Vintage Series Books for Girls
July 29, 2010 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I had no idea the Nancy Drew had emerged from such a competitive world of girl detectives. Hope there was no casting couch shenanigans involved in her rise.
posted by mreleganza at 10:26 PM on July 29, 2010

Very cool find
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:28 PM on July 29, 2010

1930 to 1956: Nancy Drew and the Case of the Crusty Old Attic
1959 to 1979: Nancy Drew and the Case of the Gloomy Vacation
1979 to 2003: Nancy Drew and the Case of the Wealthy Eccentrics
The Nancy Drew Files, 1986 to 1997: Nancy Drew and the Case of the Sexy Sex
posted by oinopaponton at 10:32 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I love the cover art for these books! When I was about 12, I was a big fan of Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers series; I came across them during a summer spent in England, so I don't know if they were ever actually distributed in the U.S.
posted by scody at 10:45 PM on July 29, 2010

Here's a huge list of nurse series on a Cherry Ames site. My favorite was Sue Barton.
posted by girlhacker at 11:30 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Trixie Beldon! Sometimes I wonder if I was the only person to read these books, because I loved them, and I've never found anybody else who's even heard of them. (I heart you, internet.) I much preferred Trixie to Nancy Drew. Even to my ten-year-old mind, Nancy seemed too shiny and perfect to be real. Reading the article, I see this is a common complaint amongst Trixie fans.

These were the editions I had, with the oval covers. I used to buy them by the bagfull at school fêtes. I'm surprised to learn there were only 39 published, because I remember reading dozens of them in the space of a couple of years. Perhaps three dozen, as it turns out.

I had no idea there were so many other girl detective series out there. Thanks, Joe Beese.
posted by Georgina at 11:39 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes yes, this is the must-see site for anyone in on the girl detective series scene, whether they have high-heeled orange Nancies on blue boards with orange silhouette EPs, or flat-footed blue Nancies on blue tweed boards with blue digger EPs. Heck, even if you've got b&w multipics! Come one, come all (Yes, that means you too, Judy Boltons with lime green boards and pink stair EPs.).

But please be sure and note whether your yellow-orange silhouetted Nancy on the DJ spine has a full shadow or not.

And if you had fun tonight, come back tomorrow and we'll kick off our shoes and dig out the Farah's, eh?
posted by redsparkler at 12:02 AM on July 30, 2010

Vintage Series Books for Girls

I guess that never dawned on me when I read my way through a big box of hard bound Nancy Drew. Personally, I think it was the more heterosexually motivated reading choice, compared to the Hardy Boys.

There was a story that hinged around special high heeled shoes, that had a mechanism to simulate tap dancing, which had to be modified to send a Morse code rescue request. Anyone know which story that was?
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:05 AM on July 30, 2010

What? Trixie Belden was a spoiled callow youth. Her and her monied friends, riding their stupid horses around. I could dream of being Nancy someday, but I already knew I wasn't Trixie.

Fun fact! My store sold twice as many Nancy Drew books last year compared to Hardy Boys.
posted by redsparkler at 12:05 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Clue of the Tapping Heels?
posted by Ouisch at 12:38 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to read my sister's Trixie Belden books in secret because I loathed the Hardy Boys and was ashamed at my preference. I thought the idea of boy detectives was redundant and uninteresting, whereas a girl who solved mysteries felt original, stereotype-breaking and exciting to my extremely bookish 7 year old mind. I doubted those around me would understand, however, and I was probably right.
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:27 AM on July 30, 2010

My wife sort of idly collects these books, she has quite a few. Nice post.
posted by fixedgear at 3:43 AM on July 30, 2010

The word "secret" pops up again and again in these titles, and I do believe there's some secret of art and literature hidden in these wonderful names and titles and our eagerness to devour these books at a certain time of life. I want to go back to those endless afternoons of secrets and adventures and clues and long shelves of uniform spines bearing the intrepid portraits of girl and boy detectives. Great nostalgia here.
posted by Faze at 4:13 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Funny...I just picked up two old Cherry Ames books on the free cart at the library. Had not thought about those books for years, but looking at this list brought back how many I had read as a girl. Happy memories of walking to the library every week to get a new one, and a life-long love of girl detective murder mysteries.

Hexatron's Wife
posted by hexatron at 4:25 AM on July 30, 2010

When I was younger, I pretty much LIVED for Sue Barton, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr (Flight Stewardess), and Linda Carlton (Aviatrix). Old used book stores were the BEST.

Other favorite old book series were the Maida books, about a girl and her "diverse" group of friends (with Irish! and Gypsies!!) in Charlestown at about the mid 1910s. Her father was fabulously wealthy, and she was romantically invalid. They had a zoo, and a theater, and a camp, and a lighthouse, and an island and other things! I used to reread Maida's Little Theater every break.

