A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
MAY 10:

  • Happy birthday Palmer Brown (Beyond the Pawpaw Trees), John Rowe Townsend (The Intruder), Mel Glenn (Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? ), Bruce McMillan (The Problem with Chickens), Caroline B. Cooney (The Face on the Milk Carton), Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963), Linda Glaser (Our Big Home: An Earth Poem).
  • It’s the birth date of Amabel Williams-Ellis (1894-1984), Arabian Nights.
  • In 1869, the last spike is driven into the tracks, connecting at Promontory Summit, Utah, and marking the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Read Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep, Coolies by Yin, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet, and The Journal of Sean Sullivan: A Transcontinental Railroad Worker by William Durbin.

On May 10, 1930, Edward Stratemeyer, author and empire builder, died. He began his career as a ghostwriter for the Horatio Alger series, then fashioned his own adventures about the Rover Boys. In 1906 Stratemeyer began to hire freelance writers to develop his ideas. He created nothing less than a literary assembly line—in the end about 65 series; 1,300 books that sold more than 200 million copies. In his day he was considered the equal of Ford and Rockefeller, only he mass-produced books for children.

The gatekeepers and critics vilified Stratemeyer—articles like “Blowing the Boy’s Brains Out” claimed that his books actually crippled readers’ imaginations. They were called “tripe” and the “devices of Satan.” But young readers did not agree with those trying to protect children from these mass-produced wares. They found characters they loved and page-turning adventures in the best of the Stratemeyer creations—Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. So successful was the syndicate that in the twenties through fifties, the majority of the books purchased by children in America, often with their allowance money, had been created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate..

Stratemeyer’s death by no means ended his enterprise. It was ably taken over by his daughters for a few years until Edna Stratemeyer Squier sold her share to her sister. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams continued to run the syndicate until her death in 1982. She focused much of her attention on the development of the girl detective Nancy Drew.

For those interested in the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the important role of Harriet and her ghostwriters, a recent book for adults, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak, provides fascinating reading.

When I interviewed society leaders for Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, I discovered many enjoyed Stratemeyer offerings. Actor Kirk Douglas, who played Hollywood tough-guy roles, fell in love with reading when he encountered The Bobbsey Twins. Financier Peter Lynch became an early devotee of The Hardy Boys. And Steve Wozniak, who invented Apple I and Apple II, fell under the spell of Tom Swift. The books made him realize that he wanted to become an inventor—he created his first computer at age twelve. The pseudonym for the writer of Tom Swift, by the way, Victor Appleton II, may well have been memorialized by one of his greatest fans.

Although many of the Stratemeyer books have been updated and changed, they eventually lost their place as the most popular reading in America—upstaged by newer heroes like Harry Potter. But in the first six decades of the twentieth century, Edward Stratemeyer and his syndicate ruled the reading lives of children. His success still reminds us that series books often keep children on the reading path until they are ready to pick up more difficult and complex offerings.

Here’s a section from The Shore Road Mystery (Hardy Boys Mystery Series #6):

…Stolen at Dune Beach. Car is Swiftline cream sedan, believed heading south on Shore Road. Alert all cars. Repeat…”

The bulletin had just come over the police band on Frank Hardy’s motorcycle radio. He and his brother Joe, side by side on their dark-gray machines, were roaring northward along Shore Road to join school friends for a swim.

“Dune Beach!” Frank shouted, and the boys skidded to a halt on a sand shoulder. The car thief might pass them at any moment!

“Let’s stop him!” Joe proposed.

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Originally posted May 10, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Women
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COMMENTS

  1. G.Perry says:

    I’ve only seen old copies of these books on bookshelves, but this is one great story about the background of those books.

  2. Thank you so much for the mention and research related to the Hardy Boys. My husband’s uncle was Les MacFarlane writing under the name of Franklin W. Dixon. We have a signed copy of McGonicle Scores! and it is a treasure in our library. Les’s son, Brian, is also a well known, and very prolific writer of children’s books, mostly about hockey.
    As a storyteller, focussing on good children’s literature, I enjoy the Chilren’s Book-A-Day Almanac each and every day. Thank you Anita.

  3. Anita says:

    Thank you for sharing the story about Les MacFarlane and your kind comments about the Book-A-Day Almanac.

  4. Chelsey says:

    The library in my hometown may not have Forever or Annie on my Mind (oversights I hope are left over from the times the books were printed, though I have my doubts) but they have shelves full of Stratemeyer books. I adored The Bobbsey Twins and read several of the newer Nancy Drew books as a kid.

  5. Andy Svenson says:

    Hi Anita,

    I enjoyed your entry about the Stratemeyer Syndicate in today’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac and wanted to introduce myself.

    My grandfather, Andrew Svenson, was a writer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate beginning in 1948, and became a partner in 1961. Although he was involved in the outlining, editing, and rewriting of many Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys volumes, he was the sole creator of a 33-volume series called The Happy Hollisters. The Hollister children were patterned on his own children: my father, aunts, and uncles. In the 1960s, The Happy Hollisters was the best-selling series in the U.S. for children in the 7-11 age group, with lifetime sales of over 11,000,000 copies. Over one million children joined The Happy Hollisters Book Club in the 1960s and ’70s.

