Monday, April 05, 2004

True to Nancy Drew
Call them the clued-in crowd: The girl sleuth's perennial appeal is no mystery to her fans, both kids and adults, many of whom gathered at a New Orleans convention last week to talk about all things Nancy Drew.

Monday April 05, 2004

By Barri Bronston
Staff writer

When Patty Kravets and her 9-year-old daughter, Ellie, learned that a Nancy Drew convention was coming to town last month, they immediately put it on their calendar.

As a child, Kravets devoured the books in the Nancy Drew mystery series, and now Ellie, a third grader at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, was exhibiting that same devotion to the teen-age detective.

"This is a kid who goes through Nancy Drew like candy," Kravets said. "If she's into a book, she'll get up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning because she wants to finish the story."

With their curiosity getting the best of them, they headed to the Chateau LeMoyne Hotel, where Nancy Drew buffs -- actually, fanatics -- were discussing everything from where they could buy collectible Nancy Drew paraphernalia to the history of River Heights, the fictional town where the mysteries are set.

Members of the fan club Nancy Drew Sleuths, they also opined on the all-new series, a collection of four books that gives Nancy a whole new look, attitude and vehicle. Instead of the blue Mustang convertible she drove in newer books of the original series, she now drives an environmentally friendly but still blue electric hybrid car. She is still in her teens but all done with high school. And she uses computers to solve mysteries, from finding a missing Fabergé egg in "Without a Trace" to discovering who kidnapped the daughter of a mayoral candidate in "False Notes."

Representatives of Simon & Schuster, publisher of the new series, were on hand at the convention to plug the books and answer questions. Not to her mother's surprise, Ellie had one:

"Why did you feel the need to change it?" she asked. "I really like it the way it is."

The publisher's representatives weren't completely shocked by the question. The books have enjoyed immense popularity since they were first published in the 1930s, with more than 200 million copies sold in 17 languages.

Although the books, written under the pen name Carolyn Keene, have undergone updates and revisions over the years, publishers felt the series needed a major overhaul if it were to compete with the likes of Harry Potter and Mary Kate and Ashley.

"We wanted to preserve the wholesomeness of Nancy Drew and the things that have kept her popular, but we wanted to update it for today's 'tween' readers in an effort to expand the reader base," said Jennifer Zatorski, senior publicist of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.

Besides giving Nancy eco-friendly wheels and a computer, she was also given a voice. The new books are written in the first person, so that readers know what Nancy is thinking as well as what she is saying.

"My name is Nancy Drew," says the first line of the first new book, "Without a Trace." "My friends tell me I'm always looking for trouble, but that's not really true. It just seems to have a way of finding me."

Nancy's friend Bess is still ultra-feminine but she has a natural ability to make and repair things. Her tomboy friend George has a knack for finding useful information on the Internet, and she can even do some hacking if necessary.

"There is also a lot more information about River Heights," Zatorski said. "In the old books, it's a setting, but the new series gives more information on the history of the town and why all the mayhem and crime happens there."

Although Nancy Drew devotees Tricia Boh and Camille Seyler, sixth graders at St. George's Episcopal School, have not read the new series, both are eager to learn more about the characters and the town.

"You know it's going to be good," Tricia said. "Nancy Drew has that spunk. She's ready for anything."

That doesn't mean Tricia won't continue reading the old series, which numbers 175 books, including such classics as "The Secret of the Old Clock" and her favorite, "The Mystery of the Ivory Charm."

Both Tricia and Camille were introduced to Nancy Drew by their mothers, who read Nancy Drew mysteries as young girls, and both are hopeful that the new books will maintain the series' high level of suspense and intrigue.

"I like that you never know if the mysteries are going to be solved," Camille said, "although you know that in the end all the loose ends will be tied up."

Jennifer Fisher, a Nancy Drew historian and national president of The Nancy Drew Sleuths, is always thrilled to hear young girls -- and boys -- talk about their fascination with the books.

As an adult, she not only continues to read the books but she also organizes sleuth gatherings and runs the sleuth Web site (, which features Nancy Drew trivia, tips for collectors and sellers, analyses of plots and themes and links to other Nancy Drew sites.

Although she was initially skeptical at the thought of a new series, she said, she read each one and is sure that today's generation of young readers will be pleased.

"It's a re-energization of the whole series," she said. "The writing style is much richer and you get more of a sense as to who these people are. It opens up Nancy's personality, and you get a sense of how she's feeling."

Nancy's future seems solid, with Simon & Schuster planning to publish six books a year, including two more this summer. The Nancy Drew name is already licensed for merchandising, including loungewear, video games and backpacks, and a new Nancy Drew movie is in the development stages at Warner Bros.

Clad in Nancy Drew pajamas, Stacey Johnson of Gumshoe Girls is among those capitalizing on the Nancy Drew revival. She manufactures such merchandise as tote bags, business card holders and T-shirts. The items feature various quips and images of Nancy from earlier books.

Johnson and her sister Kim Dahlquist got the idea for the merchandise after uncovering a box of old Nancy Drew books in the attic of her childhood home.

"I was such a Nancy Drew reader," she said. "I wanted to be a detective. And I wanted to be Nancy Drew. I remember all those feelings of empowerment she gave me."

Johnson didn't become a detective, but her business has certainly kept her close to the heroine of her youth. Members of The Nancy Drew Sleuths aren't detectives either, but they, too, have enjoyed the relationship they've maintained with their favorite female sleuth.

"We never grew up," said member Sharon Reid Harris of St. Louis, who is working on a Nancy Drew encyclopedia. "I've read the books from the time I was a child, and I've never stopped."

True to Nancy Drew

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