School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Rubini explores the life of Mildred “Millie” Benson, better known as Carolyn Keene, author of the “Nancy Drew” books. Readers will learn how Benson earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and wrote for the Stratemeyer Syndicate as a ghost writer under the pen name Carolyn Keene. She was tasked with writing a mystery series about an amateur sleuth and wrote 23 of the first 30 “Nancy Drew” titles. Benson also wrote more than 100 novels for young people under the name Keene and other pseudonyms. Rubini frames the story as a mystery, asking why, despite Nancy Drew’s fame, most people have never heard of Benson and tracking down clues and evidence to uncover more information about the life of this little-known author. Chapters are referred to as clues and given appropriate names (“Ghostwriter Appears: The Case of the Missing Ghostwriter”). Included are some of the “Nancy Drew” book covers, Benson’s awards and recognitions, and a chronological list of works she wrote. VERDICT A solid option for those interested in the “Nancy Drew” mysteries.—Minerva Alaniz, Texas Tech University Library
If I were a singer, I’d love to have these ladies as my backup crew.
But I’m not.
However, as a children’s book author, I couldn’t come up with a better group to have my back than children’s librarians.
And these ladies are no exception.
I had the opportunity to meet with Mary Lou, Rhonda and Diana last week prior to my presentation at their Brook Park Library.
Over excellent Italian food from a local restaurant, we talked about our shared experiences as book lovers.
We spoke of early childhood memories of riding bikes to the bookmobile, and hoping, with all fingers crossed, that another Nancy Drew Mystery Story was on the shelves.
We chatted about our experiences of sharing our love for reading with our children, and our similar rules for library visits. Each child was allowed to borrow as many books as they could carry.
We talked about what books sat on our night stands, and which ones we couldn’t put down.
These ladies then took these connecting points and shared them with the room packed with Nancy Drew and Millie Benson fans waiting to hear my lecture.
The librarians brought me to tears with their kind words. And made me laugh with their flashlight and magnifying glass props.
For the next hour I shared all that I had discovered about Millie.
The audience ranged from middle school girls and boys, to older fans. One woman had driven 100 miles to hear my presentation, two others were always at the library and just curious.
I had a blast, and based on the applause, enthusiastic response and book sales after, I think the audience did too.
I left the library feeling like I had connected with readers of all ages. I had touched their lives, just as they had touched mine.
I sang all the way home.
And thought about my backup crew.
My biography of Millie Benson is picking up some great press!
Check out these excerpts from reviews of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist:
“Here is a biography intended for young people that may find its true audience among children’s literature history aficionados and—of course—adult readers who grew up on Nancy Drew. Rubini opens with the dramatic trial that established Mildred Benson as the author behind the pseudonym Carolyn Keene: “Millie” wrote twenty-three of the first thirty original Nancy Drew titles… The biography is eminently readable and well organized…Appended with an impressive wealth of back matter (“Extra Clues”) including a timeline, a chronological list of Millie’s books, a glossary, source notes, and an extensive bibliography.”
Horn Book Magazine, November/December issue. wwwhbook.com
“Digging into archives and the memories of surviving acquaintances as well as published histories, Rubini spins an account of Benson’s long and active life that throws a strong light on the source of Nancy Drew’s own admirably intrepid and independent spirit.…An enlightening peek behind the curtain for Nancy Drew fans.”
“Missing Millie Benson is as lively and compelling as a Nancy Drew Mystery Story. For anyone who loves Nancy, getting to know the woman who first brought her to life in this wonderful biography is not just a treat but a necessity—an inspiration to young writers and sleuths alike!”
Melanie Rehak, author of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her
“Read, read, read. That’s all I can say.”
Nancy Drew offered this incredible advice in the first Nancy Drew Mystery Story, written by Carolyn Keene.
I wished I’d written that. I’m sure that for years the real Carolyn Keene, Mildred “Millie” Augustine Wirt Benson, wished readers knew that she had.
The Secret of the Old Clock was not only the first Nancy Drew Mystery, it was the first Millie wrote for Edward Stratemeyer.
