Series Book Spotlight: The Moonstone Castle Mystery: My First Nancy Drew

The Moonstone Castle Mystery
Carolyn Keene
First published 1963

My history with this book
The Moonstone Castle Mystery was my very first Nancy Drew book. I was around 6 or 7, and I was with my father in a used bookstore. I was bored, until I noticed a bookcase filled with books with yellow spines. I started looking at them, and my father said I could pick one out to buy. I remember being very undecided because all of the covers looked so appealing, but I eventually decided on The Moonstone Castle Mystery, because I was really into castles, and the image of the three women approaching the castle intrigued me.

My thoughts
This book was interesting to re-read. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan as a child, and I’ve begun working my way through the original 56 books, some of which I’m reading for the first time. I’m writing about this one because it was my introduction to Nancy Drew, but it’s really an average entry in the series.

If you know nothing about Nancy Drew, she’s a teenage girl who solves mysteries. Her father is a famous attorney, and Nancy often gets involved in his cases. She’s usually assisted by her two sidekicks, “plump” Bess and “tomboyish” George. Nancy is described as “attractive” and “titian-haired.” She’s nearly perfect in every way, and she always solves the crime.

The Moonstone Castle Mystery has two common Nancy Drew tropes: elderly women being bilked of their fortunes and a long-lost heiress. Carson Drew is working with a couple who are searching for their lost granddaughter. Fifteen years earlier, the couple moved to Africa (just Africa, not an actual African country) to become missionaries, but they were taken captive by a hostile tribe. When they were finally freed, they learned that their granddaughter had disappeared after her other grandmother died (the child’s parents were also dead). While her father is investigating the case, Nancy receives a moonstone in the mail from an img_2739unknown sender. It soon becomes clear that the two mysteries are connected, and Nancy, George, and Bess travel to the nearby town of Deep River to do some investigating.

As an adult reading this one, I had to suspend disbelief quite a few times. Nancy walks into a bank, and the manager is perfectly willing to hand out confidential information. The police are just as forthcoming, looking up license numbers for her and praising her for finding her stolen car (something they weren’t able to do). I’m sure privacy laws weren’t quite so strict in 1963, but it’s still hard to imagine authority figures so easily cooperating with a teenage girl. Of course, that’s part of Nancy Drew’s appeal. Children are used to not being taken seriously, and it’s wish fulfillment to read about (and identify with) a young woman who has authority figures paying so much attention to her.

I enjoyed re-reading this one. It’s hardly the best mystery I’ve ever read (or even the best Nancy Drew), but it was enjoyable enough. There’s something comforting about Nancy Drew. She always solves the mystery and she doesn’t even break a sweat.

Does it hold up?
It holds up about as well as any Nancy Drew, but all classic Nancy Drew books may feel dated to today’s kids. This mystery in particular could probably have been solved in no time with internet access and a cell phone. Also, kids may find it odd that Nancy doesn’t go to school or have a job.

Is there any objectionable content?
Nothing terrible, but there’s some mild shaming of poor Bess for liking food. (And Africa being considered a country.)

Can you read it aloud?
It’s probably a bit long for that, and kids in the target age range are probably too old to enjoy being read it.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Sure, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he weren’t interested.

Availability
The book is still in print and use copies are plentiful. It’s also available as an ebook.

Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy
Louise Fitzhugh
First published 1964

My history with this book
I remember really loving this book when I first read it (around age 8), but I remembered very little about it, other than the barest of plot outlines. I do remember being inspired to start writing my thoughts and observations in a notebook, but I don’t think the hobby lasted very long.

My thoughts
I really loved this book the second time around, and I found that it affected my deeply.

Harriet is an intelligent, interesting kid, and she’s very much her own person even at age 11. She wants to be a spy, and she’s in already in training. Every day after school, she walks her neighborhood, spying on her neighbors and writing down her observations. She also observes her classmates, and her notes on them are almost clinical in their unblemished truth.

I really felt for Harriet. Yes, she’s not the kindest child, but she’s not a bad person, and all of the adults in her life have abandoned her. Her parents have abdicated all responsibility to her nanny, Ole Golly, over the years, and then one day, Ole Golly leaves with no notice, telling Harriet that she doesn’t need her anymore. This broke my heart. Yes, Harriet is too old to have a nanny, but Ole Golly leaving so abruptly feels like a huge betrayal. Harriet kind of losing her mind after that isn’t surprising.

I had so many feelings while reading this book, and I don’t remember being this affected by it as a kid. I really liked Harriet.The things Harriet writes in her notebook are mean, but they’re just her inner monologue in written form and they were never meant for public consumption. What the other kids do to Harriet felt much worse to me. I feel like this is a good starting point for a discussion with kids. You could ask your child what they think of Harriet, her actions, and what happens to her.

One thing I remembered from childhood is a scene where Harriet is so caught up in writing in her notebook that she doesn’t notice that her class has ended, and her teacher almost gets the notebook from her. That scene really stuck in my mind, probably because I was always sneaking books into class and trying to read them.

When I first finished re-reading the book, I felt as though maybe the ending was too abrupt. But after thinking about it for a few days and reading the last few pages again, I decided it made sense. Harriet has learned some compassion and she’s trying to put herself in her friends’ shoes. And kids are so changeable at that age. One day you’re in a screaming fight, the next day you’re back to being best friends.

Does it hold up?
Yes! It doesn’t feel dated, especially considering it was written over 50 years ago. It’s a timeless classic. And the treatment of gender roles feels pretty progressive for a book written in the 60s. Harriet’s interests steer clear of anything stereotypically girly, her female friend Janie is a mad scientist, and her male friend Scout keeps house for himself and his father.

Is there any objectionable content?
No.

Can you read it aloud?
It’s a little long for reading aloud.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Definitely.

Availability
The book is still in print and available in print and as an ebook. It should be widely available in libraries.