Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ten Facts You May Not Know About The Baby-Sitters Club!

By Maribeth Curley of, where you can find great kids costumes.

If you were a young girl during the 80s or 90s, you most likely read The Baby-Sitters Club. (I know I did.) You had a favorite sitter, a favorite client, and you probably even had a favorite Super Special. This book series was a big part of many little girls’ literary lives, so let’s take a look at some things you may not know about the BSC.

1. The popular series was created to capitalize on the popularity of another book about babysitting. The book was Ginny’s Babysitting Job, which was published in the early 80s. An editor at Scholastic saw the success of another novel about the hobby and decided that the publishing company needed their own version.

2. Author Ann M. Martin was originally a freelance author when she was hired to write a book about baby-sitting. Martin was responsible for creating the plot-lines, details, and characters of The Baby-Sitters Club, as well as writing the first books. The series was about a club, rather than a single baby-sitter, to help promote team work and unity among young girls.

3. The series was originally slated for just four novels. However, thanks to the success of those four, Scholastic ordered two more, and after that, another twelve.

4. Author Ann M. Martin only wrote about 60 out of 213 total Baby-Sitters Club books. Most of the novels were ghostwritten by other authors, including 43 by Peter Lerangis, who also wrote for a spin-off of another popular teen series of the 80s, Sweet Valley Twins.

5. During the 14-year run of the series, there were 176 million copies of The Baby-Sitters Club books printed.

6. While there were popular spin-off's of the series (Baby-Sitters Little Sister namely), there were also less popular spin-offs. The California Diaries was a series of books based on Dawn Schafer's return to California in her teenage years. It took a slightly darker tone in its writing and touched on subjects such as anorexia, sexual identity, and racism. However, only 15 novels were published before the series’ end.

7. In 2006, a division of Scholastic named Graphix published a graphic novelization of the first Baby-Sitters Club novel. The animated versions were updated adaptations of four of the early BSC books: Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, and Claudia and Mean Janine.

8. In 2009, the New York Times wrote an article about the upcoming re-release of the first two novels of the series. Scholastic hoped to spark a comeback of the books with the current generation of readers. Also, that same year, Ann M. Martin wrote a prequel to the series called The Summer Before.

9. Throughout the run of the series, there were five types of novels in addition to the core series of novels: Super Specials, which were longer stories and were narrated by a different girl each chapter; Readers Request, books that focused on non-main members of the BSC; Mysteries and Super Mysteries; Portrait collections, novels that were biographies of the girls’ pasts; and Baby-Sitters Club: Friends Forever, a 13-book mini-series, which ended with the girl’s graduation from middle school.

10. There was an (amazing) 13-episode long TV series named The Baby-Sitters Club, which aired in 1990. The shows were broadcast on The Disney Channel, as well as HBO and Nickelodeon. The other live-action version of the BSC was the feature film, released in 1995. The role of Mary Anne was actress Rachael Leigh Cook’s movie debut, and the film also starred Larisa Oleynik (The Secret World of Alex Mack, 10 Things I Hate About You) as Dawn.

Monday, October 10, 2011


About guest poster Megan: I'm a bookworm, aspiring author, daydreamer and music lover from Adelaide, Australia.

I blog about my obsession for books at Storybook Love Affair (link to where I share reviews, reading and writing events, author interviews and bookish products.

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Twitter link -!/search/storyloveaffair

From a very young age I have always loved to read. Remembering back to my youth, many of the books I devoured were part of a series. I did read the occasional stand-alone novel as well but it’s always the series books that hold the fondest memories for me and transport me back to a period I would love to revisit.

Luckily for me, I get to journey back to those years with this very fun guest post!

Here are the top five series that occupied much of my reading time while growing up in the 90s:

1. Sweet Valley High

Love them or loathe them, sixteen year old twin sisters Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield were a huge part of my life growing up. Unless you had also read the series, it probably wouldn’t hold any appeal to you, but for me the series has an intense nostalgic appeal.