Millie was the original Carolyn Keene.
And Edward was the genius behind such series as The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and yes, Nancy Drew.
Edward created the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which served as a “book packager”, a connection between ghostwriters he would hire and publishers.
Millie wrote 23 of the first 30 of the Nancy Drew Mystery Series. And then she went on to write a total of 135 books for children, often up to 13 books a year. And, while she was doing so, she was tending to her bed-ridden husband and her young daughter.
Then Millie became a reporter, working for the Toledo Times and The (Toledo) Blade for a combined 58 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, Millie obtained her private pilot’s license at the age of 62. She didn’t stop there. She applied for NASA’s Journalist in Space Program when she was in her eighties.
Millie once stated that a character she created, Penny Parker, was more Nancy Drew than Nancy Drew was.
I might suggest Millie Benson was more Nancy Drew than either of the fictional characters.
It was a fascinating journey researching and writing Millie’s biography.
Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist is available now at your favorite bookstore.
In the immortal words of Millie, “Read, read, read. That’s all I can say.”
I’m cheating here. For this week’s blog entry I’m sharing one written about me.
Thanks to Megan Smith for sharing my story with members of the Association for Library Service to Children.
If you are anything like me, you struggle to balance all of the requirements of the various roles you play.
I’m a list person. I think I have to be as a result of my dual Gemini personality. I’m fun, flighty and creative on one hand, and all business on the other. Throw in a little ADD and the lists make perfect sense.
Here’s today’s version:
Walk Luna. She’s my seven month old lab. I’ve learned that without a walk in the morning, nothing else on the list gets done.
Mow grass. Doing so is actually creative time for me. I make different patterns when I mow and come up with story ideas. This blog resulted from today’s yard work.
Call Yellow Springs Historical Society/Library/Chamber of Commerce. These are all in anticipation of my research trip to this great little town for my next book.
Call about the community garden. Check. I’m in and look forward to helping!
Respond emails. Isn’t it amazing how time consuming this can be?
Set up more school visits. I’m so looking forward to sharing my latest book, a middle-grade biography of Millie Benson with students.
Update website. I tried. I failed. Another email to send.
Work on YA manuscript. This line item has been way too low on the list. Word Count is at 20,000. I need 40K more. I’ll get there.
I’m so blessed that I’m finally achieving something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: write full-time.
As you can see, writing children’s books especially nonfiction, requires more than just writing. It involves research and being resourceful. It involves doing whatever you can as an author to promote the book, from setting up school and library visits, to book signings.
Yet, without writing every day, none of the rest would follow.
With that, I’m back to my manuscript.
I hope you find balance in all you do!
Picture taken at Mcaffee’s Knob, Roanoke, VA, after a 4.4 mile hike!
I’m stoked. I’m going to see my favorite musical artist in concert.
Idina Menzel. Tomorrow night. With friends.
I almost peed my pants just now even thinking about it.
I’ve been listening to her radio station all morning while writing, researching and cleaning.
Idina’s songs serve as the soundtrack of my life these last fifteen years. “For Good”, “Defying Gravity” and more recently, “Learning to Live Without” speak to my heart and my experiences.
I listen to music all the time while working, and am not ashamed to admit that I even dance by myself when inspired. Like just now when “Valerie” from the Glee Soundtrack came on. I dare you to try and sit still while listening to this rendition.
My office is way too small to contain all the energy that song generates, so I slid out onto the deck, my excited six-month old lab following me in excitement.
Caught up in my enthusiasm, Luna joined me, barking and running circles trying to catch her tail. Doggie dancing.
After the song finished, I sat with her for a moment on the deck, being mindful of the beautiful day.
As I rested, I saw three little white moths dancing together over our patio, which is flanked by a water garden and my vegetable garden.
The three swayed together for a bit, then one broke away and flitted over the tomato plants, off on its own. The other two floated over the water, then off and way up high into the woods behind our home.
Of course, it made me think of my three children, one dancing up in heaven for fifteen years, the other two creating their own paths here on earth.
