Thursday, April 15, 2010

Popular Young Children's Books of the 80s and 90s

Children's authors set the groundwork for a new generation to develop a deep love of reading, so it's critical that their output is engaging and amusing enough to hold our limited attention. Plus, our parents often bore the burden of reading these books to us again and again until they could have recited them from memory, so it helped if authors could throw in some humor that satiated the appetites of both adults and children.

These books satisfied both criteria in balance and firmly established a place in our collective nostalgic heart for their silliness, fun, and wit. Let's take a stroll through the magical world of 80s and 90s young children's books. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll develop a catchy rhyming scheme. Don't blame me if you start talking Seusically, though. It should wear off in 10-12 hours.

If You Give A Mouse a Cookie

We all know what happens when you start giving mice cookies. They're insatiable little rodents, really. At least that's the central message of Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. He'll just keep bleeding you dry with favors until he finally just wants a cookie again. There's just no winning. Maybe if you try giving a Moose a Muffin or a Pig a Pancake things might turn out differently. Maybe.

Love You Forever

If you're a leaky-faucet type crier easily set off by emotional material, be warned that you'll release the floodgates by the last cycle of "I love you forever, I love you for always, as long as you're living, my baby you'll be." The book details the relationship of a mother and her young son as she recites the same refrain to him at various stages of his life. Near the end of the story, the adult child recites it back to his dying elderly mother and finally to his own infant daughter. The book resonates well with adults and children alike; it seems the older you get, the more likely you'll want to keep a full box of tissues nearby when you pick this one up.

The Eleventh Hour and Animalia

I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three years trying to trace these gorgeous illustrations in hopes of miraculously transferring Graeme Base's incredible art talent onto my own hopelessly skill-free hands. Base's books may be visually enchanting, but in the case of The Eleventh Hour they're also incredibly tricky. I still haven't managed to solve all of the many riddles embedded in the story. I almost caved and broke into the solution in the back, but I'm still holding out hope that the answer will just come to me.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales

Revisionist fairy tales can be a lot of fun, and this Wolf-narrated version of the classic Three Little Pigs story is no exception. Our allegedly mistakenly accused suspect, Alexander T. Wolf, describes his troubles in borrowing sugar to bake a cake for his Granny's birthday. Is it his fault he has a terrible cold and that pigs build inferior non-sneeze-resistant houses? How could you let a delicious ham dinner like that go to waste, after all?

Along the same lines and written by the same witty author (Jon Scieszka), The Stinky Cheese Man gives us an irreverent look at some of our favorite classic fairy tales. The Gingerbread Man is the Stinky Cheese Man, The Really Ugly Duckling just grows into a Really Ugly Duck, and Little Red Riding Shorts manages to outrun the wolf on the way to Grandma's. The book is a bit chaotic, but it's legitimately clever and witty, too.

Arthur Books

Marc Brown was clearly onto something when he created this lovable anthropomorphic eight-year old aardvark named Arthur. Populating Arthur's hometown of Elwood City are a host of other cuddly animal characters with varying socioeconomic backgrounds, leading me to find that yes, you can indeed be jealous of a fictional monkey. Darn you, Muffy, and your enviable rich-monkey lifestyle.

The Jolly Postman

Kids have pretty short attention spans, so an interactive book is always a major draw: it's like a combination book/game rolled into a neat little package. To be delivered by a postman. A jolly postman.

In The Jolly Postman, our hero postman maneuvers from one fairy tale house to another, delivering correspondences (an apology note from Golidlocks and the 3 bears), junk mail (an advertisement for "Hobgoblin Supplies, ltd."), and even threats of legal action (the case of the Wolf v. Miss Riding Hood.) The jolly postman stops for tea at each home, delivering letters that we as readers could physically open and read.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Learning the alphabet can be pretty boring, so imagine how relieved we were to find a book that turns dry and humorless letters into cute anthropomorphic characters. Our fearless letters climb the tree in orderly A-B-C succession, only to fall back down and sustain alphabetized injuries. Ouch.

