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1 Hawthorne Children's- Nancy Drew

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Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her


Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her Cover

ISBN13: 9780156030564
ISBN10: 015603056x
Condition: Standard
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The Stratemeyer Clan

These suggestions are for a new series for girls verging on novels. 224 pages, to retail at fifty cents. I have called this line the "Stella Strong Stories," but they might also be called "Diana Drew Stories," "Diana Dare Stories," "Nan Nelson Stories," "Nan Drew Stories" or "Helen Hale Stories" . . .

Stella Strong, a girl of sixteen, is the daughter of a District Attorney of many years standing. He is a widower and often talks over his affairs with Stella and the girl was present during many interviews her father had with noted detectives and at the solving of many intricate mysteries. Then, quite unexpectedly, Stella plunged into some mysteries of her own and found herself wound up in a series of exciting situations. An up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy.


IN SEPTEMBER of 1929 children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer sent one of his inimitable typed memos to Grosset and Dunlap, his longtime publisher, describing a new line of books he hoped they would launch the following spring. Though he proved to have an uncharacteristically tin ear when it came to choosing a name for his heroine- any other option on his list of possibilities had a better ring to it than "Stella"-his sense of her life and her intrepid personality were flawless. While they had no way of knowing that Stratemeyer's girl detective would eventually become a celebrity not only in the children's book world but in the world at large, Grosset and Dunlap's editors certainly knew a good thing when they saw it. They accepted Stratemeyer's series on the basis of his memo, which also included brief plotlines for the first five books in the series, and his reputation, which, by the time "Nan Drew" burst on to the scene with her fashionable outfits and boundless intelligence, had been the source of admiration and envy-and a great fortune for Stratemeyer-for several decades. When his latest proposal reached their Manhattan office, he had been writing for children for more than forty years and was so steeped in the idiom of his chosen genre that he had given even the events of his own life-which were rather straightforward and businesslike when it came down to it-the sheen and thrill of a juvenile story.

This transformation had begun at the moment of his first serious publication in a children's story paper in November of 1889. It was a fanciful tale called "Victor Horton's Idea," and it told of a boy who went out into the world to live life-unsuccessfully, it would transpire-like the characters in his favorite dime novels.

Victor was fifteen years old, naturally bright and lively, and if he had not held so high of an opinion of himself, he would have been a first-rate lad.

Besides being conceited, Victor was dissatisfied with the quietness of country life. He longed to go forth into the great world and achieve fame and fortune.

Now, though this idea is often a very laudable one, it was not so in the present instance. Victor's idea upon the subject had been gathered wholly from the pages of numerous dime novels and disreputable story papers loaned him by his particular crony, Sam Wilson, and was, therefore, of a deceptive and unsubstantial nature, and likely to do more harm than good.

The details of Victor's exploits appeared in installments over five weeks, crammed into the narrow columns of a richly illustrated black-and-white children's broadsheet out of Philadelphia called Golden Days for Boys and Girls (subscription price $3 per annum). Alongside them ran informative articles with titles like "How to Make a Guitar" ("Those who have read the articles on 'Violin Making' and have succeeded in making one would, perhaps, like to make a guitar if they knew what a simple matter it is"); interesting trivia; and true stories about heroic rescues of humans by dogs.

Stratemeyer was twenty-six years old, tall, slender, and bespectacled, with a brushy mustache, dark hair combed back off a high forehead, and a preternatural instinct for the arc of a good tale for young people. He had, according to one news report, "a scholarly appearance . . . and his eyes are a trifle contracted from constant application to his work." Indeed, in person, Stratemeyer betrayed no signs of the flights of fancy that had produced Victor and would go on to invent countless other young scalawags, heroes, and heroines over the next forty years. As one reporter would later describe him, he was "a tranquil-faced man, with kind, good-humored eyes . . . [and] a curiously deliberate manner of speaking. One doubts if he has ever been hurried into a decision or ever given an answer to a question without earnest consideration." He also had a healthy sense of perspective on his chosen field. By the end of Victor Horton's travails, the young man announces to his hapless friend Sam: "Dime novels are a first-class fraud!"

