Nancy Drew, teenage sleuth, is a literary icon. But how did she get her start and how has she transformed through the ages? Learn all about it in this installment of the What Is the Story Of? series.
The popular What Is the Story oF? (a spin-off of Who Was?) series dives into the history of Nancy Drew with this short overview of the teen detective and her creators. The appeal of this series is, I believe, that each book is only about 100 pages, and full of illustrations and sidebars, making the topics accessible and the books easy to read. Since the series is geared towards children (probably third to fifth graders), sometimes nuance can get lost, but I have generally found the books to be comprehensive for the intended age group. What Is the Story of Nancy Drew? is, then, an effective introduction to the Nancy Drew Mysteries for the same target audience as the Nancy Drew Mysteries themselves.
Since I know a great about Nancy Drew already, I cannot say that What Is the Story of Nancy Drew? provided me with any new information. It read to me, actually, like a condensed version of Melanie Rehak’s Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, which is listed as one of the main sources in the back of the book. The main difference is that Rau provides a shorter account that leaves out much of the more uncomfortable aspects of Nancy’s history. For instance, a key part of Rehak’s research revolves around Harriet Stratemeyer’s efforts to claim sole authorship of Nancy, and deny ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson’s significant involvement (as well as the contributions of others to Nancy’s stories). Rau simply notes that a court case over the authorship happily resulted in everyone getting due credit for their work.
Aside from the loss of nuance, the only other aspect of the book that really bothered me is the complete rehash of the plot of Nancy’s first mystery. Briefer summaries of other stories are also included. I do not see how retelling the entire plot of The Secret of the Old Clock really adds to the history of Nancy Drew. It reads a bit like Rau desperately was trying to reach a specified word count and was not sure what else to include. I think a two-sentence summary that invites readers to pick up the book themselves, instead of spoiling the whole affair, would have been more pertinent, though.
I also would have liked actual photographs, rather than illustrations. It is weird to see illustrator Deda Putra drawing interpretations of the Nancy Drew covers, for instance, rather than having actual photos of the Nancy Drew books. And having illustrations of the people involved rather than photos. Still, I know this is how the series in general works, so I wasn’t surprised. Just a bit disappointed.
Altogether, I enjoy this series for its accessible introductions to various historical, scientific, and pop culture topics. I know many young readers who love the books and find them entertaining. Adult readers who want a longer, more complex version of Nancy’s history, however, should pick up Rehak’s Girl Sleuth.
Goodreads: Mr. Bliss Series: None Age Category: Children’s Source: Library Published: 1982
Mr. Bliss, who lives in a tall house and wears tall hats, decides one day to trade in his bike for a motor car. Thus starts a series of adventures as he drives off to see his friends.
Originally written for Tolkien’s children, probably in the late 1920s or early 1930s, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Mr. Bliss is a short, humorous story about the titular character’s adventures in his new motor car. The quirky tale will delight and surprise fans of Tolkien, who have here more proof of his virtuosity as a writer. The sly humor is found not only in the mishaps of the protagonist, but also in the interplay between text and pictures; often the narrator will comment upon his own drawings for comedic effect. Fans of the Professor will not want to miss out on this lesser-known gem!
This volume presents a facsimile of Tolkien’s original manuscript–including his illustrations and handwritten text–alongside a more legible print version. Much of the charm lies in the manuscript as Tolkien wrote it, by hand. He comments upon the pictures, noting when he no longer felt like drawing the car, explaining that a character is missing because he left the room, and describing the emotions that lead to the facial expressions of the characters. I found myself laughing out loud several times at the sheer absurdity of it. Admittedly, however, the printed text is helpful and necessary; I could not always decipher Tolkien’s handwriting.
The story itself might surprise readers mostly familiar with Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. To me, the absurdity of the work is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland–which is not something I would say of any of Tolkien’s other children’s books. We have here a silly protagonist who owns a hybrid girabbit, then goes on a motor car escapade and meets (stuffed?) three bears who, of course, stand in the road and wave their arms. People and cabbages and bananas and bears all pile into the car, and more adventures are had. It’s all very silly. And funny! It’s not at all like Middle-Earth.
I found it quite easy to imagine Tolkien telling this delightful little tale to his children. It has that quality of being meant for sympathetic listeners who just want a good story and who don’t mind laughing at something ridiculous. There is something almost cozy about it, silly as it is. I found myself charmed, and I imagine many others will be, as well.
Do you need a Christmas gift for a young child? Here are some fun board book suggestions, most suitable for ages 0-3 that you can consider gifting this holiday! I’ve chosen some that are Christmas-themed and some that are not.
1. Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes by America’s Test Kitchen
An adorable new board book for the littlest of foodies, from the creators of the most-watched cooking show, America’s Test Kitchen, and #1 New York Times bestselling kids cookbook, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. Help your little one experience the magic of baking without leaving the comfort of their own home.
“Today is a special day because we’re going to make something together!”
From gathering ingredients to pouring batter to swirling on frosting, little ones will experience the magic of baking cupcakes without leaving the comfort of their bedroom in this first kids baking book. Using an interactive storytelling style, Stir Crack Whisk Bake lets the tiniest chefs be in charge!
