Calling All Girls: The Power of Story














This Sunday morning’s email pulled me into one of those magical moments that a benevolent Universe brings us every now and then, and I wanted to share it with you. I opened my email to find that a reader named Janine Seitz had used the contact form on my website to send me this message:

Hello, Susan Wittig Albert! I’ve read so many of your books over the years, but I had no idea I first enjoyed your storytelling back in 1964. A few weeks ago, while trolling the aisles in an antique store, I spotted a Calling All Girls magazine. I loved them when I was growing up and was thrilled to find it. I was flipping through and my heart jumped, literally, because I saw your story, “The Art of Christmas.” That story, and even the illustrations, struck a chord in my little 11-year-old heart back in 1964. And they still do! I thought the shadow box ornament display was such a perfect solution and a lovely way for two girls to bond and begin a friendship. I’m now 70 and re-reading “The Art of Christmas” was like finding a long, lost friend. I had a wonderful, joy-filled childhood packed with so many special moments. I wanted you to know that your story was one of them. And who says you can’t go back time?! Thank you for your stories then and now. All the best, Janine

Which prompted me to write:

Oh, for heaven’s sake, Janine—you’re making me cry! Just imagine the strands of chance and coincidence that brought that little piece back to you from the distant thickets of 1964: from my old Royal typewriter (carpal tunnel machine!) in the kitchen of a little house in small-town Illinois, where I was imagining that story, pregnant with my fourth and three-under-three under my feet.

I confess that I have no recollection of that little piece, but I think fondly of Calling All Girls, where a kind editor guided me through the mysteries of story-telling and helped me believe in myself as a writer—a full 60 years ago! And I am so deeply indebted to you for the reminder that stories can create memorable moments in our lives, and that (sometimes, when the Universe takes a hand) we can go back and read them over again. You have made me so happy.

To which Janine replied:

You are very welcome, Susan.  Thank you for giving me a glimpse of the woman behind that story.  Now it’s even more special to me.  I don’t think anyone could write this story – too serendipitous to be believable.  But we know better!  Your lovely response has made this woman very happy, way up here in cold, snowy Vermont.

Yes, too serendipitous by half! Think of all the randomness that pulled Janine and me together via a magazine from sixty years ago. Sixty years!

If you’re of a certain age, perhaps you remember Calling All Girls, which was published monthly by Parents’ Magazine.  It began under that name in 1941, was renamed Senior Prom in 1950, and then retitled Calling All Girls from 1955 -1966, when it became Young Miss. It was a welcoming venue for young writers, and its generous editor gave me–a young stay-at-home-mom with a growing family–a chance to learn how to write and submit to magazines.

I don’t remember writing “The Art of Christmas,” but judging from the date it was published, I know when and where it was written, and Janine’s note is a sudden wrinkle in time. Looking back, I see now that it was one of those brink-years, when I was standing on the cliff’s edge of change. That same year, my husband got a new job and we moved from Danville (IL) to Champaign. I decided to take a few English courses at the University of Illinois and ended up setting my fledgling writing career aside for college, grad school, and a university career. I didn’t return to it until the mid-1980s, when I began to write (among other things) some of the early Nancy Drew Case Files.

Janine has sent me scans of that 60-year-old story (I was never very good at saving old manuscripts) and I’ve posted the first page here: Art of Christmas (pdf). It’s the story of two girls who create a friendship as they work together to create something meaningful to each–and to both. A simple story that most young teens today would find outdated: no cell phones, no social media, no texting or sexting!

But I’m glad to be reminded and to reclaim it. Thank you, Janine. For me, our unlikely but entirely lovely internet connection is a reminder that stories do connect us. That we read and remember not just as individuals but as a community. That books can bridge time and space and difference. And that we are connected through story more deeply and in more ways than we can possibly know.


32 comments on “Calling All Girls: The Power of Story

  1. How did I manage? Lord knows, I don’t! I look back on that early energy with amazed incredulity. But we all had it, didn’t we, when we were young and the world was new to us? And the lucky ones (able to avoid accidents, addictions, ugly relationships) were able to put those energies to work doing what they loved. That was me: one of the lucky ones.