Nonetheless, they were the field that Stratemeyer aimed to get into. Myth had it that he had written "Victor Horton's Idea" on a sheet of brown package paper during quiet moments while clerking at his brother's tobacco store in Newark, New Jersey. In spite of having recorded very clearly in his own notes that he had written the story at home, Stratemeyer, knowing better than most the value of a good yarn, repeated the entertaining falsehood about its conception whenever he was asked to. As one news feature of the era printed it, complete with the final triumph of will and self-knowledge over discouragement:

His initial long story-18,000 words-was written on store wrapping paper and later copied onto white paper. The author, who was then twenty-five, was not satisfied with it so he laid it aside. After a year . . . he revised the manuscript carefully and sent it to Golden Days. The check for $75 he received Stratemeyer bore proudly to his father, Henry J. Stratemeyer. "Look at this," he said. The father, who had told him he was wasting his time writing the tale and might be better engaged in a more useful activity, regarded the check, then jerked up his glasses. "Why, it's a check made out to you!" he exclaimed. Stratemeyer explained he had received it for the story the parent had tried to discourage. "Paid you that for writing a story?" his father repeated. "Well, you'd better write a lot more of them."

In addition to his paycheck, Stratemeyer received something even more valuable: some sage-not to mention prophetic-advice from the editor of Golden Days. "I think you would become a good serial writer if you were to know just what was required, always remembering that each 'to be continued' must mark a holding point in the story." The young author not only took these words fully to heart, but would incorporate them, practically verbatim, into his own advice to writers for years to come.

Born on October 4, 1862, Edward Stratemeyer was the youngest of six children, three of them half-brothers, and all of them musically or artistically talented. His father, Henry Julius Stratemeyer, had come to the United States from Germany in 1837, along with a wave of German immigrants that only got larger and larger as the nineteenth century progressed. Many of them, including Henry Stratemeyer, headed out to the California coast in search of the shiniest, most tempting American dream of them all: gold. By 1851, though, Henry had mined more fool's gold than the actual metal, and he headed back east to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to visit his brother, George, also an andeacute;migrandeacute;; his brother's wife, Anna; and the couple's three sons. Surrounded by family, Henry decided to stay in Elizabeth and settled into shopkeeping, advertising himself as a "wholesale and retail dealer in tobacco, cigars, snuff and pipes."

Two years after his brother's arrival in New Jersey, George Stratemeyer was stricken during a cholera epidemic. Knowing death was near, he asked Henry to stay in America and look after his family. Henry agreed, and in 1854, not long after George's death, he married his brother's widow, making his three nephews into his stepsons. Henry and Anna went on to have three more children: Louis Charles, born in 1856; Anna, born in 1859; and Edward, born in 1862. The family was well established in the cultured, comfortable merchant circle of Elizabeth and was barely touched by the War Between the States. Neither a military man nor a willing volunteer, the elder Stratemeyer had no trouble staying out of it.

As they grew, the Stratemeyer boys were put to work in their father's thriving tobacco store, in order that he might teach them the basics of commerce and, especially, entrepreneurship. The children also received musical training. Edward's sister, Anna, who would become an accomplished pianist, received her entire schooling at a prominent conservatory in town. Edward, on the other hand, was educated in the public schools of Elizabeth, and though he had an ear for music, too, preferred language. "You ask when I first wanted to become an author," he wrote to an acquaintance in 1919. "I think I must have been about six years old when I attempted to write my first story." He displayed an early interest in publishing, as well, running around his neighborhood with a toy printing press-an accoutrement that was all the rage at the time-turning out items for the pleasure of his friends and family. He would interview local residents about the goings-on in their lives during the week, then print up their answers in a newspaper that he sold back to them, at the price of one cent, on Saturday mornings.

