We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Judy Bolton was the one I loved · 8 September 06

Dear Marianne,

In a book on women’s fiction from 1945 to 2005, Diane Philips remarks it seems "women readers are not prepared to publicly admit their private choices of reading material: the espousal of ‘literary’ titles in surveys and questionnaires is not born out by the best-seller lists." We remain alone in our private reading despite all the surveys, reading groups, reviews online and off; film-makers select for the "reading choices of book groups" and for "safe" high-, or secure-status books.

Thus it should have come as no surprize to me that when I wrote at the end of postings sent to Wompo and WMST-l today

"As a girl my favorite series was Judy Bolton. I just loved those books. They had one author, Margaret Sutton, and were not rewritten decade after decade. I used to own just about all of them, but no longer. I let go and have lost them all."

I received a reply offlist almost immediately:

"This is the first time I’ve heard anyone else speak of the Judy Bolton books. I lived on an Air Force Base in Libya during the early 1950’s; the base library had the full set of these books and I loved them—would love to find one to read to see what was so appealing! Thanks for the mention."


And onlist besides myself, Bobbie Ann Mason (most of one chapter of her The Girl Sleuth is given over to her favorite series, Judy Bolton), and "nw," I can now count 4. Of these one friend on Wompo echoed "nw" off:

"And, by the way, I almost mentioned in my earlier post that Judy Bolton was the one I loved—redheaded tomboy who was never perfect and who actually grew up and got married. I didn’t know there was another Judy fan in the universe."

To be stoutly reassured:

"There are other Judy Bolton fans. My sister and I thought her much more sensible than Nancy Drew, and the books a better read … formulaic of course, but so are most mysteries (esp those in series).

I don’t even know if Judy’s still in print."

How sad it is to spend a decades, perhaps a lifetime loving a set of books and thinking no one else you come across ever heard of them, when right next to you in a room, or close to you through the magic of cyberspace, you could share recognition, shared perceptions, pleasure.

Judy Bolton books have long gone out of print, partly because Sutton refused to sell out to have her heroine updated or written by teams of people assigned a chapter each in accordance with abstract de-humanizing formulas. Judy was the most liberal of the mystery sleuth heroines. In Judy Bolton books, writes Mason,

"The greatest wrongs are those that blind and hurt individuals.
The books value order, a sense of place, balance, tolerance, rationality, self-knowledge, sympathy. Judy is critical of artificiality and appreciative of quality … [the series came] closest to containing realism, psychological depth, and honest values …

There are actual themes: the smalltown girl moving to a city, the problems of urbanization and relocation, the discovery of the meaning of one’s past, the quest for identity—and enough fantasy and aspiration to stimulate children. As light entertainment, the series of less damaging, I suspect, than most escapist literature of the mystery type for girls."

It was also not prurient (filled with unacknowledged salacious puns) in the way of the Nancy Drew books, and is now not being pornified, a debasing change actually celebrated in one session of the MLA conference I went to this past Christmas.

I wish Judy were better known or more often shared, for then I might have a poem to match the one on Nancy Drew at 50 as well as picture to share. The following comes from an original Judy Bolton (learly 1950s) advertisement:


Posted by: Ellen

* * *


  1. My posting produced a dismaying thread. One woman posted a remark drenched in racist rhetoric, and, when challenged, said she didn’t understand it that way (self-blinded?). So Judy Bolton was forgottten.

    However, before that occurred, Susan W found this:

    "There is a Judy Bolton homepage, it turns out (http://www.judybolton.com/), with the information that the books are being reissued.

    Elinor    Sep 10, 7:35am    #
  2. A intelligent response on Wompo:

    "Has anyone read Kelly Link’s story from her collection Stranger Things Happen, called "The Girl Detective?" And there was another interesting short story collection that dealt with this character from a woman writer lately…It’s fun to reconsider these characters after they invade our childhood…what do girls do? what can girls do? we ask ourselves as children, and then we turn to our books…

    Elinor    Sep 10, 10:19am    #
  3. I have never heard of Judy Bolton.

    Have you read the book Sula? I read it for my English class in 12th grade. Now that I’ve read a little bit about evolutionary psychology, I could probably find examples of what I’ve read about it in Sula. So I might read it again so I can analyze it in a psychological way.
    Jennica    Sep 10, 11:52am    #
  4. The Judy Bolton series was formulaic, but it was better than the average because it really had one author and was not rewritten according to a formula. To this and at least 7 others I now know of they were delightful for reading (white -- the appeal is to lower middle class white) girls of ages 10-11.

    You’re too old now for this.

    I’ve never heard of Sula. According to Diane Philips, it's rare for people to be aware of what others they know really like to read and do read.

    Elinor    Sep 10, 2:00pm    #
  5. It’s interesting that people don’t know about the books their friends have read. Harry Potter is an exception to that rule. My friend Emily and I have the same favorite book, My Sister’s Keeper, and that’s because I told her about the book and she borrowed it from me. I found out about the book because my mom read it. For several years, at least 6 years, The Giver was my favorite book. Have you read/heard of that one?
    Jennica    Sep 10, 2:54pm    #
  6. From Wompo:

    Rosemary S:

    "P.S. I also want to add my name to the Judy Bolton fan club."
    Elinor    Sep 11, 3:26pm    #
  7. Dear Jennica,

    I’ve heard of The Giver, possibly from my students doing a paper I call "In Search of Lost Time" where I ask them to reread and write about their favorite book from younger years.

    I suspect that each generation has different favorites, which reflect the atmosphere and values of the era.

    Harry Potter does not belong here, for Philips’s theory and statistics concern books which do not achieve phenomenal popularity and social acceptability, but the thousands and thousands that don’t.

    Sophie    Sep 11, 4:28pm    #
  8. One of Sweet Briar’s films that they are showing this semester is Transamerica. Do you recommend that I see it?
    Jennica    Sep 11, 7:13pm    #
  9. Dear Jennica,

    Yes. I wrote about it on this blog. You can type in "Transamerica" and you’ll find a letter called "A benign masquerade of caricatures and grotesques."


    The movie is a fairytale.

    Sophie    Sep 12, 6:30am    #
  10. Ann Fisher-Wirth on Wompo on the Nancy Drew series:

    "It has always seemed completely ridiculous to me that we make these hard and fast lines between sexual categories—I have just spent a (lovely!) week with my little 8-month-old granddaughter Sylvie, and everything in the whole world is eros for her. Or let’s say everything except if it scares her. (Now maybe there’s a point…) What I loved about Nancy Drew was the girl-bonding, the sleuthishness, the snappy red roadster, George with her boy’s name, but most of all: Bess with her passion for 3-inch slabs of cake.

    Elinor    Sep 12, 6:58am    #
  11. I don’t know JB, but perhaps she wasn’t published in the UK (where I live)? Just looked her up on abebooks and was amused to find "The works of Guy de Maupassant: Short stories (A Judy Bolton mystery)" by Maupassant, Guy de …
    anon    Sep 17, 5:48pm    #
  12. Dear Anon,

    Thank you for your reply. I’ve been reading a good book by Diane Philips; it’s about adult women’s fiction from 1945 to 2005, but one section is pertinent.

    Philips says up to the 1970s there was an unacknowledged "gentleman’s agreement" that British publishers would not publish to the US and vice versa. A suit against monopoly practices and globalization changed that in the 1970s and she talks of the rapid interaction between US and UK and Canadian and other English rooted novels.

    Since then we are told of "international" bestsellers. Over here in the US (alas) we never got Sue Barton.

    Elinor    Sep 17, 7:52pm    #

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