The twins live in a town called Sweet Valley and are described as picture-perfect in every way, from their blonde hair, blue eyes, size six figures and All-American good looks. They are the popular students at Sweet Valley High where Elizabeth is the serious twin who writes for the school newspaper, and Jessica is the fun-loving cheerleader who flirts with boys and loves to party.

Life in Sweet Valley isn’t always idyllic though and between them the twins have been kidnapped, stalked, held hostage and attacked multiple times. Amazingly, through all this emotional drama they were never affected by anything and always managed to bounce right back into life with enthusiastic zest. As you do...

The books have been criticised for their unrealistic portrayal of teenage life and also for the lack of cultural diversity within the stories. Most characters come from privileged white backgrounds, have no zits or other typical teenage body issues, manage to have loads of cash without part-time jobs and drive cars that not even forty-something professional men could afford.

Although containing many inconsistencies (how can the same girls be 16 years old for 15 odd years??), the storylines in the early parts of the series were a whole lot of fun. They featured around the twins and their friends and often held a moral significance behind the story such as drug use and drink driving.

Later on in the series though the storylines became extremely ridiculous (I remember one in particular where somebody became so obsessed with the twins’ mother Alice that they tried to steal her face through a transplant?!).

The early books were definitely worth reading - it was fun to escape into the world of Sweet Valley and immerse myself in the quintessential American high school life. But the later books deserve a miss - unlike the vampire craze currently sweeping the world, these stories were boringly unrealistic.

2. Girl Talk

This was a series for teenage girls telling the school adventures of four American teenagers (Sabrina, Katie, Randy and Alison) in junior high school. The series produced a range of spin-off products including a board game and special edition books. I had the board game and absolutely loved it!

The books were known for one chapter being devoted to phone call conversations between the girls as well as offering descriptions of the hilarious 90s fashion they wore at the time (remember happy pants anyone?).
The books were written in the first person narrative with each character taking turns. Many of the books focused on the rivalry between the girls and another group of girls - Stacy the Great (the Principal’s daughter), Eva, B.Z and Laurel.

I loved reading Girl Talk simply because of the focus on friendship it had. The girls were such good friends and retrospectively thinking they were probably A LOT more mature than the average 13 year old in real life, but despite this they represented positive role models to all girls, particularly in terms of their relationships with their friends.

3. Nancy Drew

I started to read Nancy Drew books after another old mystery series I liked called Meg had ended (after only the sixth book!).

Nancy Drew is a young amateur detective who loves nothing more than to solve a mystery. There’s over 100 books in the complete series, and although I didn’t finish every one of them, someday I hope that I can!

The books first appeared in 1930 and the character has evolved over the years to suit America’s changing cultural tastes. But despite numerous changes, she’s always been depicted as wealthy, attractive and amazingly talented. Apparently this is the norm for preteen characterisation.

I guess the aspect that made Nancy so likable to girls was her ability to have traditionally feminine attributes such as good looks and a variety of clothes while at the same time encompassing traditionally male traits such as having the freedom and money to do as she pleases and living to solve mysteries rather than participating in family life.

In essence she was a contradiction, which made her all the more intriguing and ironically a bit of a mystery herself.

4. The Baby-Sitters Club

I wasn’t as into The Baby-Sitters Club as I was the other three series mentioned above. However, I did spend a lot of time reading the books and I think I came pretty close to completing the whole set.

The series is about a group of middle school students who run their own baby-sitting club. The members of the club are all best friends, however they go through numerous conflicts throughout the stories. The books came in many different versions including super specials and mysteries.

I remember swapping the books with other kids in my neighbourhood when I was young and we even tried to set up our own baby-sitters club at one point. Not surprisingly, our own club didn’t work out quite as well as the club in the books. Turns out parents were appalled at the idea of us (just babies ourselves) trying to take care of their kids! Oh the nerve...

5. V.C Andews - The Dollanganger Series

Flowers in the Attic was one of my absolute favourite books growing up. The five books in the series focus on the Dollanganger children who are imprisoned in an attic by their mother and monstrous grandmother.

