The Evolution of Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew is more than 80 years old but she is still going strong.  The titian-haired wonder has been the subject of movies, TV series, hardback books, soft cover, and even graphic novels. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Sandra Day O’Connor are among the many amazing women who have cited Nancy Drew as an early inspiration.

My mom bought me my first Nancy Drew—The Scarlet Slipper Mystery—and it didn’t take long for me to get through it. Next thing you knew I was doing odd jobs around the neighborhood to earn more books—collecting newspapers in my dad’s yellow wheelbarrow for the local pet shop, helping plant pansies, and walking dogs.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I loved reading these stories so much. I don’t think it was any one thing. I loved her because she was independent, loyal to her friends, smart, and she helped people. She relied on herself, solved mysteries and had fun while she did it. Nancy Drew could do anything and she helped me believe that I could too. Back then I only knew one version of her and it was actually the second version of the character in print. Nancy Drew, much like the character of Sherlock Holmes has been reimagined in multiple ways. Since we can’t possibly cover all of her incarnations, lets just visit a few.

The Original

Most Nancy Drew fans know that Carolyn Keene never existed, that it was a pen name for various ghostwriters, including Mildred Wirt Benson, who worked for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. What some fans may not know is that Nancy started out as a gun-toting, 16-year-old who treated the family housekeeper Hannah Gruen like a servant and wasn’t politically correct. This version has been reprinted by Applewood Books and these reissued books are available today.

Late 1930s Movies: Bonita Granville

In the late 1930s, Nancy Drew took to the screen for the first time in four movies staring Bonita Granville: Nancy DrewDetective; Nancy DrewReporter; Nancy DrewTrouble Shooter; and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. As in the books, Nancy had her own car and while she was still a great detective, what I remember most about these movies was that she wasn’t such a hot driver.

1959: The First Rewrite

At this point the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap decided that Nancy needed a politically correct makeover to erase the racial stereotypes, age Nancy from 16 to 18, and to get rid of the gun. While this rewrite fixed some problems, it created another, because the writers just went through and removed most of the non-white characters.  Some say this new Nancy Drew was not as independent and more demure. 

1970s Television: Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Mysteries

Nancy Drew hits prime time TV and is played by Pamela Sue Martin, but the Nancy Drew mysteries alternated weeks with the Hardy Boys played by teen idols Shawn Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. After the first season, the shows were merged. Nancy became less independent with the boys around, and after Pamela Sue Martin posed for Playboy she was replaced. The show didn’t last long.

The Paperbacks

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nancy Drew had another makeover when she changed publishers to Simon & Schuster. Not only were her existing stories reissued in paperback, new ones started coming out with a more “updated” Nancy. This time Nancy was a little more romantically inclined, but she still solved the mystery.

Video Games: 1990s to Present

In 1998 Nancy became the star of her own interactive video game geared toward girls age ten and up with Secrets Can Kill.  You get to move the Nancy avatar through her cases, some modeled after the book plots, some not. In addition to the PC, Nancy Drew games are available on Nintendo.

Graphic Novels

Nancy keeping up with the latest thing now has stars in two series of graphic novels. The first series already has 24 books out, including Nancy Drew: Vampire Slayer. The second series done in comic book style, called Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, features an 8-year-old Nancy in middle school. She is now a detective-in-training and the first book, Small Volcanoes, takes her through adventures of trying to figure out a science project.  In true Nancy fashion, she decides to build a volcano.

This post is just providing an overview of a deep and rich history of one of America’s favorite characters. If you’d like to learn more, I’d suggest you pick up, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak or The Official Nancy Drew Handbook by Penny Warner.

Now I’d love to hear about your Nancy Drew memories. Who gave you your first Nancy and which one was it? Why do you love Nancy (or why not)? Have you ever played one of the computer games?

Nancy Drew graphic novelsTo enter for a chance to win this set of four signed graphic novels (Nancy Drew #8: Global Warning, Nancy Drew #9: Ghost in the Machinery, Nancy Drew #11: Monkey Wrench Blues, and Nancy Drew #14: Sleight of Dan), make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) March 9, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 5:29 p.m. ET on March 16, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010


Deborah Lacy likes speakeasies, yellow heirloom tomatoes, and crime fiction. She blogs at Mystery Playground.  Occasionally she makes crafts out of ruined Nancy Drew books. You can find her on Twitter @quippy.


