Project Not Quite Nancy Drew

June 1, 2017

The Mystery Hunters at the Haunted Lodge coverSome 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.

Emmy’s Legacy

May 1, 2017


Distributed Proofreaders is a tight-knit community, and when beloved members pass away, we all grieve together. In February 2017, we lost Emmy. But her legacy lives on in the memory of her beautiful nature and in the many lovely e-books she left us.

Emmy was much loved for her warmth, her keen sense of humor, and her unfailing kindness. She never missed an opportunity to be friendly and helpful to anyone who needed a hand or a boost or a smile, and as a result she had many close friends among the DP volunteers.

And Emmy was a powerhouse. She joined DP in 2004 and performed many roles — proofer, formatter, Project Manager, Post-Processor, Post-Processor Verifier, and Mentor. She even contributed several pieces to this blog, though she preferred to do so anonymously. As Project Manager, she was responsible for 321 books posted to Project Gutenberg, all of which she also post-processed herself, including the lovely A Flower Wedding, which was DP’s 33,000th Unique Title. On top of that, she post-processed over 700 books for other Project Managers — making her responsible for contributing over 1,000 e-books to Project Gutenberg.

Although Emmy had a special love for children’s literature, her projects ranged from agriculture to Westerns and just about everything in between. To celebrate Emmy’s amazing legacy, DP’s General Manager, Linda Hamilton, put together a Project Gutenberg Bookshelf, Emmy’s Picks. It’s a library of extraordinary range and beauty.

And today, May 1, 2017, begins Children’s Book Week, a celebration of books for young readers, and a time that was always dear to Emmy’s heart. DP volunteers are making an extra effort for the celebration to produce children’s books in Emmy’s honor.

Browse, read, enjoy, remember.

Motor Matt

March 31, 2017

During the “age of the dime novel,” generally considered to run from 1860 to 1915, popular entertainment options were quite limited compared to today. There was no film, television, radio or Internet, and theatre was a rare luxury for most. Instead, when someone wanted a quick dose of escapist adventure or romance, chances were good they would turn to a dime novel.

The first dime novels were small pamphlets of about a hundred pages, each containing a complete story. As the years went on, publisher competition led to the format’s evolution, adding more illustrations and more color, and experimenting with different price points. While the “dime” name has stuck as a term for the format, many of the most popular titles were actually “nickel weeklies” – booklets closely resembling today’s comic books, but containing prose in place of comic panels.

One of the most influential dime novel series was actually a nickel weekly called Tip Top Weekly, published by Street & Smith and containing the ongoing adventures of ideal American boy Frank Merriwell (and later, his brother and son). The Merriwell saga was filled with sports victories, action sequences, and a bit of romance – as readers spent a good part of the series speculating on which female character Frank would ultimately marry. Quite a few Merriwell adventures can be found on Project Gutenberg, but the scope of the series – a novel a week for decades – makes this one of the longest works of serial fiction ever written.

Motor Matt cover

Another title, heavily influenced by Tip Top Weekly but of a more manageable size, has recently been added to the Project Gutenberg collection in its entirety, making it the first complete dime novel series to be found there. This series is Motor Stories, containing the adventures of “Motor Matt” King, a young man with a prodigious talent for working with gas-powered motors. Over the course of the series, he travels the country (and beyond), making friends and acquiring new vehicles to experiment with. The stories were clearly written with an eye on the news, as some of the technology described here – particularly heavier-than-air flight – was quite cutting-edge at the time of publication. There are 34 Motor Matt stories in all – 32 published as the Motor Stories nickel weekly, and two more published as part of Brave & Bold (a more general-purpose series) after Motor Stories was discontinued. While they hardly qualify as great literature, all of them remain surprisingly entertaining today.

The positive features of the series can all be attributed to its author, William Wallace Cook (writing as Stanley R. Matthews), an incredibly prolific writer who was one of the few to successfully bridge the gap from the dime novel era into the succeeding pulp era. Cook was fearless about approaching a wide variety of styles and genres, and he wrote very quickly. He also had a knack for plots, meaning that even though his stories were written speedily, they don’t feel hastily-constructed, and they usually contain at least one or two interesting twists. Cook is still remembered today for his creation of Plotto, a book containing a complex mechanism for generating plots and characters – it is still in print today. To learn more about Cook and his process, you can also take a look at his autobiographical work, The Fiction Factory, written under the name John Milton Edwards, which is available in the Project Gutenberg collection.

