Nancy Drew is one of the most beloved heroines from modern literature. She is how many of us got our start reading mysteries. However, what age is ready to read Nancy Drew books?
Nancy Drew books are written at an 8 to 12 year old’s reading level; however, that does NOT mean that the situations in the books are appropriate for every 8 to 12 year old. Reading level does not dictate whether or not a book is right for your child. There are some issues in the books that may mean it is not right for your 8 – 12 year old.
Related: Why I IGNORE Reading Level
Heads up that this article is NOT about any of the many spin offs and modern reimagining of the Nancy Drew character. I have THOUGHTS about The Nancy Drew Files, and many of the other spinoffs, but I’ll save those for another post. This is just about what you should know about the plain-old Nancy Drew books.
Nancy’s Age and the Adult World
Nancy Drew is 18 years old. (16 if you happen to have your mom’s original-edition books. They aged Nancy up in later editions because they realized she wasn’t acting like a normal 16 year old.) How she stays so young over so many books is a mystery, itself.
Anyway, she has some grown up problems and some grown up relationships. Most of the time she’s a good role model for how an 18 year old should handle herself. However, it does mean that if you give this to an 8 year old, the antagonist they’re trying to relate to is a full decade older than them. There is something to be said for keeping the little in your girl.
Nancy Drew’s Beauty Standards
It was a different time, and appearance mattered A LOT. There are so many instances in that book when it talks about what Nancy or Bess look like, and how great it is that they’re skinny.
Of course, it doesn’t come right out and say that, but that’s the idea that you get when every single book mentions Nancy’s trim waist and stylish blonde bob. Just something to keep in mind before you hand it to your tween.
The Nancy Drew books are rather dark in places. Do you remember in the first book, where there’s a kidnapping? Do you remember that it’s Nancy’s DAD who gets kidnapped?!?
One of the strengths of these books is that there are clear distinctions between good and evil, and justice is served. However, some of the content might be too dark for young readers to handle independently.
There are also so many orphans in the Nancy Drew books, you’d think it was a Disney movie. Nancy’s own mother has died before the first book starts.
Racism in Nancy Drew Books
When Nancy Drew books were first being penned in the 1930s, having a diverse bookshelf wasn’t really a goal. In fact, there were lots of portions of those original books that portrayed minorities in inaccurate and inappropriate ways. Any copies on your library’s shelves now are probably newer editions, but you need to be aware that some Nancy Drew books with blatantly racist references are still floating around.
For a rough reference, the original editions published between 1930 – 1959 contain some racist passages. The majority of editions produced after 1959 have removed the offensive material. This means you’re probably safe, because if you have a book older than 1959 you most likely aren’t handing it to your tween.
HOWEVER, the editions produced by Applewood Books starting in 1991 added the cut passages back in. (They look like the cover above this section, with a giant gold sticker saying they are The Original.) These books do have a caveat in the beginning of the book that they are authentic, and might be offensive. But what middle schooler reads and comprehends that?? I would avoid these editions.
The vast majority of Nancy Drew books in print today are produced by Simon & Schuster, so you should be ok. However, take a quick glance at the publisher and date before you pick up a full set for your child at the used book sale.
What Age Can Read Nancy Drew?
Every child is different. Every family is different. Hopefully all of this information will help you make an educated choice about when or if to hand these books to your child. Whenever you decide to break these out of storage, make sure to keep the dialogue open about these issues.
If you’re looking for someone to compare to, in our home, it’s at 12 years old that I would hand my child a Nancy Drew book. However, it will have a sticky note on the front that says, “You are beautiful just the way you are.”