Some of my early reading and re-reading included a few of the classics of juvenile literature: early books in the Hardy Boys series, Little Women and Little Men, the Little House on the Prairie series, and the lesser-known Maida series about a wealthy handicapped girl and her gang of friends. We were then living in Kingston, Rhode Island, whose public library had some Maida books in its collection, and after we moved, I never encountered any of that series again. Until the Internet came along, I was beginning to think I had imagined it.
Some of our family inside jokes and phrases came from the Hardy Boys books. As we remembered them, the Hardy Boys crept along “using every blade of grass for cover.” Mystery at Devil’s Paw, with its memorable line in the first chapter, “Dad! May Frank and I go to Alaska?” gave us this phrase as the echo for every improbable request. “The roadster sped along at 35 miles an hour!” was also a source of family amusement when stuck behind a slower moving automobile.
Project Not Quite Nancy Drew is a broad-based effort at Distributed Proofreaders tackling juvenile series like these, from Little Women and Little Men up through the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series – roughly from the 1880’s to the 1950’s. Started by DP volunteer hutcheson, it is open for anyone in the DP community to add to and participate in. Content Providers (people who provide page images) and Project Managers (people who shepherd books through the rounds) with books from a juvenile series are welcome to label their project as part of Project Not Quite Nancy Drew.
The Project Not Quite Nancy Drew label informs and attracts DP volunteers who have come to recognize these books as colorful and often humorous and unrealistic glimpses into the youth of the past, as youngsters fight crooks, fly through the air, solve mysteries, and outsmart adults. The kids use, and tinker with, all the new technologies introduced in the period – telegraph, radio, radar, motor cars, motor boats, cameras, airplanes, and submarines.
Another recurrent theme is exploring the world, going to remote places, meeting and living among strange people – sometimes with mass violence reflecting the world wars, sometimes learning mutual respect and tolerance. The books often use language and reflect attitudes unacceptable today. But you can also see some authors attempting to inculcate social and moral values that are still admirable.
According to Wikipedia, “Juvenile series are usually books written for a young adult audience beginning in the late 19th century, which feature a formulaic plot, continuing characters, and a positive conclusion.” Some of these series were written by an individual; others were organized by syndicates of anonymous authors, with plots centrally developed, and individual books contracted out for a fixed payment without royalty or byline. This type of book preparation continues today – a sort of distributed book-writing.
There has long been interest in juvenile series at DP. In 2005, there were discussions in the DP forums regarding a large number of books authored by Laura Lee Hope, which a volunteer had purchased to scan and upload to DP for eventual posting at Project Gutenberg. These included books in the Bobbsey Twins, Bunning Brown and His Sister Sue, Moving Picture Girls, Outdoor Girls, Six Little Bunkers, and Make-Believe Stories series.
“Laura Lee Hope,” incidentally, was a pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate – best known for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, among other series – whose books were written by unidentified ghostwriters for a flat rate. The Rover Boys series is believed to be the first Stratemeyer Syndicate series. Project Gutenberg has over two dozen Rover Boys books in its collection; DP volunteers posted 14 of them. Wikipedia has an extensive list of all of the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s series.
Project Not Quite Nancy Drew maintains a continuously updated list of juvenile series books in various states of progress at DP. Hutcheson began work with the Penny Parker series by Mildred A. Wirt, a ghostwriter for 20 of the early Nancy Drew stories, as well as Dana Girls, Kay Tracey, Ruth Darrow, and other series of her own. According to an interview with the author, Penny Parker was her favorite heroine.
Lesser-known juvenile series by notable authors include Aunt Jane’s Nieces, by Edith Van Dyne, a pseudonym for L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz series (one of which was DP’s 32,000th title); and Radio Man, by Ralph Milne Farley, a pseudonym for Roger Sherman Hoar, a Massachusetts state senator who was a descendant of an American founding father.
In addition to these books, there is a vast selection of others to chose from at Project Not Quite Nancy Drew; below are just a few. They range from not yet started to already posted to Project Gutenberg.
The Motor Boys by Clarence Young
Football Eleven by Ralph Henry Barbour
The Aeroplane Boys by Ashton Lamar (H. L. Sayler)
The Mystery Hunters by Capwell Wyckoff
The Girl Scouts by Edith Lavell
The Boy Chums by Wilmer M. Ely
Grace Harlowe Overland Riders by Jessie Graham Flower (Josephine Chase)
Sterling Boy Scouts by Scout Master Robert Shaler
Girl Scouts by Lilian Elizabeth Roy
The Radio-Phone Boys by Roy J. Snell
The Rover Boys by Edward Stratemeyer
The Campfire Girls (or Radio Girls) by Margaret Penrose
The Blue Grass Seminary Girls by Carolyn Judson Burnett
The Brighton Boys by James R. Driscoll
The Bungalow Boys by Dexter J. Forester
The Khaki Boys by Capt. Gordon Bates
Marjorie by Carolyn Wells
The Motor Rangers by Marvin West
Ocean Wireless Boys by Capt. Wilbur Lawton (John Henry Goldfrap)
Join us at DP and take a look at the Project Not Quite Nancy Drew wiki page (DP login required). You may enjoy proofing, formatting, smooth-reading, or post-processing these books, or even seeking out additional series or filling in missing books and running them through DP to make them available as e-books.
This post was contributed by WebRover with contributions by hutcheson, both DP volunteers.