Saturday, July 27, 2019

An Overview of the Dana Girls Series

Please read this post for a list of Dana Girls titles and an explanation about which Dana Girls books were revised.

Both the Dana Girls and Kay Tracey series were created during the early 1930s by the Stratemeyer Syndicate as rival series to the much more successful Nancy Drew series.  Both the Dana Girls and Kay Tracey series have had a convoluted publishing history with periods of time when each series was out of print and then revived.  Both series are currently out of print, probably for good.

The Dana Girls and Kay Tracey series are very similar.  Both series feature girls who solve mysteries.  The girls have a jealous rival who quite often causes lots of trouble.  It has been theorized that rejected Nancy Drew plot ideas might have been used for both series.  The plots of both series tend to be crazier and more absurd than the Nancy Drew plots.  For this reason, the Dana Girls and Kay Tracey series are often compared to each other.

On February 2, 2018, I wrote, "I have a special fondness for Kay Tracey, but I probably like the Dana Girls series better."  I actually really didn't remember exactly how I felt, but most everyone else seems to like the Dana Girls series better, so I figured that was the case.  A few months later, I read all of the Kay Tracey books again.  I was pleased that I enjoyed them as much as ever.  I began to suspect that I might not like the Dana Girls series quite as much as I once did.

After I had read through a number of the Dana Girls books this summer, I wrote in reference to my previous comment, "Let's revise that statement. 'I have a special fondness for Kay Tracey, and I like the Kay Tracey series better.' "  I have now finished reading the entire Dana Girls series, and in my opinion, it is overall weaker than the Kay Tracey series.

I consider the Kay Tracey series to be overall very good.  There's a good reason why.  The Kay Tracey series consists of 18 titles, which are all equally good.  The series underwent no major change in tone or quality during the years it was published.

The Dana Girls series quite unfortunately consists of 34 titles.  If the series had ended with just 10 titles, I would consider it to be an excellent series.  If it had ended with 12 to 18 titles, then I would consider it to be a very good series.  Sometimes we wish that excellent short series had continued longer.  The Dana Girls series serves as an example of what happens when a series is allowed to continue on and on until it deteriorates into an insipid mess.

The Dana Girls series can be divided into four parts.

#1 By the Light of the Study Lamp through #14 The Clue in the Ivy

#1-4 were written by Leslie McFarlane, and #5-14 were written by Mildred Wirt Benson.  All of these books were written during the 1930s and 1940s.  All of these books have 25 chapters.  #14 was not published until 1952, but it was actually written during 1944 and fits with the first 13 books.  These books are the golden age of the Dana Girls series.  These books tend to be very good to excellent.  They are a strong group of stories, and they are just as good as the original text Nancy Drew books.

#15 The Secret of the Jade Ring through #18 The Clue of the Black Flower

These books are the transition books.  All four books have 25 chapters.  These books are the first ones containing educational content, such as the history of jade or how to make artificial flowers.  The educational content is often boring and reads like it was lifted out of an encyclopedia.

Mildred Wirt Benson wrote #15 and #16.  Her writing style for #15 and #16 is different than it was for #5-14 for two reasons.  First, #15 was written eight years after #14.  Second, Benson had to insert educational content into the stories.  Harriet Adams took over writing the series with #17, and the series quickly went downhill from there.

#19 The Winking Ruby Mystery through #24 The Secret of Lost Lake

All of these books were written by Harriet Adams.  These books are excessively educational, which makes them rather boring.  This portion of the series is one big travelogue with lots of information about various destinations.  The plots are often quite stupid and not in an entertaining fashion.

By this time, Harriet Adams was writing all of the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls books.  The Nancy Drew books from this time period are better.  My theory is that Harriet concentrated her efforts on the Nancy Drew books and turned out an inferior product for the Dana Girls series.

#25 The Mystery of the Stone Tiger through #30 The Phantom Surfer followed by #14 The Curious Coronation through #17 The Witch's Omen from the 2nd series

Harriet Adams wrote all of these books, and the plots tend to be a bit stupid and bizarre.  I actually like this group of books better than the previous group, mostly because the travelogue aspect is gone.  I also surmise that Harriet Adams was more comfortable in her writing and was able to produce a better product.  That said, the final four books in the 2nd series were first published when Harriet Adams was 84 to 87 years of age.  Harriet's writing ability was better, but her health was also failing, which resulted in the final Dana Girls books being a bit... strange.

By the way, I have noticed that generous usage of the words "chuckled," "grinned," and "amazed" are indicators that Harriet Adams did indeed write the books.  It is unknown whether all books attributed to Harriet Adams were actually written by her, since she signed releases for many books years after the books were published.  I feel confident that Harriet Adams did actually write all Dana Girls books that are attributed to her.

My reviews will follow.  I find that my opinion of many of the books from #16 and up differs greatly from what other people think.  For that reason, do not use my opinion on those books to guide you on whether those books are worth reading.  I cannot stand some books that others love, and I get a huge kick out of some books that others cannot stand.  That's why I hate it when people ask me which books are the best in a series.  That depends on you.


paul binotto said...

Thanks for plowing through the Dana Girls.
Can't wait for your reviews of the books!

Evelyn said...

I have recently found your website and blog, and I love it! I have a particular fondness for The Dana Girls - I can't explain why exactly. Your website with information on The Dana Girls and other series is very interesting and helpful. Have you considered adding a page on the paperback Dana Girls books that were published in the 1980s? The cover art on those is neat - I have most of them. I first stumbled across them when I was living in South Africa and found some in a charity bookshop there.

Evelyn said...

By the way, the paperback Dana Girls were published by Sparrow Books in the UK.

Donna said...

I had to chuckle at your disclaimer in the last paragraph about how your opinion of the books from #16 and up may vary from other people’s opinion because I really like the “travelogue” books!

Evelyn said...

I recently started a blog and posted about some of the 1980s softcover books here:

I have most of the books now - I'll share all of the covers when I have a chance. The artwork is quite "modern" compared to the other Dana Girls editions.

Does anyone else collect the 1980s versions of these books?