My other favorite series of books was "Fighters for Freedom" by Roy J. Snell and others. These were all published between 1942 and 1944 and follow a pretty formulaic group of people through a pretty formulaic series of adventures: a young patriotic American joins up and has fantastic adventures in whatever branch of the military they join, including: Norma Kent of the WACS, Dick Donnelly of the Paratroops, Sparky Ames and Mary Mason of the Ferry Command, Sally Scott of the WAVES, and so on. I l really enjoy WWII era propaganda, and this is a great example of How Awesome Joining The Military Is, Kids!
posted by ChuraChura at 4:47 AM on July 30, 2010

Trixie wasn't spoiled! She was always having to do chores and babysit her annoying little brother.
posted by something something at 5:04 AM on July 30, 2010

We like to take old Nancy Drew books out camping and take turns reading chapters aloud to draw out the most ridiculous sexual innuendos. My favorite involved a dinner where she ate fish balls produced by a local curmudgeon. "My, these are some tasty balls," said Nancy. "Here, let me butter your biscuits for you!" cried Ned. "I like a whole lot of butter in my biscuits, Ned," advised Nancy.

No such thing as the innocence of youth in those, I swear.
posted by norm at 5:07 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

A highly recommended send-up of the teen detective genre.
posted by JanetLand at 5:26 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

My tiny town library (tiny town AND tiny library) had literally about 200 books total (although they rotated collections with some other towns, so it was slightly higher than that). It was pretty grim. Before I discovered that I could check books out from a library about an hour away (bringing them home in huge cardboard boxes for 2 weeks), my life was saved by finding an enormous Nancy Drew collection in the church library of all places. Sure, they were girl books but it was better than nothing. And waaaay better than listening to the sermon.
posted by DU at 5:29 AM on July 30, 2010

Nancy Drew was great--but for me, only the really, really old ones with the wonderfully illustrated dust jackets, which fortunately we had stacks of. I loved everything about them, whereas the newer ones with the illustrated covers left me cold.

I loved Trixie Belden! You're not alone, Georgina.

Never heard of any of the others.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:45 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sort of surprised not to see Donna Parker here.

Georgina--I'm yet another Trixie Belden fan. Had most of the books (I think I stopped at around 31), the mystery-quiz books, the paper doll set, AND the T-shirt. Nerd much?
posted by dlugoczaj at 5:59 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh man, Sweet Valley High.

The weird thing about Sweet Valley High is that Jessica and Elizabeth, age 16, always will seem older than me (I am 28 now) because I was 10-11 when I devoured that entire series.
posted by millipede at 6:35 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

See also the University of Maryland's great online exhibition “Nancy Drew and Friends: Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered”.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:46 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is terrible, but Trixie Belden, bought nearly at random by my parents in order to shut me up, was my first book without pictures. I wanted a book without pictures and not one of those awful condensed versions of classics, either. A real book. They bought one in the middle of the series. Naturally, I collected all of them and read them religiously. Every summer for many summers, I would go through a couple of weeks of reading all of them back to back. Then I started in on V.C. Andrews.

I was a strange little boy.
posted by adipocere at 6:49 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not one of those awful condensed versions of classics, either.

Ahahahaha. That's all I got handed as a an 8 year old. It wasn't until 10 or 12 that I started reading Hardy Boys.

Every summer for many summers, I would go through a couple of weeks of reading all of them back to back.

I miss doing this. Especially now when that I can do it with quality books.
posted by edbles at 7:25 AM on July 30, 2010

The weird thing about Sweet Valley High is that Jessica and Elizabeth, age 16, always will seem older than me (I am 28 now) because I was 10-11 when I devoured that entire series.

Totally! I took the time to re-read some of the books last summer, and bloody hell are they terrible. Jessica is insane, and Elizabeth, for all the talk of how mature she is, is pretty crazy herself - "Jeffrey said he likes Jessica's outfit. THAT MEAN HE LOVES HER AND NOT ME. I'm going to avoid him, AND go on a date with another guy, just to spite him."
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:28 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you liked Sweet Valley, you must read this blog.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

And also the LJ community, 1bruce1. HILARIOUS.

I used to love the Anastasia and Alice series in the 90s - do these count? Sweet Valley was a bit hard to relate to - I was a chubby mousey girl in rainy Northern England, they were svelte blondes in sunny California AND boys actually wanted to hold hands with them.
posted by mippy at 7:55 AM on July 30, 2010

So I read lots of series when I was a kid -- but always series like Narnia or Little House, the Anne Books or Alanna where the characters got older and changed.