  2. I immediately recognized the magazine title, so I must have encountered it at some point. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was growing up. Loved Nancy Drew! I had some, our small library had some. True bliss was visiting some of my mother’s distant relatives the summer I turned 12, finding that my slightly older cousins had — wonder of wonders! — a complete collection!! There is a photo of me engrossed in a book, with several other Nancy Drew books stacked up at my side on the porch. In the background, my siblings and cousins are playing soccer on their lawn. Inside a book has always been my favorite place to be; thanks for creating so many of them!

  3. What a wonderful story that connected you two! I am not familiar with “Calling All Girls” magazine. I don’t remember seeing it here in Connecticut, but I may have been too absorbed in The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys! I was always a sucker for a mystery. But wait…back up…you mentioned that you wrote some of the early “Nancy Drew Case Files?!” Wow. You also mentioned being pregnant with your 4th with 3 under 3 at your feet! How on earth did you manage to write with all that going on?! You are a force of nature Susan.

  4. Sue, loved your story about Ms. Magazine–I think many parents viewed that magazine with an anxiety that was justified. It was ahead of the culture in many parts of the country and must have felt to them like a huge threat. Blessings on the aunt that gave you Nancy Drew and started you on a lifelong reading binge!

  5. I grew up in home with no books and parents who did not read. Though my grandfather read a lot (belonged to the one of the first book of the month clubs), I never saw anyone actually reading. My great aunt, who was childless, gave me three Nancy Drew books for my 10th or 11th birthday (1968/69) and I can’t tell you how many times I read each of them. She continued to gift me Nancy Drew books until I was in my mid-teens. I fell in love with books and libraries and often took the city bus to a new library branch about an hour away from home.

    A teenager in the 70s my first magazine subscription was Ms. Magazine – a little different from Calling All Girls! My stepfather was appalled and told me he would throw out every copy he found so I hid them between the mattresses. A young feminist take on a young boy’s trick!

    Books have been my favorite companions since Nancy Drew though I lean heavily into non-fiction, I have recently begun to listen to fiction audiobooks. I also do the Goodreads Annual Challenge and at age 64, have a working list of over 150 books that I must read.

  6. What an amazing find in an antiques store! I had completely (obviously not 100%) forgotten about Calling All Girls Magazine but it immediately rang a bell and I know I must have read many copies – no details remain on how I got it or where but I do remember the name. I lived in rural Canada and the nearest town that may have carried them in the drug store would have been 10 miles away.. It is possible I had a subscription – either a gift from a relative or by my parents, who had their own magazine subscriptions – also no library in our small community – just sharing books among friends.

  7. I’m almost 80, and read a lot of Nancy Drew before you started writing them. I got them from our small kid-focused city library, along with a few I was gifted and a few the friend down the street had. Money was tight, so I couldn’t afford magazines, but I would have loved to read Calling All Girls! Thanks for a wonderful story and for reminding me of my joyful library visits and the treasures I found there.

  8. And so interesting to learn from the comments how many of us remember those early reading experiences. Those editors would be amazed at our conversation!

  9. I remember that magazine very well, and I’m Janine’s age — I probably read your story, Susan! What a lovely exchange.

  10. Yes, late 90s, early 2000s, when I was doing book tours. I loved visiting libraries off the usual “tour route.” It was always such fun to meet people and see places I wouldn’t otherwise have found. It’s nice to know that the visits are remembered, Toni. And blessings on your mom and her friends for helping to create that library system!

  11. I remember Calling All Girls, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Our town did not have a library in 1964 but I always managed to find books. And my Mom and two friends started a drive to get our County one and now we have four branches. Susan, you spoke at the Campbell County, KY Public Library twice. I think both times at the Ft. Thomas branch.

  12. Social media has changed the landscape so dramatically. When do kids these days have the time to read?!? But for us oldsters, social media and the internet come as a blessing: yes, brings its own magic. (50 cents then=$4.80 now x 12 months means that an annual subscription to this little magazine would cost nearly $60 a year!)

  13. Looking online at a few of these magazines now, Nina, I see how exclusively American, white, and middle-class they are. The publishers were definitely not aiming for diversity. And the publishing possibilities (the magazine market) would have been much different in Germany, where the aftermath of the war still lingered into the 60s.

