[library-media] Fwd: NYTimes.com Article: In Latest Hardy Boys Case, a Search for New Readers

Paula Zsiray pzsiray@mail.mtwest.net
Mon, 30 Jul 2001 09:12:58 -0500

Thought this was interesting...

>In Latest Hardy Boys Case, a Search for New Readers
>There has been another burglary in the idyllic but crime- ridden
>town of Bayport, and Frank and Joe Hardy are once again on the
>case. But this time the boys have a new detective technique:
>looking for clues by hacking into their father's computer.
>  The Hardy Boys turn 75 next year, still living at home and
>enrolled in Bayport High. They are still well-scrubbed Boy Scout
>types from the 1920's, with personalities that barely extend beyond
>the color of their hair. And their books still sell more than a
>million copies a year.
>  Holding on to the sunset of the Hardy Boys' adolescence has not
>been simple. To keep them au courant, their publisher, Simon &
>Schuster, now equips them with cell phones, computers and high-
>tech gadgets, dispatching them on torn-from-the-headlines
>adventures involving citywide surveillance systems, corporate
>whistle- blowers, extreme sports and online crime.
>  As with many children's series, sales of new Hardy Boys books are
>flagging, publishers and booksellers say, and some wonder how much
>longer the formulaic escapades can hold boys' scarce attention.
>This summer, a new team at Simon & Schuster's children's book
>division plans to re-examine its plans for the Hardy Boys, said
>Anne Greenberg, executive editor in charge. "We are always
>evaluating how to keep the series fresh and relevant," she said. It
>was too early to know what changes might be in store, she said, but
>ending the series "has never come up."
>  Some say the time has passed for the Hardys. "None of the Hardy
>Boys books are great literature, and the new ones are just not very
>good," said Jennifer Lavonier, manager of Books of Wonder in
>Manhattan. "I am surprised they are still published."
>  But the Hardy Boys still have their fans, including some grown-ups
>who argue that the longevity of the series itself may hold clues to
>the persistent problem of persuading young boys to embrace books.
>Boys consistently trail girls in reading and outnumber girls in
>illiteracy, according to the Department of Education.
>  Part of the reason boys do not read as well, said Roger Sutton,
>editor in chief of Horn Book, a children's book review, may be that
>many of the teachers, librarians and others recommending books are
>women. They hand boys the wrong kind of books, Mr. Sutton said =97
>novels that revolve around emotions and feelings. "Boys like a lot
>of action, and maybe that is why we lose so many boys to TV, video
>games and movies," he said.
>  For all their flaws, the Hardy Boys have held their own through
>three generations of challenges from new books, new social mores
>and new media, from the days when they sped past the neighbors'
>farms in roadsters to their more recent afternoons chatting about
>girls in the coffee shop of the local mall.
>  The Hardy Boys were first conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, a
>prolific hack with a nose for business who become the Henry Ford of
>children's fiction. Mr. Stratemeyer founded a literary syndicate,
>to mass-produce children's books. He farmed out outlines for
>formulaic adventures to freelance ghostwriters, and introduced an
>army of fictional heroes, including Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins,
>Bomba the Jungle Boy and the Hardys' counterpart, Nancy Drew. He
>created pseudonyms as ostensible authors and kept his writers
>anonymous, to secure his exclusive control of the franchise.
>  At the time, Mr. Stratemeyer's oeuvre was viewed as drivel, much
>like television cartoons today. The chief librarian of the Boy
>Scouts of America crusaded against the syndicate, lambasting books
>like the Hardy Boys series in a pamphlet entitled, "Blowing Out the
>Boys' Brains."
>  But heroes like the Hardy Boys were perfectly pitched to boys'
>fantasies. The brothers were old enough to drive motorcycles and
>motorboats, but still unencumbered by employment or other
>obligations. Their father, as a famous detective himself, was both
>a constant source of new cases and a gentle chaperone.
>  The Hardy Boys books have always appeared under Mr. Stratemeyer's
>made-up byline, "Franklin W. Dixon," but credit for their singular
>success belongs with Leslie McFarlane, the newspaperman who
>happened to end up working the first Hardy Boys outlines into
>  Mr. Stratemeyer's instructions were basic: end each chapter with a
>cliffhanger, and no murder, guns or sex. But Mr. McFarlane breathed