    I thought you might be interested in some exciting news. Over the years we’ve heard from many fans who have fond memories of the wholesome Hollister family and their exciting adventures. Many fans want to share the stories with their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, but don’t want to give up their prized collectors’ editions. To meet this demand, we have recently reissued the first three books in the series in paperback and eBook editions: The Happy Hollisters, The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip, and The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach. The stories are identical to the originals, with their family-friendly dialogue and charming illustrations by Helen S. Hamilton.

    Thank you for the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac and your support of children’s literature!

    Sincerely,
    Andrew E. Svenson III

  6. Tobin says:

    Does anyone know if kids still read these? I have to admit, I hope so. I loved them. They are indeed tripe and may be the devices of Satan, but they’re also some of the only books in which children fight crime in semi-formal attire. I always admired the fact that the Hardy Boys could, for example, swim into a smuggler’s cave with their clothing tied to their heads — and then appear in illustrations a few pages later WITH THEIR NECKTIES TIED IN PERFECT WINDSOR KNOTS! This means they actually took time to put on those ties and keep their flannel pants pressed while in a gang’s underground lair. And that, my friends, is true courage.

    mta

  7. I’ve had a few actual child partons get really into Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, but it was usually at the insistense of their mother or someone that they started in the first place. And I am not THAT old: in the late ’80s, I was a Nancy Drew fanatic, too. Also originally through my mother’s influence. Former fans pass it on down to the next generation.

    Also, I did read that Girl Sleuth book and found it fascinating, if anyone else was thinking about it.

  8. Rebecca says:

    This is a fascinating entry and I love the scope of the Almanac – so important to simply celebrate the love of reading!

  9. Helen Frost says:

    I met someone within the past decade who made a living writing Nancy Drew books.

  10. Star says:

    I love this post! I loved learning about the back story of how the books came to be. I was obsessed with Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins when I was young. I first thought about going to college in Boston when I read that Nancy Drew’s boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, went to college there!

  11. In our family we love audio books and sometime an older book is easier to listen to as an audio book than read individually. We just finished listening to The Secret of the Old Clock and my kids loved it! (Ages 5, 7, and 9) I think Nancy Drew would be a hard slog for them to read on their own, but the audio book, read by Laura Linney, was a wonderful way to expose them to this series.

  12. suzi w. says:

    I remember a teacher chiding me for reading Nancy Drew. But I also remember that my mom told me how her mom would call her to dinner or tell her to do things while she was reading the Hardy Boys and she would just get lost in the books. My mother, who is not a big reader as an adult, but who grew up to be a teacher.

    I loved owning books that I liked and I lived overseas as a child. So I often asked for specific Nancy Drew books from my aunts, who would comb yard sales. And often they would be buying (unknowingly) an earlier edition and so the book I requested was not the story I got. I had a wonderful collection, probably 30 volumes. When I was in library school, in my History of Children’s Literature class, when we studied series, our teacher mentioned that they didn’t have many in their special collections. I had been wondering what to do with mine, as it was becoming clearer to me that I might not have daughters to pass them on to, and I also knew if I sold them, I would be disappointed with any valuation of my collection, as to me, they were priceless. So now they are a part of the Elizabeth Nesbitt collection at the University of Pittsburgh.

  13. Helen S. says:

    Ms. Silvey, I was fortunate enough to attend your work shop at the Upper Merion Township Library yesterday and it was fabulous. Thank you for providing us with the information so we can see this blog which is also great.

  14. Kristin says:

    I’m 23 and about ten years ago I read alot of the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew. They were half borrowed, half inherited, as I found them in my grandmothers attic and my mother owned them when she was a kid. The copies are at least 30 years old and they smell like old books do, but I love them.

  15. Anita says:

    Helen: Glad you found your way to the site. You can read past essays by searching in the Find a Book section.

  16. Beverly Lett says:

    I just discovered the Book-A-Day Almanac, and I can tell I’m going to love it. Reading all the comments brings back so many good memories! I still own ( and take very good care of ) over 60 Nancy Drew books, many Hardy Boys, Dana Girls and Bobbsey Twins books. I also have and love Happy Hollister and Trixie Belden books. I remember when I bought my first Nancy Drew at the Rexall Drugstore for $1 in 1962. I asked for more books each Christmas, and we ordered them from the Sears catalog. I wore out Trixie Belden and the Gatehouse Mystery reading it over and over, until I found more in the series. I still have that old and well-loved copy. It is always exciting to talk about wonderful books that are loved as much today as when I was a child. They will never lose their appeal.

  17. Catherine Coyne says:

    I am a librarian who grew up on Nancy Drew books. I remember visiting the book store and choosing one – not by number, but by the cover or the title.

  18. Judith Plum says:

    I was a great fan of the Hardy Boys series growing up in the 1960s. I now work in a public library and am happy to report that the series is still read and enjoyed. I am also excited about the series now being published in graphic novel format.

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