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Nancy Drew and the case of a secret identity

This time, it was quite serious – how to appeal to boys? A quick-thinking mother comes to the rescue.

By Kate Chambers / March 2, 2012

It was Nancy or nothing.

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"Will you read me a story?" my 7-year-old asked. He and I were book-starved in Johannesburg, South Africa, an 11-hour drive from Sam's bedroom bookshelf in Zimbabwe.

For reasons that will become clear later on, I had no time to go shopping for books, though bookshops galore beckoned in Johannesburg's glitzy malls. Neither did I have the energy to concoct a story, as I'd done so many times before.

I sneaked into Sam's cousin Alex's bedroom, hoping to raid her bookshelf. Alex – short for Alexandra – is 9. Her bedroom is a little girl's dream of a lair: beribboned quilt covers, embroidered cushions, and giant hearts against a sky-blue wall.

I ran my finger along the spines on her shelf. My heart sank.

"There's an Owl in the Shower," by Jean Craighead George. Nice story, but Sam and I had already read it. "Fairy Stories, Collected." Sam would stop me after the first sentence. British author Lauren Child's "Clarice Bean, That's Me." There was no way Sam would fall for sassy Clarice, with her barely-disguised contempt for big brothers.

I spied a chunk of Ladybird reference books. My hopes rose, only to be dashed a second later. "No," Sam said firmly. "We read those at school."

That left only Nancy Drew. Nancy wasn't a part of my childhood. Growing up in rural England, I was reared on Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" adventures, Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," and L.M. Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" saga. I had, however, flicked through a few "Nancy Drew" stories later in life. I knew that the skilled amateur detective plunged herself bravely into dangerous situations, always caught the criminals, and had the police, well, just about eating out of her hand.

Nancy's exploits would bring a shine to Sam's eyes.

But there was a problem. She might be older than Clarice Bean, but Nancy was undeniably a girl and that meant – certainly as far as Sam was concerned – that "The Scarlet Macaw Scandal" was a story for girls. Unless ...

"Mum?" Sam was getting desperate.


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