So - an honest question - did it ever bother any of the fans of Nancy Drew-like series that the characters didn't age?
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on July 30, 2010

I had a huge collection of Nancy Drew books as a kid in the 60's, and I read them over and over. When I moved out of my parent's house in 1978, my mother got rid of them all within months.

I still haven't forgiven her.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2010

I used to love the Anastasia and Alice series in the 90s - do these count?

I don't know the Alice series, but I LOVED the Anastasia books. I don't know if those count--I remember them being what I thought of back then as "real" books--I knew Sweet Valley was pulp. I recall finding the Anastasia books witty and interesting and she was a real character I could actually relate to. Oh I miss them! Now I want to read them!
posted by millipede at 10:13 AM on July 30, 2010

I'm sort of surprised not to see Donna Parker here.

Oh man, I read the shit out of my mom's old Donna Parker books.

What? Trixie Belden was a spoiled callow youth. Her and her monied friends, riding their stupid horses around. I could dream of being Nancy someday, but I already knew I wasn't Trixie.

What what? Trixie was an ordinary kid. Her best friend Honey was the rich, indulged child. With, I believe, violet eyes? Or was that their other friend (Diana?).

Time to start gathering these for my daughters. Cherry Ames and Sue Barton, too.
posted by padraigin at 10:20 AM on July 30, 2010

I'm sort of surprised not to see Donna Parker here.
I was looking for Donna Parker on the list, too! I received Donna Parker Takes a Giant Step in the school Christmas gift exchange when I was in the fifth grade. For some reason the characters and story always stuck in my mind, and in recent years I've scoured antique malls and such to complete my Donna Parker library.

As a kid, I read Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls religiously (checked out from the local library, natch). My best friend and I always searched the library shelf looking for the "funny typeface" version of Nancy Drew books, meaning the original 1930s-era books, not the updated 1960s ones. We got a kick out of reading about such old-fashioned things as Nancy's roadster and her "frequent date" Ned Nickerson. I was a voracious reader as a child, and the library was free (as Sophia Petrillo once said, "We was po'.") so I pretty much read any "series" books, especially if they were of the mystery genre (Boxcar Children, Happy Hollisters, Bobbsey Twins). I read some Cherry Ames and some of that stewardess series, but they were usually a last resort when there were no unread mystery books left on the shelves.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:35 AM on July 30, 2010

PinkSuperhero and other SVH readers, Sweet Valley Confidential is coming out in March 2011. The first poorly written chapter is available online.

I blame those books for misinforming me about what American culture is like and what college would be like. And relationships.
posted by anniecat at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2010

No no no, if you liked Sweet Valley High, you'll love the Sweet Valley High Drinking Game.
posted by redsparkler at 10:57 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Trixie was an ordinary kid.

This might be my latent childhood class issues rising up, but I just could not identify with Trixie, at all, despite my pony-loving young ways. Maybe it's an East Coast vs. West Coast thing, maybe it's a white collar/blue collar divide, but her club had matching jackets and her father worked in a bank and everyone seemed like a comfortable nuclear family. It felt so different from Encyclopedia Brown working out of his garage, or the Three Investigators and their secret hideout in the middle of a salvage yard.

Also, mild mannered Trixie Belden Fan Fiction. Explore "what really happened after Jim gave Trixie the silver ID bracelet".
posted by redsparkler at 11:08 AM on July 30, 2010

PinkSuperhero and other SVH readers, Sweet Valley Confidential is coming out in March 2011. The first poorly written chapter is available online.

Can't waaaaaaaaaaait!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:27 AM on July 30, 2010

Reading the first chapter now- I am loving it! OMG they just used the word orgasm! THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT SEXY AHHHHHHHH! And here's the obligatory section on how beautiful the twins are. Elizabeth's best friend Bruce Patman?!?!? Haaaa, I am dying to read this book.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:40 AM on July 30, 2010

While Nancy Drew lives in a perfect world with plenty of money and frequently uses her father's name to get herself out of trouble, Trixie Belden lives in a world where she must do housework and other odd jobs to earn much-needed money and must rely only upon herself to get herself out of trouble.

It never really occurred to me that these were all series for girls. I was a Hardy Boys fan at a very young age, but also liked Trixie Belden AND Nancy Drew. As a poor kid growing up in rural PA with few friends, they were basically interchangeable to me as characters: popular, good-looking, adventurous, and -- to me -- wealthy. More importantly, they had supportive families. I do recall Trixie Belden dealing with more realistic problems, though, like drug abuse (not her own, of course!)

Shame that Nancy is still around but Trixie isn't.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:58 AM on July 30, 2010

I loved Trixie Belden and could not stand Nancy Drew. But I actually saw Trixie as well to do, compared to anyone in my neighbourhood - even when they weren't using their friends' assets.

