Girl Sleuths: Then and Now

beldenLong ago, before Harry Potter appeared on the scene, and even before the Babysitters Club made their first appearance, young girls read about the adventures of some remarkable girl sleuths.  While there were a whole host of girl sleuths, the most popular two were Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I read, and reread, both of these series, but my favorite, hands down, was Trixie Belden.

I spent many a summer tucked in our back porch, reading about Trixie and Nancy’s adventures. It’s completely appropriate, that the highlight of my reading summer has been the discovery of yet another girl sleuth. My recent glom of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series (okay, not sure if it counts as a glom since so far there are only two books), has me thinking a lot more about these original girl sleuths, and comparing them to Flavia.

Make no mistake, while the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series were written for children, the Flavia de Luce series is for adults. Although different, Nancy and Trixie’s lives were presented as fairly wonderful. While Flavia does have fun, her life is far from ideal. Nancy had a perfect, supportive father, and Trixie had a wonderful loving mother and father. In contrast, Flavia has a remote father, who she believes may have committed murder.

Nancy is always perfectly groomed and dressed. In contrast, Trixie gets grubby, and runs around in jeans, and has no desire to be girly. Although 16 (or 18, depending on the book), Nancy is very mature. Trixie acts like a young teen, and I think this is why I preferred her to Nancy. I admired Nancy, but thought Trixie had more fun. And honestly, I thought Trixie’s “boyfriend” Jim was much more interesting than Nancy’s Ned.

In personality, Flavia comes closer to Trixie, in that she definitely gets dirty and grubby from time to time. But as much as I love Trixie, even I can admit that Flavia, with her knowledge of chemistry, is much brighter than Trixie ever was. But Flavia also has a bratty edge that neither Trixie nor Nancy had. And Flavia delights in using her knowledge of chemistry to play some fairly horrible tricks on her sisters, tricks neither Nancy nor Trixie would ever dream of doing.

The mysteries which Trixie and Nancy solve are very different from those faced by Flavia. Trixie dealt with such things as a hidden diamond (The Gatehouse Mystery) and the search for a missing new friend (The Red Trailer Mystery). Nancy solved a wide variety of mysteries, including missing valuables such as a clock and will (The Secret of the Old Clock). But at their heart, Nancy and Trixie’s mysteries were always rather innocent, almost adventures. I never worried that Trixie or Nancy was in real danger. In contrast, Flavia deals with genuine murders. I truly feared for her safety at several points in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia also faces such grown-up problems as post-traumatic stress disorder (although not labeled as such), a distant father, and sisters who seem to hate her.

Flavia is closer to the family gardener than to any of her family. Flavia doesn’t appear to have any friends, and I’m really not certain if she attends school. Nancy had her loyal friends George and Bess, while Trixie has the entire Bob-Whites club as her friends.

I’m looking forward to reading many more mysteries featuring Flavia de Luce. While I’m curious about what she might be like as an adult, I really hope that the author keeps her young. While Trixie and Nancy were the girl sleuths of my childhood, Flavia is definitely the girl sleuth for my adult years.

I’d love to hear from any of you who read the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew series. If you did, which was your favorite?

- LinnieGayl AAR

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34 Responses to Girl Sleuths: Then and Now

  1. Virginia DeMarce says:

    I much preferred Judy Bolton to either of the above. Her situation seemed much more normal to me than having a car of one’s own, etc.

    • Jane O says:

      Virginia DeMarce: I much preferred Judy Bolton to either of the above.Her situation seemed much more normal to me than having a car of one’s own, etc.

      I was a Judy Bolton fan too, though I would never pass up a Nancy Drew. I expect Trixie was after my time — the Nancy Drews I read were the original ones, not the updated ones, and I always wanted to ride in a roadster, have a beau and wear a frock. It all seemed romantic and exotic to me.

  2. We had a few Kay Tracy mysteries and loads of Nancy Drew. I actually preferred the Kay Tracy books for some reason, but I’ve no idea why. We only had about three. I never read Trixie Belden.
    Does anyone else remember Kay Tracy?