In the same vein of interactive books for toddlers including Don’t Push the Button and Tap the Magic Tree, kids can “magically” crack eggs or whisk ingredients together, simply with a swirl of their fingertips! Perfect for little ones who enjoy Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert and want a more interactive board book cooking experience.
2. Santa’s Workshop by Holly Berry-Byrd
It’s time for Christmas Cheer! Come explore the North Pole with your baby or toddler and see inside Santa’s workshop. Visit Mrs. Claus’s kitchen, with this adorable lift-a-flap board book. Simple sentences reinforce future language structure while grasping and lifting the sturdy flaps helps develop fine motor skills. Perfect for stocking stuffers, book exchanges, Christmas gifts and more!
Welcome to the world little one! Come explore Santa’s Workshop Lift-a-Flap board book filled with surprises Perfectly sized for little hands and fingers to open and close the flaps. 6 chunky and sturdy flaps are extra strong so your little one can open and close again and again Surprise and delight baby with bright artwork and special treats under each flap Collect all the books in the Babies Love series. From colors and animals, to first words and holidays, the Babies Love Chunky Lift-a-Flap series is a great introduction to reading with cheerful, contemporary, and whimsical illustrations and sturdy, easy-to-lift flaps.
3. Jamberry by Bruce Degan
This bestselling classic features a berry-loving boy and an endearing rhyme-spouting bear. The fun wordplay and bright paintings with lots of details for young readers to explore make Jamberry a perennial favorite, and this board book edition is a great stocking stuffer.
A small boy and a big friendly bear embark on a berry-picking extravaganza, looking for blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Their fun adventure comes to a razzamatazz finale under a starberry sky.
From author-illustrator Bruce Degen, Jamberry is perfect for sharing. “With delightful, rich illustrations and zany wordplay, Jamberry is a must have book for any family with young children,” according to Children’s Books Guide.
4. Pete the Kitty’s Cozy Christmas Touch and Feel by James Dean and Kimberly Dean
In this Christmas touch-and-feel story, Pete the Kitty gets ready for the holidays! A fun Christmas present for the youngest Pete fans!
Pete the Kitty helps his mom decorate the Christmas tree, he enjoys a cup of hot cocoa outside, and even meets an unexpected jolly visitor at the end!
Toddlers will love celebrating Christmas with Pete the Kitty. Includes five festive touch and feel elements.
5. There’s an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher
HO, HO, HEY! There’s an ELF in YOUR Christmas book! Get ready for another lively, interactive read-aloud in the Who’s In Your Book series!
Do you have what it takes to make Santa’s Nice List? An elf is here to test you in this participatory read-aloud. Don’t let the elf trick you into being naughty! Just follow his instructions to sing a Christmas carol, clap, BURP… Hey, wait a second! Children will be delighted to join in on the holiday fun.
Bestselling author and musician Tom Fletcher, the creator of the successful West End show The Christmasaurus, has once again paired up with illustrator Greg Abbott to create a creature that readers will fall in love with—and want to play with—again and again!
6. I Am Otter by Sam Garton
The curious, charming, playful, and internet-famous Otter makes her picture book debut in I Am Otter by author-illustrator Sam Garton. Here’s what Otter has to say about her book: “Hi! I am Otter, and this is a book about me and my best friends, Otter Keeper and Teddy. And it’s about the fun and messy (and little bit scary) adventure we had one day when Otter Keeper was at work. I hope you like the story! (And if you don’t, it’s probably Teddy’s fault.)”
Otter’s utterly winning voice and Sam Garton’s classic yet fresh artwork combine to create a truly hilarious and unforgettable friendship story.
7. Botany for Babies by Jonathan Litton
It’s never too early to get an A+ in botany! Here’s a fun new board book series that introduces a wide array of nonfiction subjects to babies and toddlers.
Welcome to Baby 101, where big subjects are tailored for little babies. Featuring simple words and bright and engaging illustrations, this introduction to botany includes information about trees, flowers, seeds, and much more. So don’t be late, because this is one class that babies won’t want to miss. Look for the surprise lift-the-flap ending!
Also available in the Baby 101 series: Anatomy for Babies, Zoology for Babies, Architecture for Babies.
8. Hello, Animals! by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Emily Bolam (Illustrator)
A charming introduction to 10 of baby’s best-loved animals, featuring high contrast black-and-white patterns and a glittering burst of colored foil. With first words to join in with, this stunning book will captivate sparkly little babies everywhere.
9. That’s Not My Reindeer by Fiona Watt
This delightful series of board books is aimed at very young children. The bright pictures, with their patches of different textures, are designed to develop sensory and language awareness. Babies and toddlers will love turning the pages and touching the feely patches.
10. Baby Unicorn: Finger Puppet Book by Victoria Yang
Follow Baby Unicorn as she explores her world:Baby Unicorn Finger Puppet Book invites the youngest readers to follow along with Baby Unicorn as she explores her world and her special healing powers. The simple, comforting story is easy to follow and the permanently attached soft finger puppet keeps little ones engaged. Start building a lifelong love of books at story time with Baby Unicorn.