The first book Flowers in the Attic tells of their incarceration and subsequent escape while the rest of the novels pick up the story after their escape.

The V.C Andrews Series books have copped a lot of flack over the years for being trashy. I certainly wouldn’t describe them in this category though. To me they are a combination of a brilliant gothic horror and family saga genre. The novels are famous for their family secrets and forbidden love (frequently involving scenes of consensual incest between a brother and a sister). It still amazes me today that these books are actually aimed at a younger audience. The themes are so remotely adult and have even been quite controversial over the years leading to the book Flowers in the Attic actually getting banned at one point from schools.

The storyline presents a shocking portrayal of child abuse and is at times very dark and extremely sad. The series truly is a gripping read though and offers an extreme example of the influence of money and how the pursuit of it inevitably always ends in nasty greed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you ever want to truly terrify your child and ensure they lose at least a week or two of sleep, I advise buying them a copy of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Don’t let the name fool you, either--you could tell these in the light and still be scared to the point of mild hysteria. Oh, and if the written word alone isn’t enough to get you, don’t worry; Schwartz has conveniently packed these books with the one-two punch of horrifying tales and gruesome, grisly illustrations. Well played, Schwartz. Our parents may not have been able to convince us to use a nightlight, but you ensured we wouldn’t fall asleep until we’d switched on every bulb in the house. Truly, well done.

Schwartz’s Scary Stories titles included Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories III: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Released between 1981 and 1991, these books scared a generation’s worth of children with their fast-paced story telling and spooky unresolved mysteries. Schwartz derived most of his stories from urban-legend type folktales, taking decades-old stories and weaving them into bone-chilling narratives punctuated with eerie sketches by Stephen Gammell.

To this day, I find I can hardly endure a basic Google Image search of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark--the pictures are just that memorable and that creepy. If you think it’s gross to read about a man whose face is slowly dripping off, imagine having to endure image after image illustrating his unfortunate and gruesome fate. Yech.

It’s unsurprising that Schwartz’s Scary Stories titles are among the most frequently banned of children’s books. After all, Harry Potter contains enough sorcery and magic to get parental watchdog groups in a tizzy, so just imagine the ante upped by adding all manners of severed limbs and hatchet-wielding headless ghosts. These anti-Scary Stories groups allege that the books’ content and imagery is too mature for its intended audience of mid-to-upper elementary students. Other common reasons for the ban are its preoccupation with the occult and the commonplace use of bloody violence. The same adults crying out over R.L. Stine’s tongue-in-cheek Goosebumps series were up in arms over Schwartz’s collections; according to the supporters of the ban, these books were just too scary for children.

Of course, the more something is shunned by adults, the more instantly attractive it becomes to children. Though the original book is nearly 30 years old, it still shows up frequently in current-day top ten banned children’s books lists. Despite its critics’ best attempt to have the book removed from libraries and bookstores, the Scary Stories series maintain an enduring popularity with children itching to test their scare limits.

Schwartz’s simple storytelling and skill for building suspense made these books a thrilling read, encouraging children who may not otherwise show interest in reading to pick one up for the sheer fear factor. Many of the stories even come with handy guides for scaring your friends around the campfire while bottom-lighting your chin with the eerie glow of a flashlight. What could be better than a book that tells you when to raise your voice or to pounce on your friends? I don’t know about you, but I prefer a book with some dramatic stage directions.

While the stories may not be in the realm of adult-geared horror novels, they do have a certain creepiness that resonates with readers even past the intended 7-12 year old audience. The content alone isn’t always particularly terrifying when held against the test of time, but anyone who read these as a child is sure to remember the way that they felt when they heard it initially.