Where the Wild Things Are

Monsters might seem like a scary, lurking under the bed prospect until we learn that in our imaginations we can just dance with them in a wild rumpus instead. Sounds like a decent solution to me. The back-story is possibly as entertaining as the tale itself: author Maurice Sendak had initially planned for the book to feature wild horses, but his publisher shunned Sendak's sub-par horse drawings. Sendak replaced the horses with caricatures of his Polish Jewish aunts and uncles: Aaron, Bernard, Emile, Moishe, and Tzippy. I imagine they were thrilled to find their likenesses titled "things."

Berenstain Bears

This friendly bear family has been teaching kids valuable life lessons for generations. I believe I read the Visit to the Dentist book at my own dentist's office at least twenty times, which helped assuage my fear of the infamous yankers while simultaneously teaching me about the untapped goldmine of cash at stake for my expendable baby teeth. Win-win.

Amelia Bedelia

What do you get when you combine a charming rhyming named housekeeper and a penchant for extreme literal interpretation of simple instructions? Pure children's book gold. Amelia Bedelia draws the drapes by trying her hand at sketching the curtains and prunes the hedges by sticking prunes in them. We learned the value of simple vocabulary and double meanings, plus I got some great ideas for how to make a mockery of my household chores,

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Though it may have become a cliche gift for recent graduates, Dr. Seuss's final book is ultimately inspirational and sweet. The book details our protagonist's travel through uncharted territory, complete with setbacks and triumphs. So go ahead, give it to your graduating cousin or neighbor. He'll probably be able to start a collection with all of the copies he receives, but he may just learn a valuable lesson about endless possibilities.

The Rainbow Fish

This book seems pretty innocent with its message of sharing, so imagine my surprise in discovering it's taken some flack from critics for allegedly promoting a socialist agenda. It's a pretty preposterous accusation; it's enough to make you wish yourself back to a simpler time when you didn't know what things like "socialist agenda" even meant.


Fruit bats are adorable and owls are evil? What kind of crazy mixed-up pre-Harry Potter owl love affair world is this? Stellaluna is separated from her mother and is raised with a nest full of baby birds, the mother of whom admonishes her for hanging upside down like, well, a bat. In case you were worried, she does eventually reunite with her mother, but the book has a bit of a melancholy feel through the whole "be true to yourself" message.


Shannon SVH said...

Love You Forever is one of the creepiest damn books ever. Your son is an adult! Stop breaking into his house to talk to him in his sleep!

I LOVED The Eleventh Hour. So amazing.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I remember some of these but especially Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I recently got "Oh the places you'll go!" for a graduation present cuz I had never read it. I hope I can find these in 10 years when maybe I have kids. They were some good stuff!!

Shannon said...

This post makes me want to go the library. *sigh* Loved all of these! Also, The Hungry Catapillar, The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, Miss Nelson is Missing, The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, Choose Your Own Adventure, Goosebumps... Okay I could go on forever! I loved reading!

Tara said...

I'm glad I'm alone right now, cuz I just yelled "AH! Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!" My husband would have thought I was insane if he were home.

My absolute favorite thing about this blog is when you bring back memories that I had totally forgotten. I hope I can get these books for my kids one day.

The Woman Formerly Known as Jenn said...

Ditto Shannon! Although I didn't read most of these books as a child myself, I'm reading a lot of them to my kids these days. I hid Love You Forever after the first read (it was a baby shower gift) because OMG creep out city!

I also hate Rainbow Fish with something of a passion. The idea that you have to give up your possessions to make friends is a pretty crappy one. I'm trying to teach my kids that being themselves is a good thing, *not* a thing that will leave them feeling lonely and hated. What a crock.

Alison said...

I still LOVE the Jolly Postman. I have three or four of those books...and about fifty Bernstein Bears books! I can't wait to read those books with my hypothetical children one day!