Read all posts by Deborah Lacy for Criminal Element.


  1. mosaix

    Nancy Drew-YES!

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    I’m in for the win! Go Nancy!

  3. Doreen Sheridan

    I loved the old school Nancy Drews, but my favorites by far were the Nancy Drew Case Files, particularly the story arc around Death By Design. Would love to see how the graphic novels treat her.

  4. Tony Fitzpatrick

    I never read any of the originals, but these might be worth sharing with young’uns.

  5. Kati Eller

    Nice review – have read all ofthe incarnations except the graphic novels.

  6. Brian Greene

    Very nicely written post! My 8-year old daughter and many of her friends are Nancy fans. I’ll show this to them.

  7. Karen Barnett

    My friends and I bought the books in the early 50s and would pass them around so we could read them all.

  8. Terrie Farley Moran

    Forgot to mention–my aunt gave me my first batch of Nancy Drew mysteries. It was in the 1950s and the books were left over from my aunt’s childhood in the 1930s.

  9. Cindy Huefner Cromer

    Loved Nancy Drew books when I was a little girl. One of the many insprirations I’ve had to become a mystery/suspense published author.

    Cindy Cromer

  10. Trina D

    Love, Love, LOVE Nancy Drew! Great article.

  11. Jeff Baker

    Quite a few years ago the local paper profiled a lady who owned a small-town bookshop, not specializing in mysteries. She got tired of answering questions about her (married) name—Nancy Drew!

  12. Adam Rowe

    I enjoyed that Emma Roberts-starring Nancy Drew film from a few years back… it was suitably meta and poked fun at Nancy Drew’s history, but was still a solid Nancy Drew story.

  13. Deborah Lacy

    So many people love Nancy Drew. It’s so great to see. @Jeff – I am totally jealous of that woman named Nancy Drew, although I agree that it might get old after awhile.

    @TheOccultHand – I haven’t seen that movie. I will have to check it out.

  14. Joyce Delaney

    Nancy Drew in graphic novels! Now there’s an idea whose time has come. I think my 9-year-old granddaughter would love them.

  15. Joanne Mielczarski

    I so loved reading these stories growing up!

  16. Karen Arrowood

    I grew up reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, and loved them! Now my daughter has started reading Nancy Drew. It would be lovely to be able to give her these as well.

  17. Darlene

    Oh my, I would absolutely love to read this!

  18. cassandra mccann

    i would love to own this for my kids

  19. Teri W.

    Nancy has been around longer than me. And that’s rare! From trading books with my cousins to reading them under the covers with a flashlight, Nancy fostered my love affair with mysteries. I would love to win.

  20. Wendy Marshall

    I would like to check out the graphic version as well. I wasn’t too tickled with the last few incarnations, but I suppose I need to change with the times too. As long as she remains independent and smart–oh, and titian-haired–then we’re good to go!

  21. Marissa Culp

    I had NO IDEA there were graphic novels!!! I know what I’m asking Santa for! But I don’t want to wait until Christmas so please please please choose me!!!

  22. Kelley Tackett

    I love graphic novels and I loved Nancy Drew so these should be great.Now if we can just get Trixie Belden in graphic novel form, that would be awesomesauce!

  23. avidreader12

    A blast from the past-I loved Nancy Drew mysteries!

  24. Heather Slater

    I absolutely love Nancy Drew! I read all of her books when I was a child starting with the Spiral Stair Case (I think) and really loved the Nancy Drew Files as a teen. I have not been able to get my kids into Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys yet though. Maybe the graphic novels would be a hit! I would love to win them but I would have to read them first.

  25. Tatiana deCarillion

    The first Nancys that I read were borrowed from my cousin (who also had the Hardy Boys series!), in the 1960s. Between that series, and Dark Shadows, my love of mystery/crime/gothic romance–and old houses– was pretty much cemented. Discovering Agatha was just icing on that cake!

    I think I may have watched some of the TV show, but I do own more than half of the PC games, and I have a lot of fun playing them, as I don’t find them too easy to solve.

  26. Angela Dyrcz

    These have always been my favorite books. I would love to have a copy!

  27. Kim Hammond

    I think I got my first book from the library and then my mom started collecting them from garage sales. She then let me sell all of them at our own garage sale years later. Ugh. I am collecting them for my now 3 year old to get her hooked someday.