One of the ways in which Motor Stories is fascinating, but sometimes potentially offensive to modern readers, is in the way it portrays many of its characters. The series has a surprisingly diverse cast of characters, with many of its heroes and villains representing different parts of the world. It perhaps goes without saying that the prejudices of 1909, when the series was written, were a bit different than those of today, and much of this comes through in the text, which contains broad dialect, racial slurs and grossly stereotypical portrayals of certain ethnic groups.

In some ways, however, the books manage to contain surprisingly positive messages for the time. Matt himself, who is clearly designed as a model of ideal behavior for readers to emulate, treats everyone fairly and equally regardless of their race or nationality, even though his friends often do not. This is a dramatic change from earlier dime novel “heroes,” who in some cases were known to kill people on the basis of race without even asking questions (see Frank Reade and His Steam Horse in the Project Gutenberg collection for one example of this sort of behavior, though this is certainly not the only book to embrace the repellent philosophy that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”). The author is also uniformly kind to characters of mixed race, apparently demonstrating a broad belief in the potential of the American “melting pot.” In a few cases, particularly when Chinese characters join the narrative late in the series, he also attempts to show cultural differences without dehumanizing the underlying characters – a feat that he only partially succeeds at, but that he tried puts him in a class above many of his contemporaries. Finally, while the series was clearly marketed toward boys, and most adventures go by with scarcely the appearance of a female face, on those occasions where a woman figures in the narrative, she is usually more than just a token for the “Motor Boys” to rescue (and on at least one occasion, she does the rescuing).

Apart from matters of representation, the biggest complaint most readers will have about the series is the fact that it ends where it does, with certain mysteries and plot threads entirely unresolved. Clearly Cook had set himself up to write many more of these if reader demand had been greater. As it is, the stories ended up having quite a long life. Not only were several of the early Motor Stories reprinted in Brave & Bold, but many of the stories were later edited together into longer novels to be sold in both paper-covered and cloth-bound formats. This makes the saga not only one of the last original dime novel epics but also a fairly early example of the juvenile series book later epitomized by Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. For some reason, some of the names were changed during these edits, so it is possible that more readers over the years have known Motor Matt as “Bob Steele.” However, the original versions, with their colorful covers and bite-sized delivery, may well be the most fun. It is wonderful to have them so conveniently available to the world, after more than a century in obscurity.

This post was contributed by Demian Katz, a DP volunteer.

Distributed Proofreaders Site Maintenance – 5 March 2017

March 4, 2017

The Distributed Proofreaders site is scheduled to be completely unavailable between 10 am and 10 pm server time on Sunday 5 March 2017 as we upgrade to a new Operating System and move to a different server and hosting service.

The update is not expected to take a full 12 hours. If checks are completed early, the site will return sooner.

Thank you for your patience. As you wait for Distributed Proofreaders to become available again, please feel free to browse through the excellent articles in this Blog.

We’ll keep this blog post updated with progress during the outage. You can also find us in the pgdp Jabber conference room (

Update 6:35pm: Site is back up and operational, thank you for your patience!

Update 3:51 pm: Still proceeding as planned.

Update 11:58 am: Proceeding as planned.

Update 10:09 am: Maintenance has started.

A Distributed Proofreaders Crossword

March 1, 2017

And now for something completely different: Hot off the Press is proud to present its very first crossword puzzle.


The crossword is based on a bit of entertaining juvenile fiction from the 1920s, Marjorie Dean: Marvelous Manager. In order to solve the puzzle, you’ll need to read the book. (Don’t worry, it’s not a heavy lift.)

There are a couple of ways you can do the puzzle. One is to solve it with the interactive version, where you simply click on a blank square, and the appropriate clue will pop up. Fill in the answer and click OK (or, if you’re inclined to peek — not that you would — click the Solve button). Clicking the Check Puzzle button at the bottom will give you the number of errors and incomplete words, in case you want to see how you’re doing. You can solve the interactive puzzle online or download the html file to solve it interactively offline.

The other way to do the puzzle, for those who prefer a good old-fashioned pencil (or, for the confident, pen), is to use the printable PDF version. And here’s the PDF answer key so you can check your solution. Or peek. Not that you would…

Happy Puzzling!