  3. Lisa Johns says:

    I was a huge fan of both Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I don’t remember a TB book that stood out above the others, but for the ND series, it was “The Haunted Showboat” which was set in a LA bayou. I still have some of my old ND books and it’s amazing to me how dated the language is. I understand they have been “modernized” now and I think I may have to pick one up and see how they have changed. Wonder if you can still even buy a Trixie Belden book?

  4. Ellen AAR says:

    I liked Nancy Drew, but I LOVED Trixie Belden. Nancy was so unreal – I mean how many 16 year old girls were as mature, pretty, perfect, rich, etc, etc? And she never seemed to go to school! Trixie’s family worked, she had siblings, and friends all of whom were way more realistic than Nancy and her posse.

    Talk to any middle aged woman and mention Trixie Belden. Then watch her face light up.

  5. MJ says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE Trixie. I recently rebuilt my collection. I remember my dad getting so mad because I took so many books on our road trip one time, but I couldn’t leave one behind, what if I wanted it??

    Hey, I wonder if Trixie books are available in e-book–I could put them on my Nook this time!

  6. I read all the Nancy Drew books I could get my hands on, but in retrospect, I liked Trixie better. And the books were cheaper. My family didn’t have much money, and my buying a hardcover of any kind was a really big deal. Trixie’s boardbook format was affordable, and Nancy was the holy grail, reserved for Christmas and b-day gifts.

    Also, Trixie’s Jim, was the original bad boy, and could probably beat up that pretty college boy Ned.

  7. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Trixie as well. I have every book in the series. I loved Trixie more than Nancy Drew. I considered changing my first name to Honey so I could be Honey Wheeler. Trixie’s brothers were terrific and Crab Apple farm seemed so ideal. However, a complete search all over Tarrytown and I STILL have no idea of where the author intended to put the farm. Sigh. Thanks for stirring up great memories.

  8. Blythe says:

    I never read Trixie for some reason, but I read Nancy Drew books with a passion that bordered on obsession. My parents bought me the entire set from an older girl who was selling them (before e-bay and Craigslist, there were newspapers for this kind of thing), and I read them one after another one summer. At one point, my dad offered to pay me if I would read something else (probably because deep down, he was afraid I would grow up to do something crazy like review romance novels).

    My favorites (as I recall, anyway), were the Clue of the Velvet Mask, The Clue in the Old Album, and the Clue of the Dancing Puppet. I also liked the Hidden Staircase.

    My girls read some of them, but not like I did. However, my youngest son loves the Hardy Boys. He started out reading Nancy Drew books because they were already sitting around from his older sisters, and then one day I told him they made a boy version of those. He’s steadily reading his way through them.

  9. Magdalen says:

    I am too old for Trixie Belden. In fact, I don’t believe I’d ever heard of her before today. Well, okay the name sounds a little familiar, but still… I’m old.

    Not too old for Nancy Drew (which would be a feat — they were written in the 1930s) — I read a lot of them at the library where my parents’ summer house in Maine was. I can still remember what the old library smelled like. The smell of imminent satisfaction: I could take out 3 books and I was a fast reader.

    I’ll have to check out Flavia; thanks for the recommendation.

  10. PatW says:

    I’m with Magdalen – too old for Trixie – in fact I never heard of her before this post. I read Nancy Drew and then got bored with her so my mother gave me Sherlock Holmes short stories instead. I was in sixth grade IIRC. Flavia sounds interesting!

  11. Nancy Drew all the way. One of the things I loved about them was the settings. You got to go to Scotland (The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes), and Hawaii (The Secret of the Golden Pavillion, and to exotic locales…like Boston (The Secret of the Wooden Lady)! My best friend and I were total Nancy Drew addicts and would dream of the days when we were grown up and would open our own detective agency. We are both detectives now, in our way–we’re reference librarians;)

    I loved that Nancy was always perfectly put together. When I was twelve years old I would have loved nothing more than to drive a powder blue convertible with a convenient change of clothes in the trunk in case of messy detective emergencies!

    I’ve been noticing the Alan Bradley books so maybe I’ll give one a try!