I also had the puzzle books and most of the books. I remember they were CAD $1.75 to $2.25 and that it took my entire allowance to buy a book. So I bought them every couple of weeks and saved the rest for college.
posted by acoutu at 12:17 PM on July 30, 2010

I was a Bobbsey Twins fiend as a kid, and learned many, many interesting facts about things like what pedestrian crossing signs looked like in Portugal and what a cameo was. And I remember I was always jealous of my friend Cindy because she had a bunch of the Trixie Belden books, and for some reason my mom didn't buy us those, so I had to read them at her house.

I never got into Nancy Drew either; the fact that she drove her own car made her seem too old for me to be interested in.

My mom remembers the Maida books, which were also from the Stratemeyer Syndicate and so written by the same people who wrote Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins and all the other books my teachers at school hated...
posted by OolooKitty at 2:39 PM on July 30, 2010

Oh Millipede, you have no idea how shocked I was when I found out Gertrude Stein was a real person. I still want to live in a house with a tower.
posted by mippy at 3:09 PM on July 30, 2010

I used to have a set of Nancy Drews from the 1930s. They had been rescued from a flooded church basement, so they were pretty beat up and water damaged. I remember pulling the pages apart very carefully so that they wouldn't crumble as I read.

I was a little sad to see Elizabeth Williams Champney left off this list. The Three Vassar Girls series (11 books) is incredibly detailed when it comes to travel, and incredibly light on plot.

"There are two kinds of girls, girls who flirt, and girls who go to Vassar College."
posted by betweenthebars at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

One Barbara Millicent Roberts tried her hand at the teen detective genre, although that is not what she is famous for. But it is why I know her full name. I spent many lonely days hiding with impromptu kid libraries left in camps and schools.

As I recall, the book I read was not stupid -- it was light as air, of course, all about Barbie learning how to be a reporter in the '60s. But some busy housewife of a Vassar grad had done her job and written it with care.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:34 PM on July 30, 2010

dlugoczaj, you say nerd, I say awesome.

I went looking and the Mystery-Quiz Books do look familiar. Was there a puzzle about how two sisters were born three years apart but really only a week different in age? (The answer had something to do with being born around the end of the year, though thinking about it now, I can't remember how it fit together.)

Other photos: Trixie t-shirt, Trixie paper dolls and more paper dolls. There's something about paper dolls that I love as an adult, though I found them frustrating to play with as a child. The clothing never quite fit correctly and it was often hard to fold the tabs so they didn't show.

redsparkler, I don't remember Trixie as rich and spoiled either. What sticks in my mind is how feisty she was, and how she always seemed to be getting in trouble for things and then doing them anyway because she wanted to know the truth. Nancy seemed more sterile to me, with her perfect manners and her perfect friends and her perfect lawyer dad and his constantly-twinkling eyes. But we're talking twenty-five years since I read this stuff. Maybe I'd have a different impression as an adult.
posted by Georgina at 6:22 PM on July 30, 2010

I do love me some girls' series-- all of the school-era Grace Harlowe books, the Automobile Girls / Moving Picture Girls series, Carolyn Wells' Patty Fairfield books, Nell Speed's Molly Brown books, Betty Gordon, Billie Bradley, Girls of Central High, Ruth Fielding, Betty Wales, etc etc etc. and I've found them all online, bless 'em.

(Although my all-time girls' series favorite-- if you can call it that-- will remain Martha Finley's appalling Elsie Dinsmore books)
posted by ElaineMc at 6:33 PM on July 30, 2010

Oh yay! I still have my stash of Betty Gordon books that my mom bought in a box at a 1970's garage sale. I used to read them over and over and dream of going to an all girl's school, carrying all of my possessions in a steamer trunk, and solving mysteries.

Actually, I still dream of the last two.
posted by jeanmari at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2010

Georgina, I remember that puzzle vividly! It was a classmate of Trixie's that said, "Last week I was thirteen years old. Next year I will have my sixteenth birthday." The girl spoke soon after New Year's Day. She was thirteen until her birthday on December 31, when she turned fourteen. So, that year she would turn fifteen, and the year after that, sixteen.

I have to try that one out on my stepdaughter. She'll like it.

(The T-shirt was exactly the one I had, the blue one. And the first paper dolls were the set that I had. I had lots of paper dolls as a child--loved the reprints of Lettie Lane and Betty Bonnet, for instance--and the Trixie paper dolls were a huge deal to me because of the intersection of two things that I really loved.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:27 AM on August 2, 2010

I was a big fan of children's mysteries as a child. I read The Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

My favorite, though, were a more contemporary series, the Tom & Liz Austen novels from Eric Wilson. They were a little more up-to-date and they had Canadians in them!
posted by jacquilynne at 10:00 AM on August 3, 2010

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