Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Sampling of Bestselling School Age Children's Books of the 80s and 90s, Part I

Welcome to part one of what promises to be an exciting and memory-charging series on school age children's books. For many of us now-avid readers, our elementary school years were an influential and formative time for developing and fostering our love for books. Week after week, our teachers or librarians would read aloud to us from some new and exciting children's literary option. As our skills progressed, we took great pride in spending out silent reading period devouring our very own chapter books. It truly was a simple pleasure.

These days, we often take our own literacy for granted. We spend hours at a time blankly staring into the pixelated void of a computer scren, unthinkingly consuming great chunks of information conveniently written at an 8th grade reading level. It can be an effort to recall those times for which a good book was a good cure for what ailed us. Even the most ravenous readers among us can all collectively admit that you just can't cuddle up with a Kindle. Or, I assume, bring it in the bathtub. I've yet to try that one out, but I think it's pretty safe bet you don't want to be reading off the equivalent of a literacy toaster while submerged in a body depth's quantity of water.

This Part I list is, as the name implies, only the beginning. I welcome any and all suggestions for other highly influential books from your formative school age years. Drop your favorites in the comments and hey, who knows? You might just see it in Part II. I'm looking at you, lurkers. Don't worry, though, I won't make you do all the work. I'll get you started with a few gems from my own reading-crazed childhood:

Sarah, Plain and Tall

If there was ever a book with the power to spark the interest of young girls in historical fiction, Sarah, Plain and Tall is a viable contender. Who would have thought that a story about a mail-order bride could be so touching and poignant? It may not sound like a theme that would resonate well with elementary school girls, but author Patricia Maclachlan tells the tale with great skill. Like the American Girl series, Sarah, Plain and Tall fooled many of us into an impromptu history lesson, transporting us to the world of 100 years prior. We may not all have set out with the intention of learning a history lesson, but MacLachlan sets us up to find one by default.

Indian in the Cupboard

We've come a long way, baby. I'm surprised the 2010 edition hasn't been retitled Native American in the Cupbaord. What the book may lack in political correctness it supplements with great imagination and stimulating creativity. Lynne Reid Banks gives us the story of Omri, a young boy whose disappointing birthday haul includes an Indian action figure and an allegedly boring cabinet. Insert one into the other--I'll let the smartest among you figure out which goes where--and the Indian comes to life as the miniature chief Little Bear. Some may rightfully argue it's not the most enlightened view of Native American culture, but the story is a compelling one nonetheless.

The Way Things Work

Technology and science can be confusing topics for young children. Luckily we had David Macaulay's to unlock their secrets in a comprehensible and engaging way, complete with his useful wooly mammoth sidekick. If you're looking for a way to trick a kid into enjoying perusal of a reference book, this may just be the book for you. They probably know better than to read about building a spaceship straight from the dry and colorless prose of the encyclopedia, but this beautifully illustrated and kid-friendly volume just might do the trick.


Some may not find Superfudge on par with Blume's preceding Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, but it does give us a charming continuation of Peter and Fudge's story with the new addition of younger sister "Tootsie." Browsing Amazon leads me to believe a small contingency of uptight parents spoke out against the book's defiance of childlike belief in Santa Claus. I say give Blume a break. After all, she is Jewish.


Roald Dahl gives us an interesting twist to consider: what if the children are smart, good-intentioned, and moral while the parents act out and carefreely disregard the rules? Such is the case in the wildly popular novel Matilda, the story of an extraordinarily brilliant young girl whose parents could care less about her seemingly limitless potential. The book is funny but also a bit dark, giving it a boost in the edge department. I'm still scared if I mess up at work I'll end up in the Chokey. Thanks, Dahl.


Gary Paulsen's Hatchet tells the story of 13-year old Brian, a brave young boy who encounters an unlikely adventure when the pilot of his single-passenger plane has a heart attack and plunges him into the mysterious depths of the Canadian wildnerness. While Brian is not much of an outdoorsman to begin with, he develops a keen sense of survival through the aid of his trusty hatchet. The book's vivid detail makes us long for wilderness adventures of our own, though my own preference of remote control fireplaces over the real thing leads me to believe the desire didn't totally resonate.

