Chinese New Year begins this Saturday — the Year of the Rooster. Let’s celebrate by looking at a few of the Nancy Drew books that involve Chinese culture. More specifically, three of the ones that involve encounters with Chinese dragons. (Three of them? Does that mean there are more? Yes!)
We’ll look at one book from three different incarnations of Nancy Drew — the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, the Nancy Drew Notebooks, and Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew.
I have always been biased towards the original yellow-spined series, the books of my childhood. I must admit I never cared for The Nancy Drew Files, the “modern” paperbacks that came next. But then again I was waaaaay too old for them and read only one or two out of curiosity. The newer Nancy Drew Notebooks and the Clue Crew books feature a much younger Nancy, but I was willing to try them with an open mind.
So, how do the the versions stand up?
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #38—The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961)
Let’s start with The Mystery of the Fire Dragon, which was always one of my favorites. I loved when Nancy traveled to exciting locations, and in this book, she flies to Hong Kong. Yes, the land of mah-jongg, Chinese Opera, fireworks, floating restaurants and harbors filled with junks and sampans.
The book begins with an urgent call from Aunt Eloise in New York, requesting Nancy’s help in finding her neighbor’s missing granddaughter, Chi Che Soong. Nancy follows a trail of puzzling clues (many of which are on dragon-print stationery) and ends up in Hong Kong. Once there, this exciting story becomes even more thrilling as Nancy is kidnapped and then quickly rescued by the British Royal Navy — in fighter jets.
Action-packed and memorable for its exotic setting, this mystery still holds up well.
The Nancy Drew Notebooks #39—The Chinese New Year Mystery (2000)
Next up, The Chinese New Year Mystery. In the Nancy Drew Notebooks, Nancy is in the third grade and has not yet had time to grow into the personification of perfection that we all know and love. Honestly, I read this story a couple of years ago and don’t recall anything about it. Nor do I want to spend any of my time re-reading it to give you my impressions. But I don’t remember having any strong negative feelings against it. So, there’s that.
As a way of a synopsis, I’ll just give you the publisher’s blurb: “The third-grade classes at Nancy’s school are learning about Chinese culture, and they’ll celebrate the Chinese New Year with a special parade. The highlight of the parade will be a dragon costume. Nancy’s class is making it out of feathers, sequins, gold tassels, and red silk. But right before the big day, the dragon disappears!
Nancy, Bess, and George are in the New Year’s spirit. They’ve enjoyed a delicious feast at the home of their classmate Mari Cheng. She’s even lent the girls special Chinese outfits to wear. But without the dragon, there will be no parade. And that makes Nancy roaring mad!”
Roaring mad? Nancy? Really?
Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew #3—Enter the Dragon Mystery (2013)
And now, Enter the Dragon Mystery. In this graphic novel, Nancy is once again an elementary school student who has been assigned a Chinese New Year project. But in this book, the tone is totally different. And so very…wrong.
In what universe does Nancy Drew shout, “OMG!”??
So there you have it. The original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories are still the best, hands-down.
Of course, we could entertain the idea that these newer books are fun and relevant to today’s kids, that Nancy can still have satisfying adventures in a world that has moved past the 1970s, and that I’m just too old to accept change gracefully.
But we won’t.