Is there a child in the western English speaking world that did not love Nancy Drew? I read those books, you read those books, no doubt. My children read Nancy Drew. I checked Amazon, and while there was evidence of new modern packaging, Nancy Drew books are still available, hardcover copies with the same covers I remember. A success story of no mean order.
I was in a meeting recently where I said that there was this new genre of YA. I was told that we always had it in the form of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Of course, I was thinking of the more adult Twilight Series, Hunger Games, Divergent, enjoyed both by adolescents and adults alike. We could debate whether Nancy Drew qualifies as young adult, and it probably does, based on its teenage heroine, even if we place it at the younger end of the spectrum.
The other day I went into a bookstore and came upon a little girl and her Mum. This little girl was bright, as was her Mum. I know this because the little girl was looking at books and could even advise me on what was really cool. I knew her Mum was bright because she gave her child time to look at the books - no big 'rush-rush' to get out of the store. The little girl went into raptures when she saw the piles of Nancy Drew books. She sounded like me when I was young. There was a discussion between the little girl and her Mum as to which she had, and which she could get on whatever next occasion, birthday, etc.
So I asked, "How old are you?" She was 8. I was very impressed. I don't think I read Nancy Drew at 8. However, perhaps I was more like 10. I shared my love of books with her and the fact that I asked for books, not only for birthdays, but for Christmas also. Love of books reigned!
After the little girl had moved on I opened one of the books, and was struck by the very first sentence in which we were introduced instantly to Nancy's blue eyes and blonde hair. I shared this with the shop assistant who was standing by. I said, "I have a problem with this. We don't look like this." (It would be of note that perhaps this might also apply to many other little girls in the world. I remember an interview with a little American girl saying how happy she was to see the animated movie Pocahontas as she too had dark hair - not blonde.) Back to the shop assistant, who brought another book which started differently, and asked if I had a problem with that one. I grinned. Clever girl. Her expression suggested, ' I'm not sure why this lady is bent all out of shape over this, but let me see if I can help her'.
Later I checked a Nancy Drew book site and found that the reading level of some is indicated as 8. I also noted something else - price. If you want a whole heap of Nancy Drew books for much less than the US$ selling price indicated on the book, and much less than the price on Amazon, just go to one of our bookstores. However, these are remainders, hence their low cost.
No, I'm not against Nancy Drew; I'm not even against remaindered books, although I know that their very cheap price makes the sale of Caribbean children's books even more challenging. However, the upside of that is that more children get a chance to buy books. Nonetheless, I am for more diverse books, and especially for our books. Interestingly enough, we have been saying that it's the parents who are leading the children to buy books like Nancy Drew, books that these parents liked and read when they were young. However, this little girl in the bookshop loved them; even if her parent suggested them originally, she loves them.
How do we compete with this? Can we compete with this? Certainly we can't in relation to price. So what I'm really asking is how do we attempt to place local books in that slot? It's not just a demographic slot; it's also a type of book; not just a chapter book, but an adventure/mystery type of book. It's one thing to write a mystery/adventure that is set in a big country where a location or happening does not reflect any particular reality; it's another thing to do so in small island states/territories with small known populations, where a setting and a situation comes with a known reality. For example, any mystery involving wrong doing might well lead back to real dangers like smuggling of drugs (the challenge of island states in this region used as transshipment areas); missing children might lead to human trafficking; kidnapping can be a reality which our protagonist could face if he/she got into the wrong taxi, and so on. Of course, these extreme occurrences, might be said to apply to the rest of the world in these days. There are dangers in the rest of the world that did not exist when Nancy Drew was envisioned.
Perhaps the beauty of Nancy Drew is that she exists in a bubble in time.
Perhaps all stories, are subjects of time, place and perceived reality/fantasy. However, ours, if they are to be ours, must reflect aspects of our culture/ environment. On this premise must rest our ability to write mystery adventure/stories. Therefore, if we are going to write our own teenage mysteries, what will we write? Will we write about the mystery of the pirate treasure? Too predictable? Too much what you would expect as an island mystery? Perhaps 'The mystery of the burning canfields'. However from a sociological point of view, this cannot lead to the discovery of workers burning the fields so they can reap earlier than expected. You see the problem I fear. Everything we might write about carries either an identifiable real danger, not to be treated flippantly (for example, in mysteries protagonists are always creeping out of their houses at night to follow someone/spy on somebody - children are not allowed to do that here), or bound by not making the bad guys be an identifiable group. So maybe we shouldn't try.
Therefore Nancy Drew rules forever?
But stop! Wait a minute. What if the mystery/adventure involves someone trying to blame the workers on the sugar estate, and the protagonist uncovers this dastardly plan. Who is doing this and why? Perhaps, it can be done, guys.
You know, I had no idea that this post would come to this conclusion. I was sure the writing of our own mystery/adventure series was a lost cause, and now it seems it might not be. Come to think of it, I worked with a group of ten-year-olds on writing of stories, and they could probably write the plot for these mysteries (to be made more sophisticated for an older audience) without getting stuck in all my adult concerns. Hmm. And now I remember I wrote one called Much More Than Shells for the under 12 age group, with smugglers, a hideout, an escape down a bluff to the sea and a final rescue by the police. Would I write something like that again? I don't know. Come to think of it, both Jean D'Costa and Hazel Campbell have mystery/adventure stories also. So go ahead guys! Choose your hero heroine and start your local/regional "Nikki Diamond Solves the Mystery of ..." or Brave Boys Mysteries, or just join the conversation.Then all we'd have to do next is to convince the gatekeepers that being local stories, they are not any more dangerous to the children than Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.