I recently visited the Nancy Drew exhibit in Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland. My comments here partially repeat what I wrote in the exhibit visitors' journal.
I went out of my way to view the exhibit because reading series books, Nancy Drew in particular was such an important part of my childhood, and a major factor in my development into a life-long avid reader, and lover of books with sequels. My two sisters also read Nancy Drew, as did our mother before us. I guess I was in the fourth grade or thereabouts when I started reading them. I do not remember them being in our local library, but it was a very small branch and the children's section was tiny. My mother gave us her originals that she had kept, and when we had worked our way through them, we starting acquiring the newer titles, which of course had the more updated images on the covers and updated descriptions inside. Mom never minding buying us books since she bought herself so many (and still does!)
I still carry mental images in my head from lines and situations in those books. I smile whenever I think of Nancy in her "speedy roadster" with her "titian" hair. I loved the fact that although she had a boyfriend, equally important to her were her two friends, one of whom was a bit of a tomboy.
Nancy Drew served as an introduction for me to three types of literature: series fiction, mystery, and historical fiction. The latter I say because many of the oldest titles I read in the original, not an "updated" version. They were a window into decades past in terms of styles, attitudes, and use of language.
As a mother I thought the way to get my oldest son into reading was both to read to him aloud, and when he was ready, introduce him to the Nancy Drew equilalent: The Hardy Boys. I was right on both counts. He devoured every one he could get his hands on and amassed his own collection of mostly original HB hardcovers from antique shops and secondhand stores. At age twenty-one he still devours series like The Wheel of Time.
It irks me when I hear people criticize series fiction for young people as not being serious literature. Who says all literature has to be serious? I firmly believe if reading is established early on as a habitual means of entertainment for a child (alternative to computer and TV), eventually they will branch out into other, more "serious" types of books. They never will if they don't already like to read. I believe we as a culture would retain more teenagers as readers if we didn't force them into reading such heavy material at the expense of all else. In addition, are series books not the basis of series television? You never hear anyone criticizing that. It is just another form of episodic storytelling. It does my heart good in my job in a high school media center to see that spike-haired soccer player come in to get "the next one" in a series he's gotten hooked on. Thanks for the memory jogger and the opportunity to share my thoughts!
–Karen, age 45