  12. Mignonette says:

    My older sister was for Nancy and I was for Trixie. I occasionally strayed to Nancy but Trixie was always my girl. I have to confess, though, that The Bobbsey Twins were my favorite kid sleuths.

  13. Adele Ashworth says:

    I absolutely LOVED both Nancy and Trixie. I read 52 Nancy Drew mysteries between third and sixth grade (all they had pubbed at the time), all of it starting when my third grade teacher, Mrs. Bird, read THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK to the class — a chapter a day after lunch. What awesome memories! My favorites were THE NINETY-NINE STEPS and THE GHOST OF BLACKWOOD HALL. I named a character in one of my books Blackwood in a kind of tribute, and wrote a later book with Nancy in mind after reading THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE to my daughter. What I find interesting is how much influence these childhood stories have on my later writing career, and what I really love to read — lots!

  14. maggie b. says:

    I loved Nancy Drew but also the Dana Girls. There weren’t that many Dana Girl mysteries but the ones that existed are great. Cherry Ames is a nurse who solved mysteries in hospital settings and I loved those as well.

  15. Manda, as far as I was concerned ALL the Nancy Drew locations were exotic! I wonder what my reaction would have been if she’d ever come to Australia? I remember having to ask my mother what Titian meant and being somewhat startled at the painting she dug up out of an art book. Not at ALL how I was imagining Nancy . . .
    I definitely had ambitions towards following in Nancy’s (or Kay Tracy’s) footsteps, but our neighbourhood was frustratingly law abiding and respectable. The closest my friends and I got to sleuthing was finding the occasional stray dog. There were no kidnappings, no mysterious businessmen, and Dad, although in the army, didn’t even have the decency to be in the Military Police.
    At the risk of offending people, there is a howlingly funny series based around Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys, occasionally featuring Cherry Aimless RN, where the characters are all gay. They were written by Mabel Maney.

  16. Oh, Maggie! I’d forgotten all about the Dana girls. I loved those and wished there were more. I remember the one about the white dolphin best.

    • maggie b. says:

      Elizabeth Rolls: Oh, Maggie! I’d forgotten all about the Dana girls. I loved those and wished there were more. I remember the one about the white dolphin best.

      “The Secret of the Silver Dolphin” was probably my favorite too. I really wish she had written more of these but I guess between the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews she was pretty darn busy.

      Embarrassingly enough, I liked the TV series based on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys too. Were they like the books? No. But they were fun and kind of in the spirit of the books.

      maggie b.

  17. Claire says:

    I LOVED Nancy Drew. My older sister brought home a box full of them one summer and I remember struggling through the first one- maybe I was in 4th grade (?) but then they started getting easier and easier. I credit a lot of my ability to read and love of books to Nancy Drew.

    I had the originals until I was married kept in a box in our basement. One year our garage was flooded and they were ruined. My husband couldn’t understand why I was so upset. :(

    I remember as I got older reading them that I wanted something to happen between Nancy and Ned. I think there was a little heat for my adolescent mind in one of the later books but it wasn’t long after that, that I discovered my mom’s Harlequins. :)

    I’d heard of the Trixie books but I was dependent on my mom for what I got and she never got those for me. I think I would have liked them.

  18. Barb in Maryland says:

    @Magdalen–point of fact, the first Trixie Belden came out in 1948(!!) and the series continued into the 80′s.
    I sure do remember them from the kids’ book section at places like Woolworth’s. The binding on the earlier ones wasn’t very long wearing, and I don’t remember seeing them too often in libraries (home of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys).
    I kinda read myself out them (all 3 series) by 5th, 6th grade. I much preferred anything with a historical setting(hello, Witch of Blackbird Pond).
    I read the first Flavia book, but wasn’t bowled over by the young lady. And I just couldn’t get into the second one.

  19. Cindy says:

    Liked Nancy Drew, and read many of her stories, but just hearing “Trixie Belden” gives me a warm glow inside – she was even better than Nancy. But I’ve always preferred romance and adventure to mysteries. My favorite books as a tween were: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Little Women. Just saying…

    • Renee says:

      Cindy: iked Nancy Drew, and read many of her stories, but just hearing “Trixie Belden” gives me a warm glow inside – she was even better than Nancy.