• Perfect size for curious babies and toddlers to hold and manipulate • Fun and interactive way to play and read • Full of colorful, soothing illustrations by Victoria Ying
Nancy enters a magazine contest to tell the ending of a real-life mystery that took place long ago in Belgium. Then her story idea is stolen by someone else! She then sets off to visit Belgium to investigate a separate case–a friend of the Marvins has found an antique in her new house, and wants to find the owner. It turns out that Nancy’s stolen story and the Belgium mystery are intertwined.
I have always loved the original 56 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, but have not really connected to any of the later books. However, when I saw that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (according to Wikipedia) was still involved with some of the books after the switch from publisher Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster, I thought I should read keep reading after book 56, to see if some of these books would have comparative quality to the earlier ones. The Secret in the Old Lace somehow does not feel like one of the original Nancy Drew books, even though it has one of the same ghostwriters.
The one aspect of the book that does feel consistent with earlier mysteries is the writer’s interest in describing the places and history of another country. In The Secret in the Old Lace, Nancy, Bess, and George travel to Brussels where they, of course, must visit the local museums, eat the local cuisine, and learn about the history of lace–all to educate the reader. Sleuthing occurs, too, but often the writer seems as if she were wishing she could write a travelogue instead of a mystery.
The rest of the story just does not feel like a Nancy Drew book. It has a strange opening, with Nancy entering a short story in a magazine contest–only to find that her story was stolen and plagiarized by another contestant. The author valiantly tries to connect all the shenanigans that ensue from this to the mystery in Belgium. It does not work. It feels like there is half a book about Nancy chasing men around River Heights because she is upset about her contest entry, and half a book about Nancy solving a historical mystery in Belgium.
Really, there is too much happening in this story for it to be any good. The pacing goes at a breakneck speed, with investigating a basement, digging for treasure, chasing a lace thief, rescuing Bess, touring Belgium, and more. So much happens that none of it feels dangerous at all because each incident is over within two pages.
I found myself really missing the formula of the earlier books. Much of that formula was outrageous, but not as ridiculous as this plot. Usually, toward the end of the book, Nancy is knocked out and kidnapped, while her friends frantically search for her, and she works on her escape. In this book, Nancy just happens to run into an American cowboy in Belgium, who happens to be the exact person she is looking for, and then they just happen to find hidden treasure together, sort of by accident. My disappointment was vast.
Nancy Drew feels like she is losing her way in The Secret in the Old Lace. The formula has changed, and not for the better. I don’t see myself ever rereading this one.
Goodreads: The Flying Saucer Mystery Series: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #58 Age Category: Children’s Source: Library Published: 1985/2005
Teenage sleuth Nancy Drew receives word that some people have seen a UFO in the woods. She heads out with Bess, George, Ned, Burt, and Dave to investigate. Along the way, she also agrees to search for a treasure hidden long ago in the forest.
I have always loved the original 56 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and have not really connected to any of the later books. However, when I saw that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (according to Wikipedia) was still involved with some of the books after the switch from publisher Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster, I thought I should read keep reading after book 56, to see if some of these books would have comparative quality to the earlier ones. The title on this one made me doubt that it would…and wow. What a mistake I made in reading it. It is probably the worst Nancy Drew I have ever read (so far).
I cannot express how truly awful The Flying Saucer Mystery is. Nancy and her five friends head to the woods to investigate UFO sightings (even though this seems out of Nancy’s line of work). However, they spend almost the entirety of the book riding around the woods, looking for their lost horses, sometimes getting bitten by snakes or just seeing snakes–all to keep up interest while Nancy does literally nothing to investigate the UFO. She does see the saucer fly overhead and land not far away fairly early on, but, because the group keeps losing their horses and their supplies, she cannot head over to take a look.
While wandering about semi-aimlessly, the group meets a naturalist who lives in a cabin and who believes that his father hid a treasure in the woods an unspecified number of years ago. Nancy agrees to look for it. She has nothing to go on. She just plans to search the entire woods. No one sees anything ludicrous about this.
Meanwhile, Nancy sees the flying saucer touch down in a swamp. She and Ned go to investigate, and suddenly they’re inside the saucer! They’re in new, spacey clothes; they can communicate telepathically; and they can fly with their new mechanized wings! This goes on for two whole chapters. A weird sci-fi interlude where one knows this must be a hallucination induced by swamp gas, but…maybe not? Maybe there are actually aliens in Nancy Drew’s world now. Everything about this book has been so terrible, it might actually be possible.
Afterwards, Nancy and Ned randomly decide they must be radioactive from being near the UFO, so they contact a bunch of scientists and government agencies who all hurry out to the woods to run tests and check on Nancy and Ned’s health. Why Nancy and Ned are apparently a national priority is the true mystery here. I highly doubt that a bunch of scientists and officials really care if some couple in the woods thinks they’re radioactive for some reason.
Nancy and her friends also periodically encounter a Native American man who cannot speak English. Initially, they treat him like a child, showing him shiny jewelry to keep him from potentially attacking (No, I don’t understand this, either) and later playing charades to communicate with him, but calling it “sign language.” This man is the only character who seems to know what is going on in the woods and how to survive there, so he deserves a lot more respect than he gets from the group of teenagers who keep losing their horses and their cooking supplies every couple pages.