  28. Sharon McMasters

    I’ve loved Nancy Drews all my life and still read one once in awhile even today! My mother and I would go shopping about once a month in the early 50’s, and she would buy me a new Nancy Drew. By early that evening I would have finished it. I still have them all.

  29. Nora-Adrienne Deret

    I started reading the Nancy Drew books in the late 50’s early 60’s. I still own a number of the older ones with paper dust jackets. I’m guessing that they are worth a couple of bucks these days. LOL

  30. Joyce Mitchell

    I loved Nancy Drew – she’s the reason I’m such a fan of the mystery genre today. When I was in the 6th grade, my teacher would read to us (to calm us down probably), and one of the books she chose was a Nancy Drew book. Thanks for the chance to win.

  31. Thomas E. Phillips, Jr.

    As a boy I read Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys and sneered at Nancy Drew, but one summer vacation I ran out of boys’ juvenile series books I’d brought and those to check out of the local library so in desperation I tried Nancy Drew,…

    and it wasn’t half bad. In fact it was pretty good!

    From then on I no longer turned up my nose at Nancy Drew,…

    but I didn’t let anybody see the cover of the Nancy Drew book I was reading, either!

  32. jane

    I loved the books when I was growing up, couldn’t wait to earn money for the next one. Would love to win for my great nieces.

  33. Amy Baldwin

    Nancy Drew was very prominent/important in my childhood in the Sixties. I had a large collection of them. My friends and myself would not really share our books, in that they were ‘collectors’ items back then to our parents, so we shared which ones we’d read and which ones we were adding to our collection. I cannot remember the first one I read since I had so many. I LOVE them now even!!! Thank you for the chance to win!

  34. Richard Deyarmond

    My sister used to read Nancy Drew books, while I read the Hardy Boys and then we would read each other’s books. Great memories of our childhood.

  35. Barbara Sterling

    I first read my Mom’s original versions and then the 1950s from the local library. I think she influenced my carrying so much stuff around as Nancy always had a case packed in the car with extra clothes!

  36. Sally Guillen

    I honestly didn’t know they still made Nancy Drew books. I used to read them all the time growing up. I do also play the games and have all of them made to date. I think she was and is a great role model for young girls.

  37. Barbara Bibel

    Let’s hear it for Nancy. Still kicking serious posterior after all these years!

  38. Sue Roegge

    Summer= endless reading time= Nancy drew= bliss growing up

  39. Garnet879

    Nancy Drew was always a favorite. Can’t wait to read these!

  40. Jane Wade

    Nancy Drew was always a favorite. Can’t wait to read these!

  41. Larisa LaBrant

    My Grandma gave me my first stack of six Nancy Drew books after I found, and devoured, the first eight books that were my mother’s in the ’40s. Nancy’s adventures led to Trixie Belden, so Christmas and my birthday always included a stack of 4-6 mysteries with one of the intrepid gals.
    The graphic novels would be fun to give a friend’s daughter who likes to explore my keeper book case where Nancy & Trixie now reside.

  42. ellie

    Nancy Drew lives on. A mentor that is to be admired.

  43. Terry Heald

    I got to know Nancy Drew through visits to my grandmother’s house in the 1950s. She had built-in, oak glass-fronted bookcases in the living room filled with books. I loved the Nancy Drew books, my brother read the Hardy Boys, and my Dad read every Zane Grey book he could get his hands on. We never minded rainy days, because we’d have a fire going in the river rock fireplace, a comfy chair and grandma’s treasure trove of books!

  44. Pearl

    I saved all my Nancy Drew books which are treasures. From the 50’s when I first discovered this series.

  45. Deborah Dumm

    I love all the Nancy Drew books!!!!!!!!!

  46. Connie Fischer

    I literally “cut my teeth” on Nancy Drew books. When I was a little girl, I would take a bus to town and fill a bag with as many Nancy Drew books as I could carry. Back home, I would climb up into the tree in my front yard and lose myself reading them all day. I loved them and was absolutely thrilled when I received one for a gift. I have kept my copies and treasured them over the years. Two of my granddaughters have read and loved them. I have two more granddaughters coming along who are now of the age to start reading them. To win some Nancy Drew books would be the ultimate for me. I would love to re-read them today and save them to pass down. Thank you for the memorable giveaway!

