Mysytery books fueled love of reading

By Barbara Grider
Posted 6/12/07

I’ve always loved mysteries. In fact, most of the fiction I read includes a mystery element. As a child, I read not only Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels, but also a series called Judy Bolton. In fact, I found Judy Bolton to be much more …

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Mysytery books fueled love of reading


I’ve always loved mysteries. In fact, most of the fiction I read includes a mystery element. As a child, I read not only Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels, but also a series called Judy Bolton. In fact, I found Judy Bolton to be much more interesting than the rather predictable Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

The Judy Bolton books, written by Margaret Sutton, were extremely popular. The first four volumes were published in 1932 by Grosset and Dunlap. Each book was “based on something that actually happened” and many were also based on real life sites. There were 38 books published before the series was discontinued in the mid 1960s.

I never read the later books because I had a shelf full of volumes from the 1930s that had belonged to my uncle’s older sister. Who could resist titles such as “The Vanishing Shadow” or “The Haunted Attic” or “The Invisible Chimes ?”

In the very first book, Judy Bolton is a 15-year-old and during the course of 38 books Judy not only ages, but her surroundings and social situations change. She matures and changes, along with the world in which she “lives.”

Unlike Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and other series mysteries, the Judy Bolton books were all written by Sutton, which is one reason they are so enjoyable. The characters develop, mature and change along with the girls who were reading the books.

The characters — Judy, her brother Horace, her friends Honey and Peter, as well as parents and grandparents seemed so normal yet so exciting! I couldn’t wait to finish one book and start another.

The illustrations of Judy, Peter, Honey and Horace , dressed in the latest 1930s styles were interesting and I loved the look of and the strange names of the cars they drove.

The Billie Bradley books, written by Wheeler, were set in an even earlier time. I loved the drawings of and the names of the cars in which the cast of teenaged characters drove around the countryside. Oh how I wanted to ride in a roadster convertible or a big phaeton on my way to solve a mystery! As much fun as I found Billie and friends to be, they never held my attention the way the Judy Bolton books did.

I was a very lucky child because I was always surrounded by books and was often the recipient of the books that my older cousins had outgrown. I even had a copy of “Heidi” that had belonged to my mother, as well as my own, current childhood books.

That series of girl detective books gave me a real appreciation of a well-written book with well-developed characters the reader can identify with, a strong sense of place and an intriguing plot. It’s a standard by which I still judge a good book.

There were also adult books in our house that I was free to read, as long as I didn’t take one that one of the adults was currently reading. After her retirement, my grandmother spent every afternoon reading. She especially loved Earl Stanley Gardner and it was hilarious to me as a teen to see my grandmother reading books that had the most lurid covers on them.

In truth, my grandmother just loved to read and would read anything that came her way — including the books I check out of the adult section of the public library. I would start a wonderful book and be called away to do some chore and when I returned, my book would be gone. My grandmother would be reading it and I knew that I wouldn’t get it back until she was finished with it!

One of my aunts bought the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and she would bring them over for us to read. Although I later learned just how much was left out of those books, they gave me my first little taste of some of my favorite authors.

Going to the library was a true labor of love because I had to walk every step of the way to and from lugging a stack of books. On my way home, I would be so eager and excited about the books I had discovered. I read a lot of historical fiction and learned a lot of history without even realizing it. I read biographies because I discovered that I had a natural curiosity about other people. Like my grandmother, I read pulp detective fiction, as well as wonderful, literary gems. I continued to read almost anything I could for years and years.

When my children were young we made a weekly trip to the public library and I find it interesting that all four of them are adults who love to read. All three of my daughters majored in English in college, too.

When my oldest daughter started reading the Nancy Drew mysteries, I unearthed a few copies of my Judy Bolton books and she read those. Even though she was reading them in the 1970s, she could still relate to Judy and the gang driving around in their roadster.

I don’t know what happened to my old books but I would love to read them again, if I could find them. For now, I make my weekly trip to the public library to peruse the mysteries in hopes of discovering a book I’ve missed by a favorite author or maybe an entirely new mystery series.

Sad to say, many new mysteries authors don’t measure up to those Judy Bolton books.

Barbara Grider is staff writer for The Independent. Contact her at