  14. Interesting that these early reading experiences are so connected with our family situation. We lived in the country and the girls’ magazines were hard for me to get. But my dad was a library user, so I connected almost entirely with books. I’m glad that this reminded you of a supportive mother, Jeanne.

  15. Laurel, here are the titles (Nancy Case Files, the Hardy Boys). The other YA work is listed here: I’ve seen most of these available new/used online. The publisher keeps them in print.

    White-Water Terror, Nancy Drew #6, 1986
    Heart of Danger, Nancy Drew #11, 1987
    This Side of Evil, Nancy Drew #15, 1988
    Fatal Attraction, Nancy Drew #22, 1988
    Playing with Fire, Nancy Drew #29, 1989

    Hardy Boys:
    Street Spies, Hardy Boys #21, 1988
    Without a Trace, Hardy Boys #32, 1989

  16. I spent my money on magazines and books. I was a nerdy kid. That has continued to this day.

    What Nancy Drew’s did you write? I would love to find them for my grandchildren. My last one was #32.

  17. Yes, Calling All Girls was definitely a preteen magazine, while Seventeen was mid/late teens. Those magazines were very much stratified by age. The market must have been huge, wouldn’t you think? It would be interesting to go back and take a look, especially at the advertising. Preteens and teens with a little spending money and more consumer products (especially makeup, clothes, records) available in this postwar era.

  18. I remember Calling All Girls with love. I used to eagerly await each issue and get my dad to take me to the drugstore to buy it. I read it in the fifties. By the time your story appeared, I was reading Mademoiselle and Seventeen. One other thing I remember was non-fiction. An interview with Brenda Lee stayed with me, as did an article about college football and money. It gave me a lifelong love of magazines! Wish I’d saved some.

  19. I don’t remember the magazine but when I saw the cover I sure felt the era and the memories it stirred. You and Janine have taken me back to some of my happiest memories with my incredible mother. Your story is like the gift that keeps giving, and has brought me to tears.

  20. What a wonderful story! Being German and born 61 I don’t know that magazine. What a loss… I wish the pdf was longer. At least I remember this kind of paintings in books when I was a child.

  21. What a wonderful story! Thank you both, Susan and Janine, for sharing with each other and all of us out here in internet-land. I’m certainly the right age to have read this magazine (13 in 1964) but I can’t say I remember it; I was such a voracious reader, though, I must have seen it somewhere. And your story sounds quite delicious, Susan—how about posting the rest of it? 😁

  22. Thank you for sharing this magical bit of interconnectedness. (Also loved seeing that Calling All Girls cost a whopping 50 cent in 1964.) As much as I love reading eBooks on my cell phone, I do wonder how future generations will keep this kind of magic alive. The written word seems so ephemeral in today’s world. She says as she types a note to a much-loved author and her fandom hundreds of miles away! Perhaps change brings its own magic. ~ Another ’70 something’ enjoying your special post very much.

  23. Just finished reading that first page from your story — “…the bleachers looked like a giant’s stairway freshly carpeted with white.” Love it! Even back then you were such an amazingly gifted writer!

  24. I remeber Calling All Girls . One of my favorite magazines. I started my magazine obsession early
    I, too was 11 in 1964 so I probably read that story..

  25. Oh, wow — I hadn’t thought of Calling All Girls since I can’t remember when, and I turned 73 late last fall. Loved that magazine! So many good memories from those times. And I’m looking forward to reading the first bit of your story, Susan. Thanks so much!

  26. I remember ‘Calling Alll Girls .from when I was in the he Girl Scouts.I grew up in and still live in Manhattan. But it doesn’t matter where you grew up. Young girls are young girl and we all look loved magazines for us!

  27. What a wonderful story. You have been touching lives for decades. Thank you for sharing and thank for continuing to write!

  28. I remember Young Miss !! Thank you and Janine for reminding us of the memory of times gone by !
    I love your books. I always look forward to each new story.
    It’s cold and rainy today in north Texas. I good day to curl up in a quilt and read

Comments are closed.