    Connie Fischer

  47. L MW

    I love Nancy Drew and would love to have a copy of each of these graphic novels!

  48. Andrew Kuligowski

    I didn’t read Nancy Drew as a youngster … my demographic was more pointed towards the Hardy Boys. BUT … my cousins used to love her, and I would love the ability to share this blast from the past (with a modern twist) with my own grandchildren – especially now that the girls are equally likely to read the Hardy Boys and the boys to read Nancy Drew!

  49. Shannon Scott

    I still love the originals (policitcally incorrect as they are).


    As a boy, I enjoyed reading Nancy Drew in the library’s summer reading program, nearly as much as I enjoyed the Hardy Boys. I wasn’t a fast reader – I like to think that’s because I would linger over the scenes as I imagined myself in the action as a partner with the protagonists.

  51. Donna Hart

    I love Nancy Drew books. I grew up reading them and would
    love to have the novellas. If it wasn’t for Nancy Drew I would
    not read mytery books all the time.

  52. Joan Boose

    Nancy Drew books are still on my bookshelf and have traveled around the world with each move. I would love to add more. Please and Thank You.

  53. Cora Adams

    I was born in 1950 and by 1960, I had been hooked on Nancy Drew! I had a rough childhood and Nancy taught that NO ONE can tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a girl! She taught me empowerment. She taught me independence. (and you could be a strong girl and still have a boyfriend!) I have had 2 life-changing surgeries this last week, and finding out about the chance of winning this collection was the boost I needed. Thank you, Criminal Element!!!

  54. Marge Shaffer

    I grew up on Nancy Drew and would love to share with the young readers that I know. Please help me share.

  55. Cheryl English

    It just shows that Great Reads never go away.

  56. Marco

    from Italy: my elder sisters had many nancy drew books, Ired some of them and, as a child, fell in love with this girl, that I’d have liked to be my elder sister…

  57. Lisa Kaiser

    Nancy Drew was certainly aprt of my 1960s childhood. Glad to see she is still around and still evolving! would liove to see nancy Drew in grphic novel form. Thanks, Criminal Element for making avaialble this new generation of Nancy Drew!

  58. Max Lakshtanov


  59. Connie Torgerson

    I grew up with Nancy Drew and it is now time for my granddaughter to start her own collection.

  60. Ricki Le Vine

    I STILL love Nancy Drew! I remember reading every new adventure I could get my hands on under the covers with a flashlight– long after my bedtime. I never got the little blue coupe I wanted so desperately!

  61. Richard Schlueter

    My exposure to Nancy Drew was in 1943 in the first grade at District 31, a one room country school house. The teacher, Miss Shirley Jean Ernst, would read several pages during the midday lunch break to the two students in the school; me and the eighth grader who was a girl. I would always wonder what was going to happen next and could not wait for the next reading. My fascination with mysteries was kindled and I have not stopped reading since.

  62. Cheryl Koch

    I can remember growing up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Books. These books helped me to grow my love of mystery books. Would like to enter to win.


  63. Nancy Harrower

    If it wasn’t for Nancy Drew, I doubt I would have become the reader – and lover of myserty novels – that I am today. I wanted to be just like Nancy and spent many hours searching my childhood home searching for secret passages! Alas, I never found any secret passages but I also managed a great escape while reading the books. Long live Nancy Drew!

  64. Linda Ronn

    Love Nancy Drew, or Kitty as she is called in the Swedish books.

  65. chantel pineau

    I still have some Nancy Drew Books and My boys have my husbands original Hardy Boys books. I even remember watching the TV series. Nothing would make me happier then to own signed copies of the books. I read daily and have hundreds of books. I love handing down my books to my children and grandchildren. I love watching them read books I’ve read and ask questions about them.

    Thanks for supporting my love of reading.

  66. Allison Moyer

    I grew up on Nancy Drew and I love the idea of these books as graphic novels. Thanks for the giveaway!

  67. MaryC

    I remember reading all the Nancy Drew originals.

  68. Patricia Barraclough

    I discovered Nancy Drew in 4th grade or so. I was lucky enough to have an aunt that had a pretty complete collection. I read every one she had and went to the library looking for the others. The stories have evolved with society’s changes, but I still prefer the original ones, and have my own collection of them now.