Oh, and while Bess is always described as “plump” in the early books, with George poking fun at her love of desserts, the fat shaming reaches entirely new levels here. George actually compares Bess to a whale, and Bess’s weight must be mentioned at least four times in a negative way.
Nancy never does bother to solve the mystery of the UFO, but instead is approached by a group of people at the end who give her answers. Or some of them. Actually, most of what they can admit to saying is not very informative. Nancy does not solve this mystery. It is not a satisfying conclusion. It’s awkward.
The only joy from this book comes from the illustrations, and seeing Nancy and her friends rocking those sweaters as they enter the 1980s.
Read this book only if you are very interested in Nancy Drew going on a trippy adventure in space.
About a year ago, I started my quest to read all 56 original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. This post is the final installment in which I read and review the classic yellow spine books. It’s been a whirlwind journey, and it is sad to let Nancy go. I wonder what new reading adventures I’ll have!
A strange helicopter lands on Nancy’s lawn, containing a note from Ned, who has been kidnapped– “Beware the Cyclops.” This sets Nancy off on an adventure to discover Ned’s whereabouts, while also uncovering clues surrounding a mysterious glowing eye. If this were not enough excitement, Nancy also experiences some jealousy when her father takes on a new assistant, who seems both determined to steal Nancy’s case and maybe Carson’s heart, too! The mystery is fairly solid, even if, as usual, there is far too much happening for a slim 180-page novel. One of the stronger installments in the last books in the series, even if some of the science verges more on magic.
Ned Note: Ned is apparently kidnapped because he has invented…the laser? Also, he’s an engineering student now. Previously I thought he was in political science, and also something like archaeology. No wonder he never seems to graduate.
Book 52: The Secret of the Forgotten City
In this installment, Nancy and her friends join an archaeological dig and, along the way, attempt to find the missing gold tablets that were stolen from a local woman. A student believes that the tablets could help prove her theory that an underground river once flowed at the site of the dig. The villain reveals himself early on, so there is really nothing for Nancy to do but look around the desert for the tables and, mostly, enjoy herself at the dig site. As usual, Nancy and her friends are somehow experts at everything, and everyone trusts them to not only conduct a dig but also glue together artifacts and re-assemble skeletons without any professional input or assistance.
Book 53: The Sky Phantom
The Sky Phantom combines Nancy’s adventures as a pilot with the ranch adventures of some of her earlier books. She stays at a ranch with Bess and George, but takes lessons at a nearby flight school. Along the way, she becomes entangled in a mystery involving a missing pilot, a stolen horse, and a strange magnetic cloud. The mystery proved more intriguing than others in the series because, for a long time, it is not quite clear what exactly the mystery is. Just that strange things are happening. And, as usual, a dash of romance is added, though things get alarmingly serious between Bess and a cowboy…. One of the stronger installments in these later books.
Book 54: The Strange Message in the Parchment
In this bizarre case, Nancy visits a sheep farm to uncover the mystery behind a parchment bearing four illustrations that an unknown caller has said could right a great wrong. Along the way, she becomes involved in a potential kidnapping case. And she suddenly gets involved in what appears to be a scheme to organize a fake union. Nancy makes a lot of wild assumptions based on slim evidence to solve this case, and it is not very satisfying to watch her solve it. The most interesting part is probably the thinly-veiled anti-union sentiment displayed by the author, as well as the author’s unsolicited opinion that everyone in America ought to speak English.
Ned Note: Ned does nothing of note.
Book 55: Mystery of Crocodile Island
This story starts out strong, with Nancy, Bess, and George receiving multiple threats, getting kidnapped, and finding themselves repeatedly foiled by the villains. What the villains are doing on Crocodile Island is a complete mystery, which adds to the interest. Nancy has no way onto the island, and the workers on the island are forbidden from leaving. She subsequently spends a lot of time boating and learning about the local wildlife. Unfortunately, the plot falters at the end, when Nancy and her friends arrive at Crocodile Island just in time to find the police rounding everyone up. In other words, she does not really solve the case. It’s a letdown.
As a side note, I really love how the cover shows a random man holding a baby crocodile in his fist. Because, why not?
Ned Note: Ned shows up in the last ten pages or so. I’m not sure why he bothered.
Book 56: The Thirteenth Pearl
In this book, Nancy disguises herself as a Japanese girl as part of her attempt to investigate a multinational organization suspected of stealing jewels. She also gets involved with a pearl cult at the end. And, yet, this is not the worst Nancy Drew mystery. In fact, this final installment brings together some of the more familiar elements of the series, even ending with Nancy and Ned knocked unconscious and imprisoned in an empty building–a trope that appeared in nearly every one of the earlier books, but that has since been missing. I wish I could say that this book somehow feels special, as the last of the original 56, but it is just business as usual for Nancy Drew!
Ned Note: Ned depressingly ends this book with a hope that Nancy will find another case to solve, as if she did not just solve 56 mysteries in the same year. The previous books all name drop the next, upcoming title, so this is the real sign that it is, indeed, the end. (For now.)
