The Girl Sleuth Trope: An Ode to Victoria “Vikki” Allen of The Bloodhound Gang
The other day I ran across this tweet:
First off, the man is not incorrect. The Carmen Sandiego revival on Netflix is successful (if, for nothing else, getting my kids to occasionally cry out, “la femme rouge!” at opportune moments). He is also correct that at this point we need to start going through the PBS back catalog for shows to revive. Ghostwriter would be a superb choice.
You may not be on board with all the revivals of 80s-90s nostalgia children’s television shows going on at the moment. I will grant that when the 140th iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gets going, it sets my teeth on edge. But recently a lot of these revivals have been very interesting. When Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (an updated version of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) came out, it was so strange that I wrote an entire blog post deconstructing the subject. The new She-Ra hired Nimona creator Noelle Stevenson as its head writer and with its all-female writing staff it treads in the steps of Steven Universe, breaking new ground. Mr. O’Brien pointed out that Carmen Sandiego has finally gotten her due, and I’m not entirely certain what’s going on with the new Thundercats but it at least looks interesting. But if we’re going to do reboots right then there’s only one show that children of the 80s would want their children to see.
When I was a kid, I lived for the ends of shows. I always waited for the end of Square One so that I could get my Math-net fix, and I waited just as patiently for the end of 3-2-1 Contact so I could watch The Bloodhound Gang. It was your basic Scooby situation on first glance. Three kids would solve mysteries in lieu of their perpetually absent (and occasionally kidnapped) employer Mr. Bloodhound. And who was the undeniable star of the show? Vikki Allen.
Played by Nan-Lyn Nelson (who is still acting to this day) Vikki was the brains and leader of the operation. Its Jupiter Jones, if you will. She was aided by two partners, both boys. One was Ricardo (whose untimely death in real life cut short the show) and the other a series of interchangeable white boys. I liked Ricardo but it was Vikki I showed up for. She was a Black girl sleuth with brains, guts, and leadership qualities. I can’t think of a better role model from that time period. Fun Fact: Children’s author Marc Tyler Nobleman actually interviewed three of the cast members in a four part series back in 2013.
So when I read that tweet about Ghostwriter, I may have thought of Vikki partly because of the PBS connection, and partly because there’s a Black girl sleuth book series out there racking up the awards. The Geisel Awards for easy books were particularly good this year, did you notice? Particularly since one of my favorite series, King & Kayla, nabbed one of the awards. Perfect for emerging readers, these are low-key mysteries starring a very doggy dog and its owner, Kayla. Watching Vikki all those years probably is what primed me for reading Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Three Investigators later on. So, in her honor, and in Kayla’s honor, here’s a tribute to the Black girl sleuth as she appears in children’s literature today. A short list by reading level (which, if you have additional suggestions, I will add to):
Black Female Detectives in Children’s Books
Now let’s get that Bloodhound Gang reboot off the ground, people!
Filed under: Booklists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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