In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Following the clues to the Nancy Drews

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's interesting to hear what's stuck with you from the Gregor books, and to think about them as homage to Alice in Wonderland as well as A Wrinkle in Time -- of course, the fall down the laundry room grate is like that old rabbit hole.  But no, Gregor and Boots remain their same human size, and it is the animals who are truly enormous -- six-foot tall cockroaches, giant vicious rats.  At the beginning of the second book, Gregor takes Boots to go sledding in Central Park, and she's kidnapped by giant cockroaches there (one of the other entryways to Underland is under a large stone slab in the park).  Gregor figures out what's happened when he sees a dog going crazy barking at what looks like a stick, but turns out to be an enormous articulated cockroach leg that snapped off during the kidnapping.  (To clarify: the roaches kidnap Boots for her own safety, so the rats won't get her first.  They're still good guys.)  Oh yes, I'll be reading all five of these.

We're gearing up for our own vacation, and I've been stockpiling books to read with Eleanor during the week we'll be away with my in-laws in a cabin by a lake in Wisconsin.  The second Borrowers book is waiting for us, and we're already halfway through Ramona the Pest.  The book Eleanor was most excited to pick up from the library, however, was The Secret of the Old Clock, a.k.a. the first volume of the Nancy Drew mysteries, by Carolyn Keene.

Eleanor's interest in Nancy Drew was sparked by our recent reading of The Worry Week, which was a total joy.  Jeff began it with Eleanor, but it was her first week of vacation, so my mom and I were commuting with her around the city, and we all took a turn reading.  What a good book!  I knew I'd read it, but didn't realize until we started again just how many times I must have reread -- so many places throughout the book where I knew lines by heart, after more than 20 years....

It's a book full of references.  Alice, the oldest sister, quotes Romeo and Juliet throughout, so I had to explain the plot of that story.  Allegra, the narrator and middle sister, refers several times to her "pile of Nancy Drews," and Alice at one point twists her ankle and stays in the bath and on the couch reading "all the Nancy Drews."  Eleanor picked up on it: "What's a Nancy Drews?" and I dredged up what I could remember of the many, many Nancy Drew books I sped through in 2nd grade.  I have an image of the shelf they all sat on in my elementary school library: a bottom shelf, filled gloriously from one side to the other with the worn permabound covers, their yellow spines fraying a little at top and bottom, each front cover bearing an image of Nancy finding something amazing or sinister, usually surrounded by darkness.  I remember Nancy was motherless, and lived with her wealthy father and a motherly housekeeper.  She drove a blue roadster, dated the totally forgettable Ned Nickerson, and was best friends with plump, girly Bess and short-haired, tomboyish (ahem, butch) George.  I don't remember a single complete plot.  Elements, yes: a broken locket, lots of running to gazebos at night, close calls.  I have no idea what to expect when Eleanor and I crack this one open.

But apparently I'm in good company in having been a huge fan.  Three years ago, when Sonia Sotomayor was being confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court, someone dug up the fact that all three (at that point, pre-Kagan) female Supreme Court justices cited Nancy Drew as a major influence.  The New York Times published two articles digging into Nancy Drew's appeal: one focused on the justices, and one expanding the pool of fans to include all kinds of high-powered women.  She's been a lot of things to a lot of girls and women over the years.  I'll report back on her impact in this house.

Love, Annie

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