In this book, readers learn for the first time that Nancy has a wealthy great-grandmother living on an estate in the Scottish Highlands–and she needs Nancy to find a missing family heirloom. Along the way, Nancy encounters a group of sheep thieves. The two mysteries are desperately linked together by the author, along with the usual near death experiences: car run off the road, explosive in mailbox, etc. As usual, the ghostwriter seems more interested in writing a travelogue than an actual mystery. Not one of the strongest in the series.
Ned Note: Wow, Ned does something useful! While Nancy travels to Scotland, he stays in River Heights to track down clues by using handwriting analysis. An obviously very scientific and accurate process that would never lead him astray.
Book 42: The Phantom of Pine Hill
Nancy, Bess, and George arrive at Emerson College to attend a week of festivities with their “special friends” Ned, Dave, and Burt. They then find themselves in the middle of a mystery involving a phantom who seemingly walks through walls and locked doors to rifle through the contents of a library located in a local mansion. Nancy Drew mysteries typically shine when the girl sleuth must investigate haunted houses. However, a river pageant including the depiction of a Native American war band is dated, to say the least. And then Nancy and her friends go to dig up the site of a former Native American village. They find a skeleton, which they donate to the local museum, and they are lauded by an archaeologist who meant to get around to the site, but who apparently thinks random young women with shovels are just as qualified as he is to do a dig. The strongest point of this book is when Bess, instead of cowering, saves the day.
Ned Note: That Native American character on the cover? That’s actually Ned. I think you know everything you need to know about this book.
Book 43: The Mystery of the 99 Steps
Nancy heads to France, along with Bess and George, to uncover the significance of woman’s dream about falling down a flight of 99 steps. Her case intertwines with one of her father’s–a French banker is selling large amounts of securities and no one can figure out why. As usual, Nancy and her friends spend a lot of the book visiting tourist sites and eating at local restaurants, so the ghostwriter can make readers feel educated about another culture. The mystery itself is a bit unusual, but still somehow the story is not very memorable. Except for the part where George gets hooked around the neck by a cane, dragged into a locked museum, and then left on a king’s antique bed. Weird.
Book 44: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher
In this mystery, Nancy, Bess, and George are invited by beautiful Carla Ponce to return with her to her home in Peru and work on the mystery surrounding a family heirloom–a wooden plaque bearing a carving of a monkey and some words worn away by time. Usually, Nancy Drew books are culturally insensitive to anyone who is not white (and upper class, or at least genteelly impoverished), so this book came as a shock. Nancy learns about the Inca Empire and most of it comes across as generally positive and like the author at least tried to be somewhat accurate for once. Nancy even learns about the harm caused by Spanish conquistadors. There is, as usual, a mystery to be solved in here, as well, but most of the book is an excuse for Nancy to travel. And there’s that ridiculous scene where a door falls off Nancy’s airplane and she almost plummets to her death.
Book 45: The Spider Sapphire Mystery
Initially hired to clear one of her father’s clients from accusations that he stole a famous sapphire embedded with a spider, Nancy goes on an African safari with Emerson College. While abroad, she also works on a missing person case. A lot of action occurs: a baboon steals someone’s wig, Nancy’s luggage gets acid on it, all of Nancy’s clothes are thrown into a fireplace, and more. But none of this could cover up the fact that the mystery is not very interesting.
Ned Note: It was interesting seeing Ned kidnapped in this book instead of Nancy. Strangely, however, this will happen immediately again in the next book.
Book 46: The Invisible Intruder
Nancy, Bess, George, and their three “special friends” are invited by Helen Corning Archer (who has disappeared from this series ever since the books were still numbered in the single digits, I believe) to go on a tour of haunted locations in the vicinity of River Heights. Since Nancy never ages, Helen is still conveniently just recently married and now she and her new husband are gathering a group together to take on five supernatural mysteries at once. Conveniently, the ghostly mysteries are all being perpetrated by the same villains, so the bulk of the book is simply Nancy chasing the crooks from location to location in an effort to catch them. Why Bess and another (unnecessary) character called Rita have to be convinced every time that the ghost is really a human is beyond me. Also beyond me is why the villains in a Nancy Drew book always have several, unrelated rackets going on. This time, it’s scaring people away so they can buy real estate cheap, but also stealing shell collections. This is not the best Nancy Drew mystery, but it’s also not the worst.
Ned Note: Ned conveniently provides the muscle in this book, as always. But he also gets a turn being kidnapped (usually it’s Nancy).
Book 47: The Mysterious Mannequin
A rug arrives at the Drew residence, and hidden in the border are clues that lead Nancy on an international mystery. Her father’s client, a young Turkish man, disappeared a few years ago, and the rug seems to contain instructions to finding him. This mystery is pretty straight-forward, with Nancy wandering around town to visit shops and ask people if they know the suspects she’s after. It’s probably most notable for having Nancy jump into the water to save someone from drowning, as she eats lunch at an outdoor restaurant–for the second time in this series. Apparently people just love falling off cliffs when Nancy is trying to eat.
Ned Note: Ned provides the humor in this book when he is asked to hold a baby and does not know what to do. It’s not actually that funny, but maybe it was supposed to be funny in the 70s?
Book 48: The Crooked Banister
Nancy Drew experiments with turning from the mystery genre to sci-fi in this weird installment featuring a crooked house filled with poisoned paintings and guarded by a dangerous robot. None of it makes sense, but this book does seem like the primary inspiration for many of the Nancy Drew video games, which heavily rely on the conceit of an eccentric inventor leaving a household full of secret passages and strange puzzles for Nancy to solve. Unfortunately, however, this story fails to impress. Nancy should stick to investigating haunted houses, and forget the robots.
Book 49: The Secret of Mirror Bay
These later books were going downhill in quality fast, but The Secret of Mirror Bay recaptures some of the magic of the earlier stories. Nancy, Bess, and George join Aunt Eloise for a vacation in Cooperstown, New York, but end up involved in two mysteries–that of a woman seen walking on the lake, and that of a “green man” who scares away tourists who try to climb the mountain. Nancy and her friends have a lot of fun not only trying to solve the mysteries, but also swimming, sailing, and visiting the local museums. There is a humorous moment, though, when one of the boys introduces his uncle as, “B.S., MA, Ph.D.” Most people will assume all those degrees if you just say, “Ph.D!”
Ned Note: Poor Yo, a local boy in Cooperstown, New York, keeps trying to entertain the tourists with ghost stories from the area. But Ned feels the need to break in every time to finish the story and show Yo he’s not all that smart because, he, Ned, already knows the endings thanks to his super impressive psychology course at Emerson College. Just let the guy tell a fun story, Ned! You don’t have to prove you’re better than he is! What a low point for Ned.
Book 50: The Double Jinx Mystery
Well, this installment is not the strongest in the Nancy Drew series, but it could be worse. Nancy finds a stuffed bird on her lawn, indicating that she has been jinxed. The threat seems to be related to a high rise development project that wants to displace a humble farmer and his exotic birds. Nancy and her friends band together to help the little guy stand up to corporate greed. Lots of people exclaim over random “jinxes” and other superstitions I have never heard of. Somehow ballet dances get involved, so Nancy can once again prove she could go professional, if she wanted. It’s really a bit of a yawn.
Ned Note: Ned gets sick and Hannah nurses him back to health. And that is the most interesting thing Ned does.
Goodreads: Cherry Ames: Army Nurse Series: Cherry Ames #3 Age Category: Middle Grade Source: Library Published: 1944
Having graduated from nursing school, Cherry decides to become an Army nurse and is now Lieutenant Ames. But, before she is sent to the front lines, she has pass basic training in Panama City. Along the way, she encounters a man with a mysterious disease. Could Dr. Joe’s new serum save him?
Well! Cherry has finally done it! She’s passed her three years of nursing school and, after two books full of her musing on the need for more girls to become Army nurses, she has decided to become one herself. This feels like it should be the climax of the series after all those calls to arms in the previous installments and yet–all Cherry does is go through basic training and then get mixed up in a possible malaria case. Book three is a bit of letdown after all the impassioned speeches. Still, readers who enjoy Cherry will find much of the same formula here, as well as possibly more excitement in book four, when she gets to go to the front.
Cherry Ames: Army Nurse was first published in 1944, so much of its interest lies in the way the book is basically used as wartime propaganda. In the last book, Cherry and her entire class all decided to answer the call for more Army nurses, so now they are in basic training. The book seems to depict the types of training fairly realistically, describing how the nurses have to drill like soldiers and pass obstacle courses by crawling through mud under barbed wire and climbing nets. That is in addition to their learning how to manage a ward full of patients while being understaffed (Remember, girls–you’re needed! Sign up for nursing school now!). But, despite all that, Cherry Ames: Army Nurse depicts Army life as fun. The nurses get the excitement of traveling to new places, glamorous new uniforms, and tons of attention from the men. The book really wants its readers to start training as nurses. As the characters keep telling each other, if you enter the Cadet Nurse Corps, you get free tuition, clothing, room and board–even an allowance!!
Patriotic speeches aside, the book shines mostly while depicting Cherry’s time in basic training. The rest of the story is comprised of a confusing plot line wherein she discovers a man suffering from a mysterious disease, and has to identify what it is, and where he contracted it–except some people are mad she found the man and that she broke Army protocol to do it. It seems sort of irrelevant and tacked on, but the books like to add a bit of “mystery” to each of the nursing stories.
Cherry Ames: Army Nurse is sort of a fun flashback to the 1940s, but for me its interest lies mainly in its historical aspects. I found the storyline a little weak, and do not currently feel inclined to keep reading the series.
Now a senior nurse, Cherry has to focus on earning her black graduation bow. But she still has fun in the wards–like the time someone lets a rabbit loose in the children’s section! Plus, she has a new potential beau, a doctor known throughout the hospital as a cyclone. But then her attention is drawn to the mystery surrounding Dr. Joe’s new treatment, a penicillin that could help the war effort. No one is supposed know what he’s working on in his lab, but, soon, rumors spread throughout the hospital, and the penicillin formula could be in danger.