I’m grateful for all three of them encouraging me to remember to laugh, sing, and get my groove on whenever I feel like it.
I hope that life provides you with moments where you defy gravity and get up and dance.
You can bet I will be tomorrow night.
My editor sent me a note yesterday, sharing that my latest book, a middle-grade biography of Millie Benson, was mentioned in an article in Publisher’s Weekly.
Get out of here.
That’s like my golf game garnering recognition in Golf Digest. I can only hope.
The piece was titled, “Is Children’s Nonfiction Having Its Moment?”
I hope it isn’t just a moment. I have many more real stories to share with children. Stories about amazing people who are inspiring. And stories about significant events in our history that need to be told in such a way that children get excited about them.
Hi-story. Maybe that is how we need to pronounce the word.
After all, that is what our past is all about, isn’t it?
I’m so blessed to have yet another opportunity to slip into the shoes of being a published author. I’ve got to say, it’s a pretty comfortable feeling. I could get used to this.
I’m proof that one can accomplish their dreams at any point in life.
You’ve just got to try.
So, go on and try.
Meanwhile, I’m going to keep writing. And working on my golf game.
Who knows what might happen?
Check out the full PW article here:
The young woman walked confidently up to the wooden lectern, with the beautiful bright blue Jefferson Awards Foundation logo sparkling with all the camera flashes.
Without hesitation she began her story.
“At the age of eight my father was incarcerated for one hundred and thirty-five years. For several years my mother and I were left homeless.”
She took a deep breath and continued.
“At the age of thirteen my mother tried to kill me by shooting me.”
My heart sank, my throat constricted, and tears welled.
Without skipping a beat this seventeen-year-old offered that she had chosen to dedicate her efforts to Habitat for Humanity, so that no other family had to live without a home.
I approached her after all of us regional Media Partner Jefferson Award recipients had the chance to share why we were chosen to be honored to the audience.
“I’m so glad to meet you,” I said. “After hearing your speech I just wanted to hug you.”
She opened her arms, smiled and replied, “After hearing yours, I wanted to do the same.”
I found it rather ironic that I would make a connection with a young woman living with a mother who clearly doesn’t deserve to be one, while being recognized for honoring my own daughter taken from me entirely too soon.
This young woman was a reflection of the incredible individuals I met throughout the two day national Jefferson Awards conference. I was touched by the work other bereaved parents are doing in honor of their children. And others with their own losses and challenges. I met a woman from Aiken SC who lost her husband to a drowning accident. She’s providing life jackets and safety lessons to those enjoying the lake her husband lost his life to. I met a man who is providing camping experiences to special needs kids. And another who lost most of his lung capacity due to an accident who is teaching children how to fish.
Most of all, I came to terms with being recognized for what I have always considered to be a family and team effort.
Just as I cannot claim Claire entirely as my own, for she belonged to all of us who loved her, nor can I take ownership of what we have created in her honor.
When it was my turn at the lectern, through tears and smiles, I offered our journey. As a mother, as a family, as a community.
I was honored with rousing applause after thanking the audience for allowing me to share Claire’s story, our story.
And I touched a young woman who is back living with the mother who tried to shoot her, for the physical abuse she suffers is “better than the emotional abuse from the foster homes.”
I’ve been asked by many friends what the experience was like. It was amazing being in the presence of so many giving back to their communities. It was incredible sharing all the “goose bump” moments with Brad, Kyle, Ian, my brother Gordie and niece and goddaughter, Hannah. Icing on the cake was having my two dear friends Susan and Pam along, as well as Jeanette and Diana from Read for Literacy/Claire’s Day. The gala dinner was spectacular, with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor roaming through the audience as she spoke. The Secret Service agents must have been having conniptions. She didn’t care.
But most of all, the ceremonies left me wanting to do more, to give more. To recognize more children who are working so hard to improve their reading skills. To give more books to children who don’t have any in their homes. To share Claire’s story with the world.
And to perhaps help make a difference in the life of a young woman who deserves better.