Nancy Drew And Other Childhood Favorites-Plus a Small Quibble

I don’t know about all of you, but I developed my love of books and reading early. My parents would take my sister and I to the library every  weeks to borrow books. My sister and I loved going to the library-there was a whole world right there at my fingertips to discover and devour. I am convinced that it was there trips to the library that made me a lifelong reader and bibliophile. Reading was a fun hobby, something enjoyable to do, not a chore that was rammed down my throat. So many parents want their kids to read, and they turn it into something they force their kids to do “that’s good for you” like eating lima beans. (YUCK!)  I personally believe that’s the wrong approach. Yes, by all means, encourage your kids read classics like Little Women, Treasure Island,  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, but don’t force it on them. Let them develop their own reading tastes, and choose what they’d like to read for pleasure. They are more likely to give the classics a shot if they’re already exposed to a wide variety of reading materials. So, in my opinion, it’s ok if they start off by reading comic books-the important thing is that they’re reading! Eventually, they will get to Dickens, Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. Just give it time.

The first books I remember loving and gobbling up were the Encyclopedia Brown and Baby-sitters Club books.  Try as I might, I was ever smart and observant enough to solve the mysteries Encyclopedia could just with seemingly no effort, and I thought Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, and Dawn were the coolest girls ever. I really enjoyed the friendship between the girls, and imagined that I was an honorary member. (See, even at a young age, I understood the power and importance of female friendships!)  I liked that these were strong, independent girls who had started their own business, while still going through all the typical ups and downs teenage girls go through. In fact, my love of the BSB led me to write my very first piece of fanmail to author Ann M. Martin. If memory serves, I issued a lunch invitation along with the the gushing about how much I liked her books. I never heard back from Ms. Martin, so needless to say, I never got to have lunch with her.

I also became a big fan of Roald Dahl’s books in elementary school. Mathilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, George’s Marvelous Medicine, and The Witches were particular favorites. What I liked best about Dahl’s books, is that he wrote from the child’s perspective, and the children were the heroes, standing up and emerging victorious from adult authority figures who were unsympathetic, impatient, and often mistreated the child protagonist. As a kid, reading stories where the child goes up against the adults and won was a real treat.

Around the 4th Grade, I started reading the Nancy Drew mysteries. I loved that she was a smart, sophisticated heroine who solved crimes with her two best friends Bess and George, and hunky boyfriend Ned Nickerson. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how Nancy was going to escape the latest perilous situation she found herself in, and how she was going to put the clues together to figure out who the bad guy was and bring them to justice.

However, looking back, I find the books stretch the limits of my suspension of disbelief, and some plot issues definitely give me problems. Let’s start off with the fact that Nancy is only 18 years old. Yet, somehow, she travels all over the country, all over the world, solving cases that somehow elude experienced police and detective. They can’t crack an international smuggling ring, but Nancy is all over it! Stretches the limits of plausibility for me now, but back then, I just went with it.  And again, I really liked that Nancy was a strong, take-charge heroine who went out and solved mysteries, and didn’t take a backseat to a guy. I liked that Ned respected Nancy’s independence and her sleuthing skills.

By the time I was in high school, I was a full fledged romance addict, which meant I was completely addicted to the Sweet Valley High series. The world of the Wakefield twins, Elizabeth and Jessica, drew me in right away. Soapy, over-the-top it may have been, but I loved it anyway. There was so much romance, drama, and intrigue with every installment, and I couldn’t get enough. I must give kudos to Francine Pascal and her ghost writers because they did a heck of a job with the world building with the Sweet Valley series. There was the Sweet Valley Twins series, which chronicled Elizabeth and Jessica’s middle school years, there were spin-offs where you found out the family history of the Wakefields, as well as the prominent Patman and Fowler families, and there was a revolving door of secondary characters you kept tabs on. The series also dealt with serious issues, like drug abuse, dropping out of school, the challenges of blended families, bullying, etc.

But again, just like with the Nancy Drew books, as much as I loved the books, and still do, the ridiculousness of some of the books are striking to me now. Let’s start with the covers. Do they look like ANY 16 year olds you know? And secondly, sometimes I feel the contrast between Liz and Jessica was too stark. Liz is always the “good, responsible” twin, while Jessica is more “impulsive, carefree” and obsessed with popularity. Time and time again, Jessica takes advantage of Liz’s good nature, and 9 times out of 10, Liz cleans up after Jessica’s mess after Jessica does something immature and irresponsible. Again. I don’t know about you, but if I were Liz, I probably would have thrown Jess to the wolves ages ago!

So, what books started you on the path to being lifelong readers and book lovers? Any other SVH and BSC lovers out there? Tell me in the comments below!

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9 thoughts on “Nancy Drew And Other Childhood Favorites-Plus a Small Quibble

  1. For me it was the Mary Poppins books, Lucy M Montgomery with her Anne Shirley, Little House books, and just about anything I could get my hands on. I read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Mary Stewart, Agatha Christie, and my grandmother’s Harlequins. When Rosemary Rogers published the first bodice ripper, I read it and was hooked and have not looked back.

    • Oh I loved Anne of Green Gables!! 🙂 That’s the book I often buy for girls about 8-10. I firmly every girl should get to know Anne. I wasn’t as into the Little House series, for some reason. Thanks for commenting, Amy!

  2. We didn’t have the abundance of books for children when I was growing up. Dr. Seuss was just starting to publish. I did read Nancy Drew, and every time a new one was published I got on my bike to go get it. The only other series I remember was the Bobssey Twins, which I never got into. I also read biographies of famous women, fortunately my elementary school library had a lot of them. That let me to read Jane Austen, Louisa Mae Alcott etc. in 6th grade. Then on to Agatha Christi and other mysteries. None of the bodice rippers came out until I was an adult.

    Fun post. I tweeted and shared.

    • Thanks so much Ella!!! And you are the perfect example of what I mean when I say letting kids choose for themselves what to read makes them lifelong lovers of reading!

      And I love Little Women too, but part of me STILL hates that Laurie ended up with Amy instead of Jo. UGH! lol

  3. I never really got into the Encyclopedia Brown books, but I absolutely loved the Bobbsey Twins and the Boxcar Children. And of course Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I basically read my way through the children’s section of the library so fast that the librarians thought I was fibbing about it until they quizzed me and realized I’d actually understood everything. When a kindly older lady guided me to the fiction section in the adult area and told me yes, it really was ok if I checked out those books too, I was off like a rocket. I WAS IN THE ROMANCE SECTION! Thankfully I also discovered science fiction and fantasy and mystery and autobiographies and and and….BOOKS! *squee*

    • Oh yes! Loved the Boxcar Children too! I still remember the first time I wandered over into the “adult” section. So exciting and exhilarating. 🙂 I still remember the first book I checked out from the adult/mystery section-Mary Higgins Clark’s Let Me Call You Sweetheart. SO good! Because yes, there was a romance vein to the story too. 😉

  4. Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends were favorites of mine growing up. I always loved getting the Scholastic catalog and pouring over it trying to convince my parents of all the books I just HAD to have. We didn’t always have the money to buy books, so the library was a treasure trove for me, too.

    • I remember reading A Wrinkle In Time too! I liked it because Meg was a great character, but the sci fi/fantasy elements weren’t top faves for me. And my favorite Shel Silverstein poem is definitely Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out, lol.

      And yay for another library afficionado! 🙂

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