This crossword was created by FallenArchangel, a DP volunteer, using the free EclipseCrossword app.

The Typesetters, the Proofreaders, and the Scribes

February 1, 2017

scribeAt Distributed Proofreaders, we are all volunteers. We are under no time pressure to proof a certain number of pages, lines or characters. When we check out a page, we can take our careful time to complete it.

We can choose a character-dense page of mind-numbing lists of soldier’s names, ship’s crews, or index pages. We are free to select character-light pages of poetry, children’s tales or plays. Of course these come with their own challenges such as punctuation, dialogue with matching quotes or stage directions. We can pick technical manuals with footnotes, history with side notes, or  science with Latin biology names. We can switch back and forth to chip away at a tedious book interspersed with pages from a comedy or travelogue.

Every so often though, I stop and think about the original typesetters.

They didn’t get to pick their subject material, their deadline or their quota. They worked upside-down and backwards. They didn’t get to sit in their own home in their chosen desk set-up, with armchair, large screen, laptop or other comforts. Though we find errors in the texts that they set, many books contain very few of these errors. When I pause between tedious pages, I wonder how they did it.

Beyond the paycheck, what motivated them to set type on the nth day of the nnth page of a book that consisted mostly of lists, or indices? Even for text that would be more interesting to the typesetter, the thought of them having to complete a certain number of pages in a given day to meet a printing deadline is just impressive.

printing pressI know many have jobs today that require repetitive activities. But how many are so detail-oriented, with no automation, that leave a permanent record of how attentive you were vs. how much you were thinking about lunch? Maybe it was easier to review and go back and fix errors than I picture it to be. Maybe they got so they could set type automatically and be able to think of other things or converse.

When I’m proofing a challenging page, I sometimes think of that person who put those letters together for that page. I realize my task is so much easier. If I want I can stop after that page and hope some other proofer will do a page or two before I pick up that project again.  I can stop, eat dinner, and come back tomorrow to finish the page when I’m fresh.

I imagine a man standing at a workbench with his frames of letters and numbers and punctuation at one side, picking out the type one by one, hoping that the “I” box doesn’t contain a misplaced “l” or “1.” I see him possibly thinking about how much easier life is for him than it was for the medieval scribe. The scribe was working on a page for days, weeks, even months, one hand-drawn character at a time. I see the typesetter appreciating how much improved his own life is and how much more available his work makes books to his current readers. And I smile as I see him smile.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a DP volunteer.

Clever Hans

January 1, 2017
Clever Hans

Clever Hans

Can a horse think like a human?

To many people in the early years of the 20th Century, the answer to that question was “Yes!” After all, thousands had seen von Osten’s Russian trotting horse, Clever Hans, use hoof taps and head nods to solve multiplication and division problems, spell out words, name colours, and answer complex questions from a variety of people, even those who had never worked with him before. Sceptics were quickly convinced that what they were seeing was an animal capable of conceptual thought, limited solely by the lack of the ability to speak from taking his place in human society.

In Clever Hans (The Horse of Mr. von Osten), biologist/psychologist Oskar Pfungst disproved popular opinion regarding that clever horse — and, in so doing, created a landmark study in how to apply the experimental method to human and animal behaviour.

What made this horse seem so clever? Was it intentional fraud, rote behaviour, thought transference (yes, that too had been suggested), true intelligence or something else? Oskar Pfungst found the answer by means of a series of experiments. And the data, graphs and analysis of those experiments not only solved the mystery — they formed the foundation for future behavioural studies such as Experimental Psychology.

So, was Clever Hans truly clever? He was — for a horse. In order to win his carrot and bread rewards, he had learned how to interpret the tiny involuntary visual clues that helped him determine how many hoof taps or what sort of head nods were expected by his human companions. Pfungst’s hard work proved that, if Clever Hans’ handlers asked Hans a question for which they did not know the answer, Hans could not respond correctly; only when they did know the answer, and when the horse could see them as they awaited his response, did he give correct answers.

Oskar Pfungst’s colleagues recognized that this book represented an important step in understanding human and animal behaviour. But they also recognized the bravery of the writer — Clever Hans was not a “perfectly gentle” horse. In fact, Pfungst suffered several bites throughout the study.

This post was contributed by lhamilton, the DP General Manager.

%d bloggers like this: