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Hardy Boys at 75 looking for a face lift

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There has been another burglary in the idyllic but crime-ridden town of Bayport, and Frank and Joe Hardy are once again on the case. But this time the boys have a new detective technique: looking for clues by hacking into their father's computer.

The Hardy Boys turn 75 next year, still living at home and enrolled in Bayport High. They are still well-scrubbed Boy Scout types from the 1920s, with personalities that barely extend beyond the color of their hair. And their books still sell more than a million copies a year.

Holding on to the sunset of the Hardy Boys' adolescence has not been simple. To keep them au courant, their publisher, Simon & Schuster, now equips them with cell phones, computers and high-tech gadgets, dispatching them on torn-from-the-headlines adventures involving citywide surveillance systems, corporate whistle-blowers, extreme sports and online crime.

As with many children's series, sales of new Hardy Boys books are flagging, publishers and booksellers say, and some wonder how much longer the formulaic escapades can hold boys' scarce attention. Now, a new team at Simon & Schuster will re-examine its plans for the Hardy Boys, said Anne Greenberg, executive editor. "We are always evaluating how to keep the series fresh and relevant," she said. It's too early to know what changes might be in store, she said, but ending the series "has never come up."

Some say the time has passed for the Hardys. "None of the Hardy Boys books are great literature, and the new ones are just not very good," said Jennifer Lavonier, manager of Books of Wonder in New York. "I am surprised they are still published."

But the Hardy Boys still have their fans, including some adults who argue that the longevity of the series itself may hold clues to the persistent problem of persuading boys to read. Boys consistently lag girls in reading and outnumber girls in illiteracy, according to the Department of Education.

Part of the reason boys do not read as well, said Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book, a children's book review, may be that many of the teachers, librarians and others recommending books are women. They hand boys the wrong kind of books, Sutton said — novels that revolve around emotions and feelings. "Boys like a lot of action, and maybe that is why we lose so many boys to TV, videogames and movies," he said.

For all their flaws, the Hardy Boys have held their own through three generations of challenges from new books, new social mores and new media, from the days when they sped past the neighbors' farms in roadsters to their more recent afternoons chatting about girls in the coffee shop of the local mall.

But Beth Puffer, manager of the Bank Street Bookstore in New York, said: "I don't think you can take a character who originated in such an innocent era and put it into this decade's situations — obviously, the Hardy Boys are not going to deal with issues like drugs or divorce."

Some child psychologists say boys might be better off reading about more sensitive heroes than the Hardy Boys. "It only gives them half of what they could have," because the series offers only adventure and fails "to connect to the capacity to express the vulnerable feelings that they are yearning to find words for," said William S. Pollack, a psychologist and author of "Real Boys' Voices."