Monday, November 17, 2008

Cherry Ames Back In Print

I just found out that the Cherry Ames books are all being brought back into print. If you were a fan of girls' series/formula fiction when you were growing up, you might have known Cherry...but maybe not, given how old the earlier books were even in my childhood. They were written by Helen Wells; the first one was published in 1943.

I've always thought of Cherry Ames as Nancy Drew with more to do. Like Nancy, Cherry was bright, attractive, intelligent and pretty good at sleuthing. Unlike Nancy, Cherry had an actual profession, one that meant more to her than her amateur detective work (which was clearly just a hobby on the side). Cherry Ames was a registered nurse. In the first book in the series: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, she's eighteen, fresh out of high school, and headed to nursing school at Spencer Hospital. That was the only Cherry Ames book I actually owned for many years (I think it was a hand-me-down from my older sister) though I eventually picked up a couple more at yard sales and read a few more I found in libraries.

Those early books are steeped in American patriotism. Given their publication dates, it's not surprising. Cherry goes to nursing school in the first place because she wants to help out in the war effort. Her twin brother Charlie becomes a fighter pilot.

I always liked the earliest books best because of the camaraderie between Cherry and her fellow students (and almost all of the really good characters you come to love in book 1 end up enlisting as army nurses) and because the war lends a certain urgency to what Cherry's doing. In the later books, she hops around from job to job. Her resume must have been pages long...and amazingly, she never seems to lose a job or get fired, just makes the change of her own free will! She ends up nursing in all sorts of locales such as nursing homes, boarding schools, dude ranches, clinics, department stores, camps and doctors' offices. Oh, and I think a jungle and a ski lodge, just for good measure. Along the way she meets up with various good-looking young men. She dates but never marries anyone (unless that happens in a later book I never read) with the implied reason being that she's happily "married" to her profession. Hee.

Not great literature by any means, but an interesting slice of Americana and, at least in the early part of the series, some memorable characters and intriguing story lines. Not bad bits of detective work either. I actually preferred these to Nancy Drew, which I generally read only when nothing else was available. The boxed set of the first four volumes (Student Nurse, Senior Nurse, Army Nurse, Chief Nurse) looks lovely; the Springer Publishing Company is putting them out in "facsimile hardcover editions" that look just like the originals, selling them individually but also as five boxed sets of four, reprinting the entire 20-book run.

I confess I also love Cherry Ames because she reminds me so much of my mom. Yes, my mom was Cherry Ames...or rather, my mom was a registered nurse. She would have been just a bit too young to train with Cherry during WWII (I never asked her if she read the early books as a teenager...I should!) but she went to nursing school and trained at a mission hospital in the early 1950s, just a few years after the fictional Cherry and friends. She still has very fond memories of that time, and of the few years she worked as a nurse before she began having children. Just the other day, in fact, she emailed the family to let us know she'd been back in touch with a fellow student she hadn't seen in years. They spent time reminiscing, she wrote, about the days they had spent:

"clad in our blue & white stripes underneath the stiff white aprons, taking care of not only patients with "everyday" ailments, but patients with polio, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, how we made the patients' beds ourselves and actually had to wash and sterilize our own needles & syringes (something totally unheard-of today), and how a note in our mailbox saying, "Please see me. ELC" ("ELC" being Esther L. Creasman, the Director of Nursing) meant we had either goofed up somewhere and needed correction, or we had done something commendable deserving of praise (and ELC was lavish with both, which really kept us on our toes!)"

And I read that description and thought "yep! My mom was Cherry Ames!" She even looks a bit like her, doesn't she? Yes, that's my mom on the top right in this nursing class photo from 1951.

I'm proud of my mom, and delighted that books that capture a little bit about the nursing era she experienced are back in print.


Edna said...

I had to comment, b/c I have two Cherry Ames books that I got somehow, and my mom was an R.N., too, though maybe a little younger than your mom. She would have been in nursing school in the sixties. I just recently moved, and was reminded of Cherry Ames when I unpacked. I may have to go and re-read them, just for fun!

Beth said...

Oh terrific! I keep wishing I could find my copies but I have no idea where they are. I did find myself wishing I could order that first boxed set just to have the fun of reading the early ones again. :-) If you do re-read, post and let me know how they stood up to your memories of them!

Erin said...

Nice picture! That's cool that they're reissuing the books; I'll have to let my friend's mom know. She's a big fan. One of these days I need to give the books a try...

Beth said...

Well, as I said, they're an interesting bit of Americana as well as fun stories. :-) I do like the early ones best...I never read many of the later ones. Glad you liked the photo!

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