About the book:
The brainchild of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman.
“Witty, fast-paced, and smart, Girl Sleuth makes the story behind Nancy Drew as much fun as the mystery novels themselves."-Jean Strouse, author of Morgan: American Financier
About the author:
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.
Using This Guide
In her celebration of America’s favorite girl detective, Melanie Rehak unearthed a treasure trove of little-known facts about Nancy Drew’s creators and the ways in which history had a hand in shaping this unstoppable heroine. Girl Sleuth offers intriguing avenues of exploration for moms and daughters, teachers and students, and all book lovers-from librarians to mystery aficionados. Whether you’re hosting a multigenerational book group or using Girl Sleuth to enhance a classroom experience, the questions and exercises presented in this guide are designed to enrich your experience.
DISCUSSION TOPICS AND ACTIVITIES
Ask Your Mother
1. How did Nancy Drew compare to other female characters in fiction when the series was created? What did America make of a young protagonist who tooled around in a roadster and had little parental supervision? How do contemporary heroines assert their independence?
2. Gather a sampling of Nancy Drew novels, trying to include original editions and contemporary ones such as those in the new Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series. Which era do you prefer? What changes do you notice in the artwork featured on the covers?
3. Why were Nancy Drew’s creators careful to keep her relationship with Ned from culminating in marriage? In what ways have young women’s notions about marriage changed over the past seventy-five years? Was Clues to Good Cooking an affront to Nancy’s persona?
4. Compare Mildred’s upbringing to Harriet’s and Edna’s. How did each woman navigate family life and the world of work? Do any of these three women remind you of women in your ancestry?
5. Predict what changes will have to be made to update Nancy Drew a century from now. What might determine whether she appeals to your granddaughters?
1. Examine the many reference notes provided by Melanie Rehak at the end of the book. What sources did she consult most frequently? Is there someone in your family’s history whose biography you would like to research? If so, what library archives and publications would be most useful to you?
2. As a creative exercise, compose a brief outline for a short story. Include a description of the main character. Ask another member of your book group to do the same, and then trade outlines so that you can each write one another’s stories. When you return to read the finished stories, consider your reactions as both the creator of an outline and the writer of a story. Can you sympathize with Mildred’s experiences writing for Edward and Harriet? With Harriet’s experiences trying to guide the Syndicate’s authors. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method of fiction writing?
3. Girl Sleuth features numerous revelations about the financial arrangements surrounding the series, from Edward Stratemeyer’s suggested initial cover price (fifty cents) to his daughters’ reduction in the fees paid to writers. Assembling the data on paper or in a spreadsheet, what do you discover about the profit margins in the Stratemeyer system? What might have made his system even more profitable? What were its benefits? What does the book teach about human resources and power in salary negotiations?
4. What were Grosset & Dunlap’s assertions when bringing its lawsuit? What was the purpose of asking Mildred to testify? What did you learn from Girl Sleuth about intellectual property laws? How would you have ruled in the case?
5. Draw timelines for the lives of Mildred and Harriet. In what ways were they sometimes living parallel lives? In what ways were their activities vastly different? Mark the points in their lives when historic events took place. What was the impact of these events on the Nancy Drew narratives?
6. Create a timeline for the identity of Carolyn Keene, including the period when writers other than Mildred and Harriet were the authors. How has she evolved, depending on author and time period? What has remained unchanged about her?
1. What do you and your childhood friends remember most about the Nancy Drew series? Did your group of friends resemble Nancy’s in any way? Which titles remained your perennial favorites? How did Nancy compare to the protagonists of similar books, such as the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys?
2. How did you picture Carolyn Keene when you were younger? Does it matter that she was as fictional as the series bearing her name? What did Nancy Drew’s real authors have in common with your imaginary version of Carolyn Keene?
3. The physical description of Nancy Drew was very carefully crafted. How did her creators’ choices about everything from her appearance to her love life enhance her appeal? Why was her specific, improbable set of circumstances such a popular formula? Did you agree with claims that earlier books showed hints of prejudice and racism?
4. Did the story of Mildred’s and Harriet’s life reflect the evolution of Nancy Drew along the way? Did the fictional sleuth have much in common with her authors?
5. Mildred and Harriet each felt an attachment to a particular version of Nancy. Which of their concepts resonated the most with you? What is the best way for a fiction writer to balance reality and fantasy? In what ways is Nancy a good dose of both?
Especially for Book People
1. Chapter 6, "Nancy Drew Land," chronicles the series’ journey from concept to printed page. What does Stratemeyer’s approach indicate about the process of creating a novel in general? Why do you imagine Harriet continued to rely on Grosset & Dunlap rather than taking on their duties herself, along with the lion’s share of the profit?
2. Near the end of Girl Sleuth, Rehak describes a 1993 Nancy Drew co