew about how her stories were written by different people under one name. I didn't know about her creator or that he did the outlines.

    I just love those old, old grapics. Would love to find some.

  26. I got here through Susan's Christian Reader-Writer Connection.

    My uncle's wife gave me the Nancy Drew books she had. I'm not sure,but some of those had the cloche cap hats from the 30's on the dust jackets. I gave my colletion,(my parents and I added to it over the years) to a friend's daughter.

  27. I can't believe I missed this post when it went up! HUGE Nancy Drew, met my two best friends because of Nancy Drew, proud owner of one true first edition, first printing, past speaker at a Nancy Drew convention and have attended three ND conventions hosted by the Nancy Drew Sleuths. (Just Google them, we have a lot of fun and we're on Facebook too) Sign of the Twisted Candles original text is my favorite.

    Cherry Ames is *not* a Syndicate series. Neither is Trixie Belden or Judy Bolton. Cherry Ames was created by Helen Wells and later turned over to Julie Tatham, who created Trixie Belden.

    There is a book called Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and The Women Who Created Her that takes a look at Mildren Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. I have it but haven't read it. Jenn Fisher, founder and president of the Sleuths, is working on a biography of Millie, and another collector, James Keeline, is working on a biography of Edward.


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