The Cherry Ames books are a classic example of a “girls series”–books featuring young women who taken on more independent roles as teenage sleuths or perhaps career women. Cherry Ames is a nurse and her series trumpets the nobility of nursing as a calling, to inspire readers to sign up to help the war effort. (This book was first published in 1944.) But the Cherry Ames books have a vivid, realistic feeling that make them still relevant today. Cherry is no Nancy Drew, static and perfect. Rather, she is a young woman who sometimes makes mistakes, but who tries hard and ultimately finds her way. Readers who love classic stories will find much to delight them in Cherry Ames.
Cherry Ames: Senior Nurse admittedly loses a bit of the charm from the first book, since Cherry is in her third year of school now and she feels much more assured in her career. Though she may look forward to graduating, and though she may be wavering between serving as an Army nurse or on the home front, she really has no fear that she will not graduate at all. Much of the drama, then, comes from interpersonal conflicts. She has “adopted” a probationary nurse who does not seem to want her mentorship, and she has a whirlwind flirtation with a a fiery-tempered doctor, who expresses his interest by ordering Cherry around: “I’m going to take you to the dance” and so forth. (Yeah, this romance is dated, to say the least.) The stakes are just so much lower.
Cherry’s story still has a human interest appeal, however, because Cherry herself feels so human. Even as a senior, she still likes a good practical joke, and she will bend the rules sometimes to have a little fun or to try to cheer up a patient. She also struggles with her own passionate temper, sometimes judging someone too hastily or flaring up at slight provocations. Though the book presents nursing as a higher calling, Cherry is no saint. And, in that, she is relatable.
Of course, since this book was originally published in the 1940s, some aspects of the book are dated. While Cherry’s job as a nurse seems to make her more sympathetic than other protagonists to people who are not white middle-class women, the book does show its biases in the way it depicts some of the patients Cherry encounters. While Cherry still gives them the best of care, the author does imply that some backgrounds will make a person less cleanly, agreeable, or socially acceptable than others. Readers should be aware going into the book that it does not live up to contemporary values, but, indeed, centers white middle-class women and their stories.
The Cherry Ames books can be approached a variety of ways by readers. They may appeal to readers who like old-fashioned stories that are focused on character development and “wholesome” fun like going to dances or going out for a soda. But they are also a fascinating glimpse into the concerns of the past–not only concerns about the ongoing war efforts, but also concerns about gender and professionalization.
*I’m rereading the revised editions for this series, because they are more accessible and what most contemporary readers are familiar with, but you can check out my comparison reviews for The Secret of Shadow Ranchand The Mystery of the Ivory Charmif you are interested in reviews for the unrevised versions.
Book 31: The Ringmaster’s Secret
Nancy receives a bracelet, once the possession of a famous aerialist, from her Aunt Eloise, leading her to go undercover in a traveling circus. There, she finds Lolita, the adopted daughter of the ringmaster–but Lolita’s mother, the previous owner of the bracelet, is rumored to still be alive. Although Nancy has solved a circus mystery before, she gets more involved in this one, actually joining as a trick rider. The plot is fast paced and exciting, and stood out to me mainly for its increased violence–Nancy is strangled with a whip, a man is beaten and left for dead, and Nancy narrowly avoids an acid attack. The solution to the mystery is obvious, but at least the book provides plenty of thrills along the way.
Book 32: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery
Well, I have never not understood a Nancy Drew book–but I certainly did not understand this one. Nancy meets a brother and sister who are running (they think) from the enemies of the Centrovian underground, of which their parents were a part. Their case is mixed up with that of another Centrovian man, who seems to suspect the Fontaines of being smugglers, as well as with the case of a group of actual jewel smugglers. Some of the bad guys may or may not be associated with Centrovia, or maybe they just see a chance to make money from the Centrovian occupiers, and a few of them may have been double crossing both sides. I don’t actually know. I was lost. Too many characters and too many crimes.
Ned Note: Ned pretends Nancy is his wife in order to trick a bad guy–and Nancy gets mad! Apparently there actually are limits to the lies one can tell in order to solve a case–and Ned just crossed one.
Book 33: The Witch Tree Symbol
A stolen furniture case leads Nancy to Pennsylvania Amish country, where she is convinced an ex-convict is posing as Amish to hide his loot. Since Nancy knows the culprit from the start, there is not much mystery here, just a convoluted path to her locating the man before he can sell the furniture and get away. The book seems primarily interested in talking about Amish culture in a sort of superficial way–Nancy attends a dance and a quilting party, witnesses a barn raising, and eats an incredible amount of food. Mostly I was curious as to how a new Amish man could show up in town, and have no one know where he lives–not even a general direction. No one finds it odd that he does not attend any church services or go to market or speak to any of his neighbors? No, they are too busy being convinced that Nancy is a witch for…some reason. The story is not great, but the book could be part of an interesting scholarly project on Americans’ fascination with the Amish, and their depictions in literature.
Ned Note: Poor Ned. This is the third time that he’s indirectly suggested marriage to Nancy and had her pretend not to understand.