Two chapbooks followed, with the entertaining, inscrutable titles That Bottle of Vinegar (1877) and The Tale of a Lumberman as Told by Himself (1878). The latter included, in bold black-and-white, the confident statement "E. STRATEMEYER PUBLISHER" on its cover. Stratemeyer was just sixteen years old, but he had grown up reading the books of Oliver Optic (the nom de plume of William T. Adams) and Horatio Alger, the two predominant boys' fiction authors of the period, and the adventure-filled, rags-to-riches stories, as well as their action-packed dime-novel counterparts, left an impression on him that lasted well into his adult years. As he recalled fondly in an interview: "I had quite a library, including many of Optic's and Alger's books. At seven or eight, when I was reading them, I said, 'If only I could write books like that I'd be the happiest person on earth.'"

Stratemeyer graduated from Elizabeth High School, the valedictorian of his class of three. Afterward, as was the norm for even a middle-class boy-only 1 percent of Americans attended college in the 1870s-he received two years of private tutoring in rhetoric, composition, and literature. He continued to combine clerking in a tobacco store-his brother Maurice's this time-with writing, refining his stories, and selling them to the story papers that were appearing all over the country, like the Penny Magazine (which paid him $1 for "A Horrible Crime"), the Experiment, and the Boys' Courier.

Copyright and#169; 2005 by Melanie Rehak

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval

system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work

should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,

Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Debra Hamel/book-blog.com, November 25, 2006 (view all comments by Debra Hamel/book-blog.com)
Melanie Rehak has written a fascinating history of Nancy Drew, the preternaturally competent girl sleuth whose series of mysteries was one of some two dozen published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The Syndicate's books, including the Hardy Boys mysteries, were the product of collaboration between Edward Stratemeyer, who created the Syndicate in 1905, and his stable of ghostwriters. Stratemeyer created Nancy Drew in 1929 and assigned the job of writing the books to Mildred Wirt, the first of two strong-willed women who would be inextricably linked with the girl detective. After Stratemeyer's death in 1930 the Syndicate was run by his daughter, Harriet. Much of Rehak's book is focused on the contentious relationship between Harriet and Mildred: the Syndicate was jealous of its properties, and Harriet was a fierce guardian of the secrets behind the books' authorship. The uneasy relationship between the two women makes Rehak's book that much more compelling.
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Product Details

Rehak, Melanie
Harvest Books
Popular Culture
Children's 12-Up - Biography / Autobiography
American fiction
Women and literature
Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Popular Culture - General
Drew, nancy (fictitious character)
Women and literature -- United States.
Biography & Autobiography : Literary
Children s Young Adult-Biography
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 9 up to 12
One 8-page black-and-white photo insert
8 x 5.31 in 0.8 lb
Age Level:
from 14

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Related Subjects

Biography » Literary
Biography » Women
Children's » Nonfiction » Biographies
Children's » Series » General
Children's » Series » Nancy Drew
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture
Humanities » Literary Criticism » General
Humanities » Literary Criticism » Literary and Cultural Studies
Young Adult » Nonfiction » Biographies