  69. Phyllis Sinclair

    I don’t remember reading Nancy Drew, but I turned a lot of students on to her to get them reading.

  70. Pattie Tierney

    Thanks for the opportunity to win these books.

  71. Diane Pollock

    Wow, she really has evolved!

  72. Brenda Tucker

    Loved Nancy Drew, loved the TV series, would love the graphic novels.

  73. GW

    Nancy Drew was a great sleuth and kids all around enjoyed reading the books especially me.

  74. vicki wurgler

    love Nancy Drew-I’m sure I got my first book as a Christmas gift from my grandparents

  75. Babs

    I don’t recall exactly what age I was when I first discovered Nancy, but when I did (probably around age 10), I couldn’t let her go. Today, 40 years later, I’m still a huge fan and pick up one from my own original collection (the rewrites from the 60’s), and I’m instantly taken back to the quiet times of my childhood where I just read, and read, and read. I have to say I am partial to the “yellow spine” editions, but I have read the 30’s editions as well. I’m attending my first Nancy Drew convention this spring in Boston (Wooden Lady theme), and can’t wait! Thanks for a great post!

  76. Anna Mills

    I read Nancy because I found them in my mother’s collection and I am sure my granddaughters will read them because they will be in my collection.

  77. babs allen

    I was given Nancy Drews from my grandmothers collection, and also inherited my Mother’s and my Dad’s Nancys. They’re all in boxes now, but I might have to pull them out and reread, to see if they’re as good as I remeber. (I also remeber reading Trixie Beldon, HArdy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, and Encyclopedia Brown)

  78. Laura Shangraw

    fritter Loved Nancy Drew. One of only a few female main characters at the time.

  79. Taylor Duncan


  80. Kris Kaminski

    nancy or hardy boys, still fun at any age!

  81. Kyle Quandt

    Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys are classics.

  82. Jeanette Larson

    I am what I am because of Nancy Drew. Seriously, I became a librarian because it’s like being a detective but I don’t get beat up as often. Most avid mystery readers started out with Nancy and the Boys.

  83. csbondell

    I loved Nancy Drew books when I was younger and now my granddaughter is reading them

  84. Cory Skalisky

    I grew up on Nancy Drew and crew and now I watch my girls read them. Life goes full circle.

  85. Susan Smith

    I loved reading Nancy Drew books when I was young

  86. Donna L

    I loved Nancy Drew books growing up and my daughter also does.

  87. Shannon Baas

    I loved Nancy drew when I was younger and would like to introduce my niece to the books.

  88. Sabine

    I love Nancy Drew, so does my daughter… Thank you!

  89. Debra Kidle

    Nancy Drew, awesome!

  90. David Kidle

    My daughter loves Nancy Drew mysteries.

  91. Kirsten Kimball

    I would love to win these. I was a big fan of Nancy Drew when I was young.

  92. Susan Smoaks

    i grew up loving nancy drew and would love to share my love of nancy drew with our daughters

  93. kathy pease

    Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in 🙂

  94. Lori A Walker

    these would be fun for me to read with my niece

  95. Jennifer Jozwiak

    I’d love to be able to give these to my daughter for her birthday. I loved Nancy when I was a little girl.

  96. Heather Cowley

    Very interesting stuff about Nancy Drew. Love the updated stuff (looks like anime), so am excited about the possibility of winning them. Thank you!

  97. JULES M.

    i have fond memories of Nancy Drew, would love to win this for my daughter

  98. Tim Moss

    Please include me!

  99. Daniel Vice

    This looks great

  100. diana seay

    I love Nancy Drew and my granddaughters do too!

  101. Cassandra Marquez

    i used to love nancy drew as a girl! i would love to see these books 🙂


    I used to check these out at the library – the long row of yellow spines was usually my first stop. Once I ran out, I bought a newer Hardy Boys crossover line at the bookstore, but I never liked that Nancy was interested in the older Hardy brother in those – Ned all the way.

  103. NelizaDrew

    Like [url=]dvaleris[/url], I was partial to the Case Files. I had all of them (that had been published at the time) back in fifth and sixth grade.

  104. L L

    Sounds interesting

  105. barbara stenby

    I Love Nancy Drew these look amazing! Loved reading the review! Thanks!

  106. Deborah Lacy

    Everyone’s Nancy Drew memories are so fun. @pflugervillegal – I totally agree with you.

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