Monsters under the bed or zombies in the closet once seemed not like a fanciful story but as a viable option for children with overactive imaginations. For those with regularly active imagination, there were always illustrations to push you over the edge. I’ve tried to include some of the less grisly ones in this post, but conduct a Google Image search at your own risk. I’m warning you, though, they will lodge themselves somewhere in the innermost depths of your cerebral cortex and haunt your dreams. Just as a caveat, I’m not to be held accountable for your ultimate stomach-heaving reaction to the guts and gore. That one’s all on you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lurlene McDaniel Books

If you’ve ever watched a Kleenex-depleting Lifetime movie of the week and wondered what sparked within you this desire to be entertained by tragic life circumstances, it’s pretty likely Lurlene McDaniel and her deliberately tear-inducing young adult books can shoulder some of the blame. A satisfying cry can do all of us some good at times, but even the most fervently feeling among us have our limits. It may seem sort of fun at first to wallow in tragedy and despair, but after forty books featuring taglines about teens who “died too young” or “never had a chance,” it becomes a tad tiresome.
McDaniel’s loosely related teen book series operated on the principle that if one is good, several dozen must be better. Quantifying death and heart-wrenchingly tragic disease is a major undertaking--no in-bad-taste death pun intended--and apparently a challenge to which Lurlene McDaniel saw fit to rise. Even her biography on her personal website acquiesces that parents often find the themes of her books incredibly depressing and tiresome, which doesn’t sound like much of a positive sales pitch. In defense of her sob-story novels, the Random House website offers the following quote from McDaniel:

“I write the kind of books I write because I want to help kids understand that nobody gets to pick what life dishes out to them. What you do get to choose is how you respond to what life gives you. No matter what happens, life is a gift. And always worth living."

When she puts it that way sounds like an admirable endeavor--who doesn’t want to read an uplifting story full of promise and hope? Unfortunately, the books don’t always frame their inevitable tragedies in that light. McDaniel’s claim that people don’t get to choose their lot in life is certainly true and makes for a good writing philosophy in theory, though in practice her books are the stuff excessive juvenile hypochondria is made of.

I was, admittedly, a fairly devoted fan in my teen and preteen years. I can understand the mysterious allure of McDaniel’s themes. In some ways, her books romanticized the tragedy of young people suffering from life-threatening illnesses, casting them on the cover in soft-focus lighting with pensively forlorn facial expressions. While these books at times admirably offered a realistic view of teenagers with major medical issues, in other instances they veered into adolescent soap opera stock material. McDaniel clearly did put in the time and effort to research the medical terminology and circumstances, but all the underlying validity and realism in the world can’t save a premise about two friends vying for the same heart transplant.

In the case you never had the pleasure of crying your eyes out over one of these disease-stricken young adult novels, here’s a handy illustrative guide to their dripping sentimentality:

1. The books generally have a title a la Movie of the Week; something like She Died Too Young, Mother, Help Me Live, or Sometimes Love Isn’t Enough. Those are actual titles from McDaniel’s official book list--I couldn’t make this stuff up.

2. Many of Lurlene McDaniel’s novels begin with an average, healthy teenager who spontaneously develops a life-threatening condition. Though McDaniel does devote a fair amount of attention to teenagers born with some sort of medical issue, these cases are never as terrifying to healthy readers as those who go from playing soccer and shopping with friends to spending weeks at a time hooked up to monitors in the hospital. The element of “Oh-my-gosh-this-could-happen-to-me” is alluring in a terrifying way, and is justifiably one of the main criticisms issued by parents of young readers.

3. Cheesy dialogue and drama-ridden brooding is a key element of any good McDaniel work. To illustrate, observe the following passage from Reach for Tomorrow:

They returned to the canoe, got in, and paddled in silence back to the place they'd shoved off from. Once on land, Meg caught his hand. "Thank you, Eric. I really mean that."

"Um--yeah, sure," he said, but he looked totally confused in the pale light of the half moon.

Meg stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the mouth. Then she turned and hurried back toward her cabin, leaving Eric standing on the shore, shaking his head.

In nearby shadows, Morgan stood watching. So Eric had made a move and Meg had gone for it. Morgan felt an edgy spark of jealousy, an emotion he hadn't felt since before Anne died. It's a free world, he told himself. She can do anything she wants, be with anybody she wants. Still, his insides simmered.