RMb said...

what a great list!! is it a little weird that i STILL read all of these books (not always to my 2-year-old, i mean)? awesome post. :)

Sadako said...

There's a book called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for KIDS? Heh.

Oh don't forget Chris van Allsberg, or was he not 90s? I just have the best memories of reading his books like Jumanji. Before it was a Robin Williams vehicle. :D

RAY J said...

Ooh I did a post like this for Flashback Fridays a few weeks ago -

Some that weren't mentioned in yours that I loved were Cordoury Bear, The Little Engine that Could, The House that Had Enough, Thingamajig Book of Manners, Clifford, the Pokey Little Puppy, Monster at the End of this Book, Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Catapillar =)

Anonymous said...

I was more than obsessed with Amelia Bedelia!! I also loved everything Eric Carle. I had a copy of the Grouchy Ladybug that came with a sweet ambidextrous ladybug hand puppet. The books I loved more than anything, though, were the Sweet Pickles series. I read every book at least 100 times. Oh my word, they were amazing.

Lil' Woman said...

I read most of them but I was over the moon about Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Amelia Bedelia and Bernstein Bear books!! : )

Dana said...

Wow, this post brought me back. I read all of those books when I was growing up, except The Eleventh Hour and Anamalia. Never heard of those. Love You Forever and The Rainbow Fish were my favorites. Love You Forever is so sweet, and I loved the drawings in The Rainbow Fish with all the pretty, sparkly scales. Great post!

Cee said...

Oh no! Not Love You mom used to sob every time she would read it. Then while babysitting in college the kids asked me to read it and I started crying.

I'm going to avoid it in the future.

All the other!

Heather Taylor said...

Best post ever.

Seriously now, I forgot about that Postman book. We had it in our classroom and it was constantly checked out. Makes me want to check out Amazon for a cheapie copy :)

Jen said...

I love all the books, in your post, plus all the ones in the comments. Kid lit!!!

Anyone else read Richard Scarry? I loved his drawings.

Also a huge fan of Jamberry, I just bought that as a gift for a friend's baby shower.

Becky said...

I have all of these books and absolutely love them! I do have to say that I agree a little bit with Shannon SVH though... it is a little creepy at the end LOL!! Even though my kids are a little older now (6 and 9) the still love reading these books, but we do spend a lot more time on chapter books. For instance, tonight we read, "Sewing Friendship" by Natalie Tinti... a great book on healthy friendships.,
I think we will read the "Stinky Cheese Man" tomorrow night. I had forgotten that I even owned it, and it is such a funny story!

Laina said...

I JUST read "If You Give a Pig a Pancake" at my last Storytime!! It's a classic, the kids still love it :)

Anonymous said...

there was a book that i used to love at school,and it was poems and songs which were funny,and one song that stick in my mind is were a teacher singing a song to the children and during the song she is telling the kids off,we used to sing the real song in primary school but i can't remember it.please please help it is grinding on me lol.i was in school from primary school 1988/89-1996 and i used to read it during these times but it could be older.

Sara said...

This made me so happy. . .and whoever posted about Miss Nelson is Missing. . .that made my day. I also loved the Little Critter series. This made me want to have kids so I can raid my parents house for memories. Fantastic post!

Sarah said...

Thank you to the person who mentioned Sweet Pickles! I've been trying to remember what those books were called for 2 days! Didn't they come in a bus shaped box with stickers or something like that?

Emily K said...

Excellent list and excellet comments! I have been searching the far corners of my brain and the Internet for a book title that maybe some of you can help me with? All I can remember is a vague story about a school that specializes in making people laugh and the story centers around this kid (or maybe a sibling duo) that have lost their sense of humor or something to that effect. Ring any bells?? Thanks so so much!

LWynn said...

