Russell H. Tandy/Grosset & Dunlap
In her first case, The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), Nancy searches for a hidden will in order to help restore the inheritances to the rightful heirs.
In her first case, The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), Nancy searches for a hidden will in order to help restore the inheritances to the rightful heirs. Russell H. Tandy/Grosset & Dunlap
Melina Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures
Emma Roberts played the title character in the 2007 movie, which overhauled the heroine for contemporary 'tweens.
Emma Roberts played the title character in the 2007 movie, which overhauled the heroine for contemporary 'tweens. Melina Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures
Pamela Sue Martin (left) as the teen sleuth and sidekick George Fayne, played by Jean Rasey, on the 1977-'78 The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries TV series.
Pamela Sue Martin (left) as the teen sleuth and sidekick George Fayne, played by Jean Rasey, on the 1977-'78 The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries TV series. Universal Studios
Penguin Young Readers Group
Nancy heads overseas to the land of kilts in The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes, published in 1964.
Nancy heads overseas to the land of kilts in The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes, published in 1964. Penguin Young Readers Group
Nancy searches for the other Nancy Drew in this edition, published in 1932.
Nancy searches for the other Nancy Drew in this edition, published in 1932. Grosset &dunlap
She was born in 1930, but she's perpetually 18 — and always one step ahead of the adults: the iconic American girl sleuth, Nancy Drew.
"I'm pretty sure I started at the beginning, The Secret of the Old Clock," crime writer Laura Lippman says, referring to the first of dozens of Nancy Drew mysteries. Lippman's love of the girl sleuth put her on the path to creating her own best-selling series, featuring gal detective Tess Monaghan.
"One of the nice things about Nancy Drew books is that it validates curiosity as a virtue, which was not always the message in a lot of things that little girls were told," Lippman says.
She does things she's not supposed to do. For instance, her father is very often saying, "Nancy, this has nothing to do with you ? just stop." In the old movies, she stands with her fingers crossed behind her back.
"Her father does encourage her to be adult-like and to use her mind," says Lippman. "It's interesting, if you go back and look at children's literature, how many of the really popular books are designed so that the parent figures are off stage. So Nancy begins without a mother at all, just this kindly housekeeper who doesn't have much say. And her father does caution her at times, and does try to rein in some of her impulses. But she's really a free agent, and she's very much an independent, autonomous person at the age of 16, and when you're a little girl of 10 or 11, that's really thrilling. "
"I don't think there is a casual reader of Nancy Drew," says writer Fran Lebowitz. "There may be casual readers of Proust, but not of Nancy Drew."
Lebowitz says she was obsessed with Nancy Drew and the entire cast of characters: Ned Nickerson, the sometimes useful kind-of boyfriend; Hannah the housekeeper; father Carson Drew; and Nancy's adoring girlfriends, Bess and George.
"When I was 7- or 8-years-old, I had an operation on my eyes, and my eyes were blindfolded for two weeks," Lebowitz says. "[My mother was compelled] to sit by my bedside and read me Nancy Drew books all day long, because I couldn't read myself. So even blindness didn't stop me."
Lebowitz says Nancy's appeal was her independence.
"Being a detective seemed to me like an excellent job," she says. "It still seems like a pretty good job. And I still would like to have a roadster, a blue roadster. I still have not acquired one."
Nancy drove her blue roadster everywhere, often recklessly, as she focused on the mystery at hand.
Over the years, Nancy Drew has shown up on TV, in the movies, in comic books, and most recently, in video games. Her roadster has been updated to a hybrid. Gone are the cloche hats and gloves from the '30s, but young readers appreciate the classic touches in Nancy's always-adorable outfits.
"In the newer books she wears more modern clothes but she always has a hint of vintage," says fifth-grader Michaela Brown. "For instance, there are pictures, of course, in the comic books, and she was wearing a skirt, a T-shirt and this headband — you could tell it was the 50s. ? She always has a hint of something else. It's cool."
Eleven-year-old Zoe Dutton says her mother handed her a childhood favorite of her own, The Bungalow Mystery, on a hot summer day before she started second grade.
"She's constantly stumbling on smugglers and criminals and forgeries," Zoe says. "It's slightly unrealistic, but I mean only Nancy Drew can do this because she can sniff out a mystery like a bloodhound."
Neither Michaela nor Zoe want to be Nancy Drew. They'd rather have her as a friend, partly because she's a little too perfect, which can be a little boring.
"Her car is always fixed perfect," Zoe says. "She's always nice to everybody. She's even polite to the criminal after she catches them and knocks them out ... I mean slightly ridiculous, but it's nice if you're her friend."
I loved Nancy Drew because of her curiosity, a fascination with assembling clues — or facts — into a story and her certain recklessness. For me those qualities add up what it takes to be ... a reporter.
I didn't know that when I was 8 years old. I never imagined I would become a journalist. I only knew that the moment I finished one Nancy Drew mystery, I couldn't wait to plunge into another.