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her Used Trade Paper
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Product details 384 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156030564 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The intrepid Nancy Drew has given girls a sense of their own power since she was born, Athena-like, from the mind of Edward Stratemeyer in 1929 and raised after his death in 1930 by his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Mildred Wirt Benson, a journalist who was the first to write the novels under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Poet and critic Rehak invigorates all the players in the Drew story, and it's truly fun to see behind the scenes of the girl sleuth's creation, her transformation as different writers took on the series, and the publishing phenomenon — the highly productive Stratemeyer Syndicate machine — that made her possible. Rehak's most ambitious choice is to reflect on how Nancy Drew mirrors girls' lives and the ups and downs of the women's movement. This approach is compelling, but not particularly well executed. Rehak's breathless prose doesn't do justice to the complexity of the large social trends she describes, and tangents into Feminism 101 derail the story that really works — the life of a publishing juggernaut. All the same, Stratemeyer himself would undoubtedly say that the story is worth telling. Drew fans are likely to agree. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, the Wylie Agency. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "And now, for Nancy Drew fanciers old and young, comes Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. With her first sentence ('Grab your magnifying glass, because this is a mystery story') Rehak shows she has a finger on the pulse of the faithful. A proper sleuth for grown-up girls, Rehak — in prose steely, lovely, and precise — explores why Nancy Drew has remained so popular since her arrival, in 1930, and answers the question: Who was the mysterious Carolyn Keene?" Sandra Tsing Loh, the Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
"Review" by , "Packed with revealing anecdotes, Rehak's meticulously researched account...will delight fans of the beloved gumshoe whose gumption guaranteed that every reprobate got his due."
"Review" by , "A breezy social history."
"Review" by , "As a literary biography, Girl Sleuth is necessarily tangled, since the Nancy Drew mysteries...had numerous parents. But Rehak does a terrific job of bringing to life the writers and editors who constituted Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the series."
"Review" by , "In her evenhanded, readable book, Rehak does a good job of exploring the class tensions between the two creators....[A]n enjoyable, thorough piece of detective work. It would earn a nod of approval from Nancy Drew herself."
"Review" by , "In this well-researched and fluidly paced book, Rehak delivers a complex interweaving of the writers' biographies with the context of their times....Rehak writes with gusto and intelligence....Nancy would be so proud."
"Review" by , "Melanie Rehak unspools the fascinating story of how Nancy came to be....[A]bsorbing and delightful..."
"Review" by , "Whatever becomes of [Nancy's] future...Rehak has given her past its due in this vivid, unpretentious and sympathetic history."
"Review" by , "Rehak sheds light on perhaps the most successful writing franchise of all time and also the cultural and historic changes through which it passed. Grab your flashlights, girls. The mystery of Carolyn Keene is about to begin."
"Review" by , "Girl Sleuth is meticulously researched, elegantly written, and riveting. Melanie Rehak juxtaposes teen sleuth Nancy Drew's omnipotence with the all-too-real struggles of her creators."
"Synopsis" by , The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy Drew was brought to life by two women. In a century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles — and Nancy's — in forging the modern American woman.
"Synopsis" by ,
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Biography * A Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2005* Winner of the Agatha Award for Non-Fiction 

 "A feat of daring worthy of Nancy herself." –Los Angeles Times

Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. Here, with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancys adventures, is the first behind-the-scenes history of our beloved girl detective. Behind the blue roadster, cloche hats, uncanny timing, and constant presence in the lives of American girls lies an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon? Melanie Rehak has put together the clues and tracked down the suspects; grab your flashlights and join the gang as we find out the truth about Nancy Drew.

"Such an engrossing read that it made me hungry for some Nancy Drews. Rehak writes with gusto and intelligence. Nancy would be so proud."--Chicago Tribune

"Absorbing. Girl Sleuth is an enjoyable, thorough piece of detective work." – The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"A proper sleuth for grown-up girls. Prose [that is] steely, lovely, and precise." – The Atlantic Monthly

Melanie Rehak is a poet and critic. A recipient of the New York Public Library's Tukman Fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, she writes for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Nation, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.

"Synopsis" by ,
In 1930 a plucky girl detective stepped out of her shiny blue roadster, dressed in a smart tweed suit, ready to restore a stolen inheritance to its rightful owner. Tied up by the villains, she managed to free herself and bring them to justice - all while wearing a pencil skirt and high heels. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers), and emerged as beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers. Now, in a narrative with all the fast-paced thrill of one of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves a page-turning literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to American icon?

With ebullience, wit, and a wealth of little-known source material, Rehak weaves a behind-the-scenes history of Nancy and her groundbreaking creators. Taking us from The Secret of the Old Clock to The Secret of the Spa, Rehak tells all about our fearless sleuth - including the fact that both Nancy and her "author," Carolyn Keene, were invented by Edward Stratemeyer, a dime-novel genius who also created the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys. But Nancy Drew was actually brought to life by two remarkable women: original author Mildred Wirt Benson, a convention-flouting Midwestern journalist, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a wife and mother who transformed herself into a CEO to run her father's company after he died. Together, Benson and Adams created a character that has inspired generations of girls to be as strong-willed and as bold as they were.

Melanie Rehak will send you back to your old Nancy Drews — but thanks to GIRL SLEUTH you'll never read them the same way again.

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