Whether you loved or hated these emotional novels, McDaniel’s various series and stand-alone books were a young adult literary phenomenon. The popularity of her books is undeniable, offering compelling evidence that young girls love to curl up with a good sob story or forty. And in case any of you aspiring writers out there are seeking some hope and encouragement, you may want to consider taking on the genre; McDaniel’s books have been deemed so influential that Six Months to Live made it into the Library of Congress time capsule to be opened in 2089. That’s either very reassuring or very depressing--I haven’t decided yet. Either way, you may want to try your hand at cry-fest fiction--if you fail, there’s always a market for Hallmark and Lifetime Movie Network scriptwriters.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Children of the 90s is at a Work Conference...In the Meantime, Please Enjoy this Classic Post: Scholastic Book Orders

Children of the 90s is at a work conference this week with tragically limited internet and computer access. Take my word for it, it's totally tragic. I didn't want to leave my loyal readers in a bind, so I am pleased to present you from a classic Children of the 90s' post from way back when I was getting a whopping 14 hits a day.

I trust few enough of you have trudged through the extensive backlogs that this is almost like new. Almost. I should be back in full force by next week. Until then, enjoy the reruns! Hey, it's summertime. I've got to save the good stuff for sweeps. Thanks for your understanding--see you next week!

There was no day like book-order day. It's crazy to imagine that book-order forms really drove the kids wild, but the love of these flimsy little pamphlets was irrepressible. Despite the fact that these books were available at local retailers everywhere, the idea that something would come to us in the mail at school and we could spend weeks anticipating it was almost too much to bear.

The best thing about book orders was not the order forms themselves, but rather the accompanying excitement of the purchase. Imagine, as a child, being able to select and buy something all on your own! Sure, your parents would have to fill out the form, write the check, and seal the envelope, but you brought it to school. The books arrived with a post-it with your name on it! Let's face it, as children we weren't big decision makers. We couldn't choose what we were going to eat for dinner or what time we would go to bed, but dammit we could pick our books and that was that.

Never mind that these books were educational. We usually found ways around that. There were always special "just for fun" books with no educational value whatsoever, and we hungrily devoured them. I specifically remember ordering a Full House Uncle Jesse's personal photo album. Just imagine! I, a mere third grader, could own Uncle Jesse's personal collection of photographs! In the days before I possessed the mental capacity to realize these "albums" were mass-produced, I actually believed that I owned a piece of history. Through my own good luck, book orders had allowed me to stumble upon a collection of pictures that Uncle Jesse had decided to mail to me and me alone! Take that, third grade peers!

Now of course we can look past our childhood frenzied enthusiasm to realize that at its core, Scholastic was really just a master of marketing to children. By distributing these in schools allowing the children to see these forms first, they put the kids in control. It was like programming children to pester and torment their parents until they finally gave in and wrote the check.

But in those days, we didn't see it that way. Aside from the obvious gratification of Christmas-morning-esque book-order deliveries, bringing in your book-order with all the right books checked off was a measure of your playground street cred. These book orders were ours, and we called the shots. As children, our level of autonomy was pretty limited, so we took it where we could get it.

And if where we could get it also threw in a boxed-set of Judy Blume books, it just made it all the sweeter.

Book-Orders in the news:
Book Orders Under Fire

Browse online Scholastic book-orders:
Book Orders Online

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Popular School-Age Children's Books, Part II

Don't forget to enter Children of the 90s $60 CSN Store Gift Certificate Giveaway! You have until this Friday to qualify for the prize, so put your entry in today!

It's been quite the democratic week here at Children of the 90s. Admittedly it's only Tuesday, so we still have plenty of time to get all anarchical on you, but as of yet we've been riding the reader response train. You guys are just chock full of good ideas, so until you run out I'm going to milk your suggestions for all they're worth. Which, for the record, is quite a lot. So, you know. Thanks.

For those of us who grew up as voracious readers, this list is potentially endless. There were so many popular and influential books that shaped our childhood and reading habits. To answer your questions before the protests begin, we've already covered ad nauseum series including Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters' Club, Goosebumps, and Choose Your Own Adventure. Yes, they made up a major bulk of our leisure reading, but they are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of children's literary material. Feel free to peruse the backlogs, though--those series are all worth a reminiscence or two of their own.