Book 34: The Hidden Window
Wow! Where do I even start? This is one of the few volumes I do not remember reading as a child, and…there’s a lot. Nancy heads to Charlottesville, Virginia, in an attempt to find a missing stained glass window for an English nobleman. Her case gets tangled up with her new neighbor–a nasty woman who first accuses the postman and then Nancy of stealing made-up mail–as well as with the mystery of why a new homeowner who will not let people view his grounds during Garden Week (because this is a super pressing issue, obviously) and with the mystery of a semi-hysterical actress who believes her new house is haunted. While, we’re at it, someone steals the girls’ lingerie because one can never have too many crimes in a mystery novel, apparently. Nancy does a lot of sightseeing so readers can feel like they learned something about the Founding Fathers. The slave quarters on the place where Nancy is staying are treated as a historical curiosity. Shrieking peacocks terrorize the neighborhood. I’m not entirely sure what I just read, but it was a whirlwind.
Book 35: The Haunted Showboat
It’s starting to feel a lot like ghostwriter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams really loved the Old South. This book has a somewhat uninteresting mystery featuring a showboat that Bess’s cousin wants to have towed up the bayou so it can be restored and the theatre used to put on a production for his daughter’s engagement announcement. However, the showboat is allegedly haunted and no one will go near it. Most of the action is incidental to this, though. And the racist stereotypes are so terrible it’s amazing that I’ve seen so few reviewers mention them.
Ned Note: Ned flies down on a whim to celebrate Mardi Gras with Nancy. Why not? I guess his family has endless cash, too.
Book 36: The Secret of the Golden Pavilion
Nancy Drew capitalizes on Hawaii’s admission as a state to the U.S. by setting the girl sleuth’s latest case there. The author loses no time in having Nancy tell Hannah (and, apparently, the readers) that she ought to take this opportunity to learn more about the newest state. Numerous descriptions are given of food, dance, costume, and folklore. Nancy travels around a few of the islands, visiting volcanoes, skin diving, and learning about the local wildlife. Also, there’s a mystery buried somewhere in the middle of this travel book. It’s not a very interesting one.
Ned Note: Because it has students from Emerson on it, Ned’s plane makes the news for experiencing some difficultly while conveniently on its way to Hawaii, where Nancy’s latest case is set. No one explains why what appears to be some easily fixed mechanical trouble gets picked up by the news and reported on relentlessly. Is Ned really that great at football? Is he national news? I’m so confused.
Book 37: The Clue in the Old Stagecoach
This is another one of those mysteries where Nancy knows the villains from the start, but spends most of her time attempting to follow them around and catch them in the act. Also, she’s on vacation with Bess and George, so they play an awful lot of tennis, and end up by auditioning for a water ballet (as one does while on vacation). The mystery is so weak that the writer desperately tries to keep reader interest with increasingly unbelievable scenarios, like having a loose circus bear threaten to attack Nancy and her friends while they are driving to a farm. The rest of the page length is created by dropping a lot of knowledge about old-timey stage coaches, evidently to educate the reader. This is decidedly not one of the strongest installments in the series.
Ned Note: Nancy dates another boy, Rick, while on vacation. Rick conveniently leaves before Ned arrives. No one tells Ned about Rick.
Book 38: The Mystery of the Fire Dragon
I don’t even know what to think about this book. Nancy’s Aunt Eloise calls her to New York City to solve the disappearance of her Chinese neighbor, Chi Che Soong. Nancy mentions that she always carries her birth certificate around because it’s good to be prepared. George dresses up as Chi Che in an effort to find her kidnappers. The group all travels to Hong Kong in the end, where Ned Nickerson conveniently happens to be attending college. Lots of firecrackers go off. And, as usual, Nancy and George keep teasing Bess for eating too much–even though Bess only ever seems to eat exactly what Nancy and George are also eating! (Sometimes she has a second piece of dessert, but who wouldn’t?) Did anything in this book make sense? Not really.
Ned Note: Is this the first time ever Ned has travelled somewhere without Burt and Dave?!
Book 39: The Clue of the Dancing Puppet
This is classic Nancy Drew! Nancy arrives at an old estate turned theatre to uncover the mystery of a dancing puppet that appears at night on the lawn. Along the way, she encounters an overly dramatic leading actress, a Shakespeare enthusiast who will not stop quoting the Bard, and an array of dastardly villains. She gets to explore dusty attics, search for secret passageways, and break out her magnifying glass–all while trying to save the production from disaster. This book is high point among these later installments–aside from the constant insistence that Bess can only appear in the play if she loses weight. I’m starting to think that maybe some of the earlier revised books may have taken out a lot of the fat shaming, since it seems to be increasing in the later books.
Ned Note: Ned takes a last minute flight to watch Nancy perform in a play. He flies back again, with Dave and Burt, on the same day. I often wonder how much his summer camp counselor job pays.
Book 40: The Moonstone Castle Mystery
Nancy receives a moonstone in the mail from an unnamed individual–right before traveling to stay at a location that used to be known as Moonstone Valley! She starts work on a missing persons case, but soon finds herself entangled in the mystery of an abandoned castle, that just might be the meeting place for a gang of crooks. A creepy castle, a swim across a moat, another stolen car, and yet another boat crash make this one feel like classic Nancy Drew.
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