      I totally agree with you. I am going to have to go downstairs in my mother’s house and see if I can find my stash :).

  20. Sandy AAR says:

    I was all about Nancy Drew. Liked Trixie Belden, but LOVED Nancy. And, yes, she was perfect, but I was all about the aspirational heroine when I was 10. I mean, I just KNEW I was going to be as pretty and popular as Nancy.

    The books you could buy — and I had a bunch — were updated and in them Nancy drove a convertible. I preferred the ones from my library that were, I think, originals from the 1930s. It was far more exotic to me and, hey, you can’t beat a roadster for glamor. I was all about the glamor.

  21. Dishonor says:

    I’m too young (or ignorant) for Trixie, but I do remember glomming my school library’s supply of Nancy Drew in elementary school. I don’t remember actually having that strong a reaction to any of them, but that might have been because Nancy isn’t quite the sort to inspire great passion in a young reader.

  22. Syd says:

    I read them all–Judy Bolton, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. What tickled me is that when I saw the blog title, I immediately thought “duh, Trixie Belden” before I read a word. I’m so tickled to know that there are other women who remember her.

    Sadly, I don’t remember any plots. I just know that Trixie rings a louder bell than Nancy. And Maggie B., I watched the TV shows too. I was all about Parker Stephenson (Stevenson?).

  23. RobinB says:

    @ElllenAAR: My thoughts exactly! Nancy Drew did not have ANY faults, and honestly, I never could understand how the average teenage or subteen girl could identify with her. On the other hand, Trixie Belden was always getting into some kind of scrape (sometimes her fault, sometimes not), and her life seemed to be one that the average young reader could identify with. Now that the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books by Maud Hart Lovelace have been re-published, it would be nice to have a re-release of some of the Trixie Belden stories!

  24. HazelB says:

    I probably read a few Nancy Drew books, but never felt the attraction to them. I was all about Judy Bolton, Kay Tracy and Cherry Ames.

  25. LinnieGayl says:

    I’m so glad I’m not alone in my love of Trixie and Nancy. I had a cousin who read Judy Bolton, Kay Tracy, and Cherry Ames, but I don’t believe I ever read any of them. Interesting.

    I’ve picked up a couple of Trixie Belden’s used in the last few years, but would love to get the whole set.

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  27. Katie Mack says:

    Oh how I wish I’d known about Trixie Belden when I was a kid! I tried the Nancy Drew series, but just couldn’t get into them because she was just too perfect and never seemed to get down and dirty and have fun. I didn’t know about Trixie at the time, so I glommed Hardy Boys and Howard Pease novels like mad.

  28. Kelly F. says:

    Trixie & Nancy! Loved them both, but Trixie was the best. I always wanted a brother and she had two. Lots of glomming these books with my friends and anxiously waiting for the next write.

    FYI: There is a Trixie Belden fanfiction community on the net.

  29. cawm says:

    I was never a big fan of Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden, but I loved Judy Bolton and Kay Tracy. An older cousin who had outgrown them gave me bags full of books in all of these series, plus Dana Girls, Beverly Grey and Cherry Ames.

  30. Ellie Herman says:

    There is a fascinating book out called “Girl Sleuths – Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her” There was no Carolyn Keene. The books also talks about The Bobsey Twins, The Hardy Boys and similar series. I’m sure all Nancy fans, and I was one of them, would fine it very interesting.

  31. RSmith says:

    Ditto ditto ditto everything said about Trixie. I would read any mystery I could get my hands on, but I loved Trixie and bought every single one. Even when I was in college and they started coming out with more – I kept buying them – for my sisters of course. They loved her too.
    My favorite is probably #14 Mystery of the Emeralds because it took years to find a copy of it. I still have all my originals, even though some are missing covers. And when they were reissued a couple of years ago – I bought ‘em again. . . for my nieces. . . . really. Even if they can’t read yet, they will someday, right?

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