Based on many of your suggestions, I've put together Part II of our popular book list below. Don't see your favorites on here? Don't worry. These extra-long posts have a way of getting sort of unwieldy, so in the spirit of streamlining and readability I've conveniently parceled this out over a series of posts. If you have other suggestions, drop them in the comments. And for those of you eagerly awaiting the Reader's Choice childhood movie awards, we'll leave the commenting open for a few more days to let the ideas soak a bit. Watch for that post, coming to a Children of the 90s near you very, very soon. Get pumped.

Our second installment of popular elementary school-age reading material form the 80s and 90s includes:

The Giver

Despite its frequent banning, The Giver remains a popular book for school-age children. The subject matter may be a bit heavy for young readers--a tightly controlled dystopian future society a la 1984--but its creepiness resonates well with imaginative kids. Sure, I used to semi-fantasize/semi-worry that my eye color had marked me as the bearer of the world's technicolor memories, but as of yet I have not been called to official Receiver duty.

The Sign of the Beaver

Elizabeth George Speare's The Sign of the Beaver is another classic example of cultural and historical lessons cleverly disguised as fun reading. Well done, Speare. Like Hatchet, Sign allows our imaginations to run wild at the prospect of a preteen left to fend for himself. In this case, however, Matt comes upon a Native American family and befriends the young son, Attean. Attean teaches Matt about the ways of Nature, Matt teaches Attean to read, and we all share a heartwarming story of prejudices overcome.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry

Roll of Thunder was technically released in the mid-70s, but the last post brought on numerous requests for its placement on the list so I decided to make a rare exception. The books examines the life and hardships of a black family struggling to hold on to their land against the tumultuous backdrop of 1930s Mississippi. Like many of these books, the themes are heavy--racism, prejudice, injustice--but the storytelling style brings it to a manageable level for young readers.


I love me some Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, so there's a special spot in my heart for the book that introduced me to her writing. Shiloh tells the story of a young boy who takes in a stray dog in hopes of protecting him from his abusive former owner. It's heartbreaking in a quiet, non-earth shattering way, and sometimes I still imagine my adopted shelter dog was once under the iron fist of the unsavory Judd Travers.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

The sixth installment in the Ramona series is an ode to the minorly mischievous but ultimately sensitive child, starting with Ramona's unfortunate cafeteria egg incident and her subsequent overhearing of her teacher calling her a nuisance. The book continues in other delightful non-sequiturs; unlike many children's books that seem to be an adult's take on the way children think, Beverly Cleary manages to tap into that mysterious child psyche and give us a story that's simultaneously about nothing in particular and something important. Depending on the age of the reader, that is.

Jacob Have I Loved

Katherine Paterson's title references the biblical line, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated," regarding the story of Isaac's mismatched fraternal twin sons. Sarah Louise despises her position in the shadows of her prettier, better loved sister Caroline. The book is told from Sarah Louise's ("Weeze's") perspective, giving us insight into her jealousy and feelings of marginalization. The themes of sibling rivalry and intense envy can get a little depressing, but we've got some creepy romantic feelings between a 13-year old girl and 70-year old man to keep the pace exciting.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

This one is a bit of a cheat, too, as it was published in the 60s, but its popularity among young readers held steady throughout the ensuing decades. It's yet another tale of a child left to fend for himself, only in this case that "himself" is more of a "herself." The book is loosely based on the true story of Juana Maria, portrayed in Islands as Wonapalei, known secretly as Karana. After Karana's people are devastated by invading Aleuts, the tribe embarks on a ship for the mainland. Karana's brother is left behind, so her only logical solution is to jump ship and live with him on a secluded island. Did I say logical? I'm sorry, I meant book-worthy. Her brother dies nearly immediately, leaving Karana to take on packs of wild but eventually lovable dogs and to take hold of her own survival. I won't give away the entire book, but suffice it to say it's nice to see a female lead in these solo adventure stories every once in awhile.

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.

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