Does anyone remember a kids book about a squirrel who was an architect and built houses for different animals? It was my favorite book when I was a kid in the 80's but I can't remember the title or author. I HAVE to figure this out!

fal said...

does anyone remember a book about bath toys who acidentally go down the drain? I've been trying to find this book and find the name of it and I cannot find it anywhere an its really bugging me.

Lori said...

Does anyone remember the name of a book about a little boy who runs away, goes to town and tell the butcher, the butcher gives him sausages. He stops at all the stores in town and gets things, but ends up going home to discover he's helped by getting all of those things?

Just a Lil Lost said...

I LOVED The Eleventh Hour and The Jolly Postman!! What an amazing walk down memory lane.. :)

lee garcia said...

Does Anyone remember a bOok about 2 I wanna say elephants who have conflict because one likes pink things and one likes blue and in the end the mix then together and make purple lemonade?? I loved that book as a child and I want to find it for my daughter??

Carlitosprincess518 said...

Yes! The tub people! I loved this book as a kid just bought it for my daughter new from amazon for .84cents

Carlitosprincess518 said...

The tub people! I loved it as a kid just bought it for my daughter, new from amazon for.84 cents check there

mikachu93 said...

Does anyone remeber a book about two little kids, a boy and a girl, and the pretend that all these ordinary objects are totally different things?? And they could never agree on what extraordinary thing to imagine them as?? One o the things was an umbrella and sometimes the little boy was really mean to the girl. It wasn't a very long book, and was definitely for much younger kids. This is really bothering me, please help!! I was a kid back in the mid 90's so I'd say it was published around 93 . . .

TwentySomethingStella said...

Great list! I've linked back to you on TwentySomething Stella -

Cecelia Roy said...

Does anyone remember a book about a teddy bear making cookies on a rainy day? The pictures were like a teddy bear was put into a real kitchen and just had snapshots taken. He goes thru ingredients one by one and ends up making a huge mess.

been searching for this book for YEARS now! :(

fay said...

Does anyone remember a childrens book from the 90s that had a little chinese or japanese child and the cover was a grandmother mountain and she had a bun....

Anonymous said...

tikki tikki tembo?

chanda said...

To Cecilia Roy, re: book about cookie-baking bear:

I think this must be Bialosky Stays Home, a Golden Book by Nancy Moran, illustrated with photographs of a cute teddy bear.

From a couple of online reviews: "When Bialosky decides to stay home in order to cook a delicious batch of cookies, he finds that tasting the batter is as good as tasting the final product. Needless to say, Bialosky has only enough batter for one cookie by the time he finishes." also "Bialosky, the teddy bear, keeps checking his cookie batter to see if it has enough honey, until there is no batter left to bake."

gotta be kitten me said...

Heckedy Peg, The Rough-Face Girl, and Dinotopia!

Aurejana Wilson said...

I'm in love with everyone on this post. I'm trying to get a good library for my little one on the way. I'm a book-a-holic and completely okay with it, and plan on reading to her like my mother did, so thanks SO much for having a much better memory than I do so I didn't lose these treasures.

RoseEllen S said...

Does anyone remember a book about a bratty little boy (I think it was his birthday), and all he kept saying was, "I want the moon. I want the moon."

Jamiebaby504 said...

I'm so glad you 2 brought this up! I LOVED that one. I had forgotten about it.

Jamiebaby504 said...

I just remembered a story I loved, I believe it was Two Bad Babies? The babies go on a wild and adventurous trip through town while they're supposed to be napping.. That's what I remember. Great illustrating as well!

Lashonda said...

I'm looking for a book about a young girl who had a birthday party and invited all her friends and too many came and children were everywhere.. I don't remember much but I do know on the cover it was a house with children sticking out from everywhere... Please help

Laina said...

Moira's Birthday by Robert Munsch.

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Unknown said...

I'm after the name of a book that I used to read to my daughter in the 90s it's about a bear who visits each friends house and shouts cooee through the letter box but there's no one home at any of when her gets home all his friends are there I think it's his birthday bit of a long shot but hope someone can help.

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