Nobody had to tell me that Nan Bobbsey and Nancy Drew had the same mother. I already knew at age 7 that their particular quality of plastic perfection derived from, you might say, the same genetic pool.
Of course Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (a.k.a. Carolyn Keene, Laura Lee Hope and several others) wasn't their only mother, but she certainly holds the record for Nancy Drew books. Her father, Edward Stratemeyer, dreamed up most of the series before his death in 1930, but it was Harriet Adams who took over from him and indisputedly maintained a half-century of control over the "editorial content" not just of Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins but of the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift and a slew of other popular but critically spurned books for children. She wrote many volumes herself, but others were farmed out to a bank of staff or free-lance authors. Harriet Adams died Saturday night at the age of 89--she had a heart attack while watching "The Wizard of Oz" on TV-- but her immortality has been assured for decades.
I got into Nancy Drew this way: A bout with rheumatic fever at the time I would normally have been in first grade found my mother, 5-year-old sister and me ensconced for the winter in the Ocean View Apartments in Key West, Fla. It was across a palm tree-lined boulevard from a walled estate described to us as the "Hemingway Place," and some big boys, who in retrospect I think might have been related to the writer, used to throw coconuts at us over the wall if we walked on their side of the street which, of course, we rarely did.
It was in the last years of the Great Depression and my mother was loath to send us frail little girls into a public school full of all sorts of contagious illnesses. The only other school on the key was a convent. That would have worked out fine, but the holy sisters insisted on trying to force my left-handed sister into being right-handed. When they tied her left hand behind her back, my mother decided we could make it through the winter with no schooling beyond that which could be provided by the public library.
Unfortunately, the public library was dependent almost entirely on the largesse of residents of winters past, and although there was a virtually complete collection of all the Bobbsey Twin and Nancy Drew books written by then--circa 1936--there wasn't much else.
My mother soon became thoroughly sick and tired of reading them to us and because they were so repetitive and, yes, forgive me Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, so essentially simple-minded, it was not at all hard to learn how to read them.
From the Bobbseys we moved on, very much like the termites that had riddled virtually every volume, to devour the much more scintillating adventures of Nancy Drew.
Nancy drove a car. I think it took me several books to establish firmly in my mind that a "roadster" was, indeed, a car.
Nancy was a clever girl, terribly good, terribly popular, terribly, terribly always right. She was sensible. Her friend's name was Ned.
She knew all sorts of things. Because Harriet Adams insisted on certain educational qualities to each book, I had an early knowledge of odd things like Egyptian mummies and scarabs.
Nancy Drew was always taking risks. She wouldn't have been scared off the sidewalk by a couple of rowdy kids. Not at all. She'd have bearded the lion in the den--and the books might have been the better for it, but that's another story.
I got pretty bored with Carolyn Keene by the time I was 8 or 9. Judy Blume she wasn't, and fairly early on I came under the spell of the early Asimov and his lesser peers. I learned what a space warp was a lot faster than I did a roadster. And personally I always preferred a book with a good villainous ghost than one with a ghost that turned out to be something disappointingly explainable.
On the other hand, there weren't too many young women around in the kiddy-lit of my childhood doing much of anything. Maybe those books talked about women as student nurses instead of student doctors; maybe it took a strong fella to get them out of serious scrapes, as their adventures were invariably called; maybe no black, Jew or any ethnic peopled her world, but maybe Nancy Drew had more impact on me than I've ever given her credit for. She certainly did get around.
But then again, I never did know anybody else with a roadster. I never knew anybody named Ned, either.