Walk Two Moons

Sharon Creech gives children a relatable and compelling character in her Walk Two Moons protoganist Salamanca Tree Hiddle. Like most children, Sal has problems with her parents, but unlike many of our benign grievances she's truly facing some difficult issues. The book transitions fluidly from the past to the present, weaving a complex tale. The story is pretty complicated for a preteen novel, but unlike many books aimed as young readers, it didn't insult our intelligence. There's something to be said for an author who takes child readers as seriously as they take their own literary endeavors.


Courtney said...

i loved all these books - but the best two you're missing are probably The Phantom Tollbooth and The Giver. Two of the best books of my childhood :) I still re-read them often :)

The Woman Formerly Known as Jenn said...

Great list! I particularly loved Hatchet and Indian in the Cupboard.

My suggestions: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sign of the Beaver, and (of course!) Where the Red Fern Grows. I can't wait until my kids are a little older and I can pass my copies along to them.

Anonymous said...

I second "The Giver", "Island of the Blue Dolphins", "Sign of the Beaver" and suggest "Number the Stars" .. And, any of the Laura Ingles Widler books .. I love reading and these are just a few that are still on my book shelf now, waiting to past down!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I was more than obsessed with the entire Hatchet series. Some others I'd add to the list are Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade, James and the Giant Peach, the Little House on the Prairie series, any of the Goosebumps books :), and Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake. That one was half book, half cookbook. Loved it!

Kristen said...

Great list! I loved "Indian in the Cupboard" and "Sarah, Plain and Tall."

Another vote for "The Giver" here. I had a bunch of other suggestions- the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, "Misty of Chincoteague," and "Black Beauty" were a few, but I don't know if they'd count since there were all written long before the 90s.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I'd also like to add any of the Pick Your Own Adventure books. I was one of those nerds that would sit there for hours, making sure that I exhausted every adventure-picking option. ;)

Eb said...

I loved Gordon Korman books - particularly the Bruno & Boots ones, such as This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall!

Maybe it's just a Canadian thing though...

Sadako said...

Loved all these, esp. Super Fudge. Great post1

Wendybob said...

All good ones, especially Hatchet. I read that book a thousand times. Here's some of my favorites:

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Island of the Blue Dolphins
There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom

You're making me long for a Scholastic book order form and jar full of change to spend...

Tahleen said...

Absolutely, The Giver and Island of the Blue Dolphins. And I know this wasn't exactly in the 80s or 90s (it was published in 1962), but A Wrinkle in Time was (and still is) one of my absolute favorites--I must have read it at least five times.

RMb said...

wow, this was a wonderful blast from the past! i had totally forgotten about the way things work. thank you so much for sharing!

Melanie's Randomness said...

I remember the Indian in the Cupboard as well as hatchet. I never read Hatchet tho! The Matilda books were one of my faves!

A Nerd and A Free Spirit said...

I totally remember getting The Hatchet at a book fair. And I remember Sarah Plain and Tall. i also remember a book called "Stone Fox". I was WAY into American Girl, Boxcar Children, and the Babysitters Club as well.


Breanne at Bella Vita said...

I second and double second "Where the Red Fern Grows" and alllll the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. If you're going to pick on, go with "Little House on the Prairie," although "Big Woods" is fantastic too.

Anonymous said...

I have every gordon korman book too! Also I would like to add the Westing Game. Everyone loved that one.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just loved Amelia Bedelia. ..oh and The Hundred Dresses.

Carahe said...

Another fan of Island of the blue Dolphins, and may I also suggest:

Catherine, Called Birdy

Seriously, the girl locks a potential husband in the privy, and taught me to curse medievally.

Gods Teeth!

baseballchica03 said...

I loved so many of these books, but none as much as Charlotte's Web!

Anonymous said...

Number the Stars, Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade and How to Eat Fried Worms.

Katie said...

The first to come to mind was A Cricket in Times Square, but as soon as I looked it up I discovered it was written in the 60s and I never knew. I just read it in the 90s. Heh.