>originality into the Stratemeyer plots, loading on playful detail.
>Recalling that boys are always hungry, Mr. McFarlane described
>meals with relish. "For more than half an hour," Mr. McFarlane
>wrote at the end of the first Hardy Boys mystery, "The Tower
>Treasure," "they indulged in roast chicken, crisp and brown, huge
>helpings of fluffy mashed potatoes, pickles, vegetable and salads,
>pies and puddings to suit every taste, and when the last boy sank
>back in his chair with a happy sigh there was still food to spare."
>  For humor, Mr. McFarlane relied heavily on stereotypes. "Negroes
>were always cowardly, shiftless, lazy and unlettered; Irishmen were
>incredibly dumb; Jews were avaricious; Scots were stingy; farmers =97
>otherwise known as hayseeds =97 were credulous idiots," he later
>wrote of his method.
>  In 1959, Mr. Stratemeyer's daughters tried to modernize the books.
>They commissioned rewrites of the first 38 volumes, to rid the
>texts of ethnic slurs, speed up the plots to the pace of the new
>television world and remove dated references like the appearance of
>Bayport's first automat.
>  The process shrank "The Tower Treasure" from 240 pages to 180. The
>words and sentences contracted, too, and most of the humor and
>detail vanished. The Hardy Boys' banquet was reduced to
>"sandwiches, cakes and cold drinks."
>  Since then, the Hardy Boys series has ridden the momentum of its
>early success, aided by a handful of attempts to adapt the stories
>for television. Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Pearson's Penguin
>Putnam division, says it sells more than a million copies a year of
>the revised Hardy Boys canon, mainly to nostalgic parents. And the
>small Applewood Books now publishes replicas of the original,
>unrevised editions.
>  In 1984 Simon & Schuster bought the syndicate and began its own
>attempts to update the series. Still farmed out to ghostwriters,
>the books had now shrunk to about 150 rack-size paperback pages.
>Few stayed in print for long. The adventures had grown increasingly
>far- fetched, with the boys frequently sparring with Soviet spies
>and once boarding the space shuttle. Children had also grown more
>sophisticated and the Hardy Boys readership had slipped from the
>mid-teens to under 12 years old.
>  Simon & Schuster tried spinning off several additional series,
>beginning in 1987 with a "young adult" version of the Hardy Boys
>for teenagers. It began with the death of Joe's girlfriend, Iola,
>from a terrorist's bomb. Murder and guns were common, along with
>rock concerts, shopping malls and even chaste kissing. It lasted
>just a decade.
>  The regular series for younger boys continued, meanwhile, in an
>alternate Bayport where Iola still lived. But the original Hardy
>Boys grew up slightly. They began to show some signs of
>personality: Joe is a little more hot-tempered than Frank. And they
>stretch the bounds of parental approval ever so slightly, like
>hacking into their father's computer. (He was understanding.)
>  These days, however, the Hardy Boys once again find themselves
>caught in a seemingly inescapable cliffhanger as their core
>audience of 10- to 12-year-old boys gravitates toward much darker,
>ironic tales like Louis Sacher's "Holes," about a surreal juvenile
>detention camp =97 tough competition for the cheerful Hardy brothers.
>  "I don't think you can take a character who originated in such an
>innocent era and put it into this decade's situations =97 obviously,
>the Hardy Boys are not going to deal with issues like drugs or
>divorce," said Beth Puffer, manager of the Bank Street Bookstore in
>  Some child psychologists say boys might be better off reading
>about more sensitive heroes than the Hardy Boys. "It only gives
>them half of what they could have," because the series offers only
>adventure and fails "to connect to the capacity to express the
>vulnerable feelings that they are yearning to find words for," said
>William S. Pollack, a psychologist and author of "Real Boys'
>  Still, Jon Scieszka, author of "The Stinky Cheese Man," said the
>Hardy Boys' cloudless moods and constant movement were a big part
>of the books' appeal to him as a boy.
>  "They helped me a lot," Mr. Scieszka said. "Guys are kind of
>creeped out by fiction that heads off into the territory of
>emotions and feelings, which is not what they are trained to deal
>  Mr. Scieszka recently created a Web site called Guysread.com as
>part of a literacy campaign for boys. Boys are invited to post
>lists of their favorite books, he said. "But you know what?" he
>said. "None of the Hardy Boys books have come up."
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