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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Sophie Whitehead, 6, devours stacks of Nancy Drew mysteries every week.

Nancy Drew, it seems, is known everywhere. Over the past 80 years, her books have been published in 25 languages, and more than 200 million copies have been sold worldwide.

But boiling down Nancy's success into numbers seems to sanitize her, making her more of a thing than a person.

And make no mistake about it, Nancy was — and continues to be — a person to the millions of girls and women who have shared her adventures and friendship through the years.

Introductions to Nancy are as varied as her readers, though many came during childhood and made lasting impressions.

This past Easter, Grace and Sophie Whitehead's great-grandmother gave them the first three books in the Nancy Drew series.

Six-year-old Sophie loves mysteries and was immediately taken with Nancy Drew. "Grace didn't like them, so I thought I would try them," she said. "I like Nancy Drew. She's smart, pretty and brave. Really brave, I believe. And smart."

The first-grader at Upland Terrace Elementary School in East Millcreek has been devouring Nancy Drew, reading three books — on her own — a week. She would read more, she said, but her mom will only let her check out that many from the library at a time.

When they arrive at the library, Sophie runs to Nancy Drew, said her mom, Juli. "Sophie reads all the time," she said. "It sounds bad, but we're always telling her to put her book down."

Up to this point, "The Hidden Staircase" and "The Message in the Hollow Oak" are Sophie's favorite Nancy Drew books — she's on the 17th book right now. The mystery and secret passages make them more interesting, she said.

Nancy is very good at solving cases, said Sophie, who likes to figure things out as she reads. "In one, I guessed the case," she said. "In 'The Hidden Staircase,' I knew what happened."

Sophie plans to reread all the books once she makes it through the series. "I mostly run out of books," she said. "So I'm always looking for more."

As a child, Dixie Hunsaker, now a fifth-grade teacher at Howard Driggs Elementary School in Holladay, read every Nancy Drew book she could get her hands on. She loved the adventure and the excitement offered in the stories, and by the time she was a mother, she had a huge box full of books to pass on to her daughters.

Hunsaker has been an educator for 35 years, nine of which were spent as a school librarian. Working in the library, she'd watch books ebb and flow in popularity, but there were always copies of Nancy Drew books on the shelves.

Now in her final year of teaching, Hunsaker gets to observe the reading habits of her charges on a daily basis. And at ages 10 and 11, her students are the perfect ages for Nancy Drew.

"The girls in my classroom this year really love her, and that surprised me," Hunsaker said. "I had adored (Nancy Drew books) when I was a little girl, and my girls adored them. But kids right now are so caught up in fantasy books — Harry Potter and others — so when they began reading these older books, I noticed."

Norma Hendrickson of West Valley City became acquainted with Nancy about age 11. She remembers checking out one of the books from the Gunnison library and loving it.

Hendrickson's mom recognized that special spark a book can have and signed up her daughter for the Nancy Drew Book Club — of which there have been a number of incarnations through the years.

Every 60 days, two books with yellow covers would arrive in brown cartons, and Hendrickson devoured them. The books even had a special bookcase where she lined them up.

Years later, Hendrickson revisited the books and admits they seem a little contrived, a little formulaic. "But at the time, women and girls weren't seen as going out doing adventurous things like that," she said.

Hendrickson remembers the feeling that came from reading those mysteries on dark, rainy days and being surprised with the plot twists. "Nancy didn't do the traditional thing," Hendrickson said. "She was out having adventures. I think that she was a little different than typical."

And at a time when Hendrickson's life wasn't exactly perfect, Nancy offered a release. "I loved that she had a relationship with her father, and that money wasn't an issue," she said. "I liked the escape from my real world. And her life seemed secure and charmed."

Nadine Wimmer, KSL anchorwoman and chairwoman of Deseret Media Companies' Read Today action committee, was another Nancy Drew Book Club member. During the summer, Wimmer would get three-in-one Nancy Drews delivered once a month to her home. "As soon as they would come in the mail, I would freak out and start reading them," she said.

Wimmer remembers reading the books like crazy. Nancy was smart and strong, Wimmer said, and she wasn't relying on the Hardy Boys to help her out.

"I know that sounds funny now," Wimmer said. "But the mysteries and stories were strong. Her character appeals to girls because she's smart. She uses her mind, and academic girls are drawn to that."

Wimmer saved all of her Nancy Drew books from her youth, hoping that someday she would share them with her own daughters. Having only sons, she instead shared some of them with her nieces. "I couldn't bear to part with them until I was grown," she said.

Kathy Whiting, a Deseret News employee who is also a member of the Read Today action committee, found Nancy Drew in a Nevada library when she was in the fourth grade. The book was "The Mystery of the Old Clock," and after seeing the word "mystery," Whiting was hooked.

"I began reading every copy I could get my hands on," Whiting said. "Nancy, Bess and George were real enough to be my friends, and that was important, because soon my family moved to a new state, and I started junior high without knowing a soul. It was difficult, but each afternoon I could count on picking up a book and seeing a friend."

Whiting feels that same comfort today when she picks up a copy. She was given a hardbound set of six books at age 11, and she still has them. As each of her three daughters turned the right age, she passed on her "precious tomes." And now that her children are grown, Whiting is saving those same books to read with her first granddaughter.

"Nancy was strong, self-assured and capable," Whiting said. "I hoped to be just like her. I still do."

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com