Acknowledging the fact that most of my favorite books read in the 90s were written well before, I think of:

Bridge to Terabithia
The Anne of Green Gables series
No Flying in the House
The Secret Garden
Island of the Blue Dolphins
The Tripods
The Giver

LizzBlizz said...

I second "Catherine, Called Birdy." God's thumbs!

I also enjoyed "The Forestwife," "The Midwife's Apprentice," and "Jacob I Have Loved."

LizzBlizz said...

Ack! I meant "Jacob Have I Loved"! I shall now turn in my Lisa Frank "Child of the 90s" badge. ;-)

Cheap Chick in the City said...

I have to add all the books by Barthe DeClements, Lurlene McDaniel, Paula Danziger, Caroline B. Cooney, the Anne of Green Gables series, and the Nancy Drew Files. And no mention of Sweet Valley Twins, High, or the Babysitters Club?

Children of the 90s said...

@Anonymous and @Cheap Chick I've already done full posts devoted to Choose Your Own Adventure, Goosebumps, The BSC, and Sweet Valley High, so I thought I'd choose more stand-alone novels for this post.

If you click the "Books" tag, you should find what you're looking for. I could never leave those out entirely! Lurlene McDaniel definitely deserves a post of her own, too. I fell for all of her cheap tearjerker Lifetime movie tricks every time.

amy said...

perhaps there should be a subcategory of memorable series of the nineties that could include the sweet valley books, the baby-sitters club, the boxcar children, animorphs (yes, i was that nerdy), and more. :-)

Tonya said...

I grew up in the 80s, and I read ALL THE TIME, but I have to say that I have never ready any of the books you mentioned! My two best friends and I devoured Little House on the Prairie books, Nancy Drew mysteries, the Anne of Green Gables series, and Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Twins. I can't think of any individual books that we were really into -- we loved series.

I teach middle school English now, and I am envious of all the books that the kids get to discover as they grow up!

Art Heals said...

As others have mentioned, Island of the Blue Dolphin, and The Giver topped my list.

Also, My Brother Sam is Dead and Julie of the Wolves, Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, The BFG and The Phantom Tolebooth.

I also think you should have a post devoted to beloved childrens books turned into movies (Matilda, the Babysitters Club, Indian in the Cupboard all reminded me of the movie counterparts).

Ashley said...

I used to love the Anastasia Krupnik series. I still do!

sharonlovescats said...

A Bundle of Sticks by Josie Stewart. OMG Hatchet! I've been trying to remember the title of that one for ages!

amber said...

Oh good books!!! I remember reading Bunnacula!!!

jesswolf22 said...

i have been trying to remember a few books i have red back when i was younger.
can anyone help me.

the first book is about a girl who fond the fountain of youth. while she was out exploring. when she fond it she had run in to a family who had been using it for a long time.
so the family took her so she would not tell anyone about them or about the fountain of youth. along the way the girl falls in love with the boy of the couple. if my memory is right they had one more son. but in the end of the story she was given a bottle which holds the fountain of youth in it.
she was suppes to use it when she got a bit older but she use it on a frog in the end of the book and she live to be 80.

the second book was about a young boy and a old man stranded on a Island.
the boy become blind from the boat crash.
there was also a cat that was in this story.

the third book.
is about a girl who had been abuse by her father since she was born.
he had cut her hair he had knock her down the steps, then he emotional abuse her. he is a artist in the start of the book.
but in the end he had try to kill her. the only friend she had is a bird that she got after she guilt her mother for never standing up for her. and a boy who never once give up trying to be her friend.
he was the one to save her from being almost killed by her father. who had fond where her mother had hidden her. so she had run into the woods and hide in a hollow tree.
but in the end it had turn out the girl father was in a war and he had killed a girl that remind him of his daughter and so he had never got over that he had killed a little girl.

all three books still haunts me because i can't remember there names so if anyone can help me that will just make my day.

Endlessbummer said...

@Jesswolf22 I don't know if you still need 'em or even still care but the first book you described is called Tuck Everlasting, and the second is called The Cay. I have no idea about the third, though.

alotofalittlebit said...

I am so glad that walk two moons made this list.

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