As a kid, mystery was one of my favorite genres. I imagined myself hunting for clues and solving mysteries in my neighborhood. There were many books that scratched my itch for mystery, but none better than the Nancy Drew books with their mystery, adventure, and girl detectives!
First published in the 1930s, the creator of the Bobsey Twins and the Hardy Boys wanted a female detective for girls to look up to…Nancy Drew was born.
A spirited but empathetic teenager, Nancy, along with her best friends Bess and George (full name Georgia,) solved their cases within 200 pages or less. Nancy’s cases largely involved looking for hidden treasure, stolen times, or missing people. Sometimes, the stories involved Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned Nickerson.
While she often found herself in dangerous predicaments, there was very little violence or death to be found in the original Nancy Drew book series.
The initial series ended with book #175, published in 2003, but the detective has had quite a few spin-off series as well. Some of these book series showed Nancy going off to college or taking on more “grown-up” mysteries, while others imagined a younger Nancy solving elementary school cases. In addition, the Nancy Drew Files led to the River Heights spin-off series starring Nicki Masters.
Most of these series are published under the author Carolyn Keene, a pseudonym for the dozens of women and men ghostwriters. These books have inspired generations of detectives and have been turned into movies, computer games, graphic novels, and most recently a tv show starring Kennedy McMann, Scott Wolf, and Leah Lewis on the CW.
Nancy Drew books have been cited by many women as an inspiration to innovate, problem solve and aspire to great things. Nancy herself is a hero and role model to millions of women and girls for her bravery, curiosity, and kindness. With nearly 100 years of bibliography to read, where do you even start with Nancy Drew?
Here are some of my personal highlights and featured series to get you and your readers invested in this small-town detective.
Nancy Drew Books
Nancy Drew Chapter Books for 1st – 3rd Grade
Nancy Drew Clue Book: Pool Party Puzzler (#1) Written by Carolyn Keene, Illustrated by Peter Francis
Diedre is throwing a half-sweet sixteen birthday party for herself but it has been sabotaged! Nancy, Bess, and George are on the case!
These early chapter books bring all the charm of the original Nancy Drew books in a younger package. Right before the last chapter, the reader is asked to pause and decide who they think is the culprit. Helpful questions guide you to a conclusion, and you get to test yourself against Nancy Drew herself!
Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew: Sleepover Sleuths (#1) Written by Carolyn Keene, Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan
Third graders Nancy, Bess, and George have been invited to a sleepover party for Deirdre’s birthday party. At the party Deirdre shows off her new (and very rare) doll that she got for her birthday. When the doll goes missing, Nancy puts on her sleuthing hat for the first time to investigate.
Another series of early chapter books, these are charming for young readers. Cases are easy to follow and fun to solve along with Nancy. There’s also an activity at the end to wrap everything up!
Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew: April Fool’s Day (#19) Written by Carolyn Keene, Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan
Nancy, Bess Marvin, and George are invited to their friend April’s party on April Fools Day. When someone who wasn’t invited shows up, and things start going missing, the clue crew begin to investigate.
I’m a big fan of April Fool’s Day myself, so this was just a fun book for me to read. It’s great for an early chapter book reader!
Nancy Drew Books for 4th – 7th Grades
What is the Story of Nancy Drew? Written by Dana M. Rau, Who HQ, Illustrated by Dede Putra
Who needs a Wikipedia article when you have this middle grade book? This gives middle grade readers the history lesson of how Nancy came to be, what she has done, and what an impact these mystery books have had over the years.
Nancy Drew Mysteries: Secret of the Old Clock (#1) Written by Carolyn Keene
An 18-year-old Nancy Drew is out delivering legal documents for her father when she meets the Turner sisters. She learns that they recently lost a dear friend of the family, Josiah Crowley, who promised to remember them in his will. River Heights is a small town, and Nancy knows that the Snooty Topham family is the only one named in Josiah’s will. Cue Nancy’s instinct that Josiah must have had a second will naming the Turner sisters and her quest to uncover the truth.
This is where it all began! This is Nancy’s first case, so she’s learning as she goes. Readers learn so much about Nancy in this initial book as you watch her embark on her first case!
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories: Secret of Shadow Ranch (#7) Written by Carolyn Keene
Nancy, Bess, and George are going on a trip together to Bess and George’s aunt and uncle’s ranch in Arizona. But when they arrive Aunt Bet and Uncle Ed are plagued by sabotage and a phantom horse. The three girls work together to find the saboteur and uncover a historical romance in the meantime.
This is the seventh book in the original series and the first Nancy Drew book with Bess and George! This is also one of my personal favorites. For a book written in the 30s, revised in the 50s, I felt right at home reading this book!
Mystery by Moonlight (#167) Written by Carolyn Keene
Nancy, Ned, Bess, and George are on a trip to a cabin by Moonlight Lake. They think it’s haunted and after meeting the neighbors they learn the long history of the cabin. But when secret tunnels and rumors of a gangster’s treasure emerge, the hauntings take on a more sinister motive!
There is a computer game based on this book, and while I played the game first, I like this book a lot! I always love the cases where Nancy finds hidden passageways or historical buildings to explore. Connecting a modern mystery to the past is something Nancy Drew books are fantastic at, and this book is a prime example.
Nancy Drew Diaries: Curse of the Arctic Star (#1) Written by Carolyn Keene
Nancy has been asked to investigate strange happenings on a cruise, so of course she brings her friends as backup. The rumor is that the cruise has been cursed, but Nancy wants to get to the bottom of it and enjoy a vacation with her friends.
The Nancy Drew Diaries series are a modern twist on the original books. Nancy, Bess, and George are still teenagers, they just have the benefit of modern technology now! Told from the first person, I enjoyed these updated cases and the look inside the thoughts of Nancy Drew.
Nancy Drew Diaries: Hidden Pictures (#19) Written by Carolyn Keene
A newspaper article sent anonymously to Nancy in the mail sends her, Bess, and George on a mission to nearby Shady Oaks. A museum displaying photographs from the 40’s are at the center of multiple missing persons cases and Nancy is tasked with finding out what is really going on!
I enjoyed the premise of this book and how the mystery unraveled!
Nancy Drew Books for YA Readers (Teens)
Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys: Terror on Tour (#1) Written by Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon
Frank and Joe Hardy have been called onto a case for a rock band at Rockapazooma, a rock festival. In another part of the city, Nancy, Bess, and George have secured tickets to Rockapazooma. Cue the first meeting of these teenage detectives!
I thought this was such a fun book! It was a little cheesy, full of everything that makes teenagers teenagers, but it was great to see the three meet. While there are earlier book series that bring Nancy and the Hardy Boys together, this was the first series I was introduced to so it stands out in my mind. Fun fact, Franklin W Dixon, like Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym for the ghostwriters of the Hardy Boys!
There are some mature themes present in this series, this book specifically involves death, so proceed with caution!
Nancy Drew. The Curse Written by Micol Ostow
Horseshoe Bay’s Naming Day festival is fast approaching. Nancy and her friends Lena and Daisy are excited for the celebrations! But when warnings of an old curse begin to surface, and two girls go missing, Nancy begins to investigate.
Confused? Don’t worry. This is a prequel to the show, so you won’t recognize most characters! The show also took the original series and added a supernatural twist. But, if you like the show for its new take on Nancy, then you’ll like this book. It showcases her investigation, her tenacity, and hints at the things yet to come on the show.
Nancy Drew has been entertaining generations and will continue for generations to come! I hope these suggestions inspire you to pick up an old favorite or discover something new from Nancy Drew!