I was a Pre-teen Book Nerd in the 90s
And, apparently, that meant loving books written ages before I was born, with a big emphasis on the 80s. I was a huge bookworm and had large, unfortunate glasses that kind of made me look like those cartoons of bookworms, which didn’t really help. Every summer, my family took a trip to see my grandparents, a trip that took 11 hours in the car and 7 on the boat, and I loved it. Before we left, I got to go to the library and fill up a grocery bag full of books (which I always finished before my three weeks were up), books of adventure, mystery, and cool girl cliques (this is my embarrassed face). In case, like me, you’re feeling nostalgic this summer for the days of fanny packs, Spice Girls Pop Rocks, and Blossom hats, take a walk down memory lane with these 10 book series that defined my awkward 90s pre-teens (with book covers as they were then versus how they are now, for your viewing pleasure! (Also, so we can be Olds and scoff at the new ones.)
*note: the book covers I use for “as they were then” are the book covers I remember from my childhood, not necessarily the original covers!
1. Judy Blume’s books
BLUBBER! And, of course, also Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret and Superfudge. Blubber is about Jill, a fifth-grader who joins her classmates in making fun of a fellow student until the tables turn and she becomes their new target. It was written in 1974 but Blume has this amazing insight into the awkward tween sensibility that never changes. Not only is the novel funny (when Jill and Tracy pee on Mr.Machinist’s trees!), endearing, and interesting, but it also takes a real look at bullying in upper elementary school. Like every kid, I experienced my share of name-calling, and this book is such a rarity for the clarity and honesty with which it addresses that experience. Rather than reading Blume’s novels for escapism like some other books on this list, I definitely read them to see myself in them, with all my eccentricities and uncertainties,
2. The Babysitters Club
Ah, the BSC. Who among us didn’t live for this series and also start a short-lived BSC of our own? I always had trouble picking a character; I wanted to be a Stacey, but also a Dawn, and sometimes a Claudia! (Not that it mattered too much anyway; I gave it up pretty quickly after one of my charges tried to sneak a kitchen knife into bed with him.) BSC is a series of novels mainly written by Ann M. Martin between 1986 and 2000. They center around a group of middle school girls who run a baby sitting business: Kristy, the bossy tomboy; Mary Anne, the shy smart girl; Claudia, the artist with a wild side; Stacey, the fashionable New Yorker; and Dawn, the blond California girl. Claudia’s hatred of biology and love of Oreos stuck with me throughout school. Her mnemonic device for Kingdom Phylum Class Order Genus Species helped me on a few tests: Kindly Pass Claudia Oreos For Goodness Sake!
(Also, two book covers in a row – what’s with this trend of updating book covers to remove people from them? I loved seeing the girls I pictured on the front covers.)
3. The Saddle Club
The Saddle Club was a series mainly written by Bonnie Bryant about Carole, Stevie, and Lisa and their adventures at Pine Hollow Stables that ran from 1986 to 2001. So many books from this era were about starting clubs, and did I ever buy into it; I started clubs for everything! Well, except riding. As much as I adored reading about horses and imagining I was riding them, I was definitely a fraidy-cat kid who would never have been able to handle horseback riding! Thank goodness for books.
4. Sweet Valley High
Or rather, I should say, Sweet Valley High and all its spinoffs: I read Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Senior Year, Sweet Valley Junior High, and The Unicorn Club. I was a devout Sweet Valley follower. Some days, I wanted to be Elizabeth, some days I wanted to be Jessica, some days I even (gasp) wanted to be Lila Fowler. But, pretty much most of the time, I was just Elizabeth, without the blond hair, blue eyes, or hunky Todd of a boyfriend. The series began in 1983 and ran for about 20 years, chronicling the soap-opera like lives of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Wakefield twins, and as a 13-year-old girl I hung onto its every word!
5. Nancy Drew mysteries
Now we’re going way back. Nancy Drew mysteries date back to 1930 and are all written under the collective pseudonym “Carolyn Keene” (finding that out was like finding out Shakespeare was a fraud, let me tell you). The books are still being written; they just keep updating them to appeal to the contemporary young adult American girl (and to eliminate some of those nasty stereotypes that appear in the older ones). Nancy and her friends Bess and George (and sometimes her handsome on-again, off-again boyfriend Ned) solve a new crime in every book. In the newest updates of ND, Nancy Drew Girl Detective and the new, blonde face on the cover of the one pictured above, some of the changes are a bit irksome. “Girl detective” is a bit patronizing, and what does the world have against redheads? So Nancy was “strawberry blonde…” it’s pretty safe to say she was no platinum blonde. Nancy was definitely a female role model for me growing up – even though, looking back, she was a bit too unrealistically perfect (and that’s being gracious). Nonetheless, I definitely went through a detective phase, bringing a journal around with me to jot down clues, looking for mystery everywhere, and telling people I was a “sleuth” (the best word I learned from Carolyn Keene).
6. The Hardy Boys
And, omg, those special books where Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys worked together! And you could “choose your own adventure.” Mystery book heaven. Frank and Joe Hardy have also been around solving mysteries since 1927 and are written under a collective pseudonym. Much like Nancy Drew, these books have an enduring appeal (which may have something to do with the fact that, judging by the updated cover pictured above, they seem to have joined a boy band).
7. The Boxcar Children
The Boxcar Children was created by Gertrude Chandler Warner in 1924 and tells the story of four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, who create a home in an abandoned boxcar in the woods (until they find their long lost grandfather). They are endearing, sweet, fun, and full of adventure. Since I only have one brother, and we did nothing but fight at this point in our lives, I loved reading these novels and imagining I had a whole bunch of siblings and we were all best friends. And what kid doesn’t love dreaming about living in a little clubhouse in the woods?
8. The Little House books
The Little House books were childhood memories written by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the 1930s and have since morphed into a huge media franchise. I read (and loved) all the books in the Laura series, the series about her daughter Rose (written by Roger Lea MacBride), and every season of the Little House on the Prairie TV show. Laura’s writing in the Little House books is sweet and captures the huge love her family has for each other (Aw, Ma and Pa). As a young girl, reading about pioneer life through the eyes of a young girl made learning about the past exciting by making it so personal. Although the times were so different, Laura was such a feisty little “half-pint” that all girls could relate to her.
9. The Anne of Green Gables novels
The Anne of Green Gables novels are close to any maritime Canadian girl’s heart. It’s not often we get to read about places we are familiar with. P.E.I’s Lucy Maud Montgomery became world famous with her 1908 creation of Anne Shirley, the orphaned girl with the red pigtails, and all of her adventures. As you can see above, the people whose job it is to ruin book covers have recently made Anne into a sultry blonde with bedroom eyes. It’s too much. Nancy Drew, at least, was strawberry blonde; there’s no question of Anne’s hair color! I mean, I see the appeal. I was caught under the Wakefield spell as well, but I was a kid! These people should know better.
10. Lurlene McDaniel’s books
Lurlene McDaniel wrote books about teenage girls struggling with chronic illness and close experiences with death and loss. With titles such as Mother, Please Don’t Die, Why Did She Have To Die, The End of Forever, If I Should Die Before I Wake, Too Young to Die, Time to Let Go, and so on, the books often left me hyperventilating into my pillow. The books came from a very real place – McDaniel’s own struggle with the illness of her son – but I eventually couldn’t handle reading them anymore, as I was not only petrified of riding horses but basically of everything in the real world. I was a full-fledged child hypochondriac. I would write notes for my family before I went to bed because I was so sure I was going to die of one of the diseases I read about in these books during my sleep, that somehow it had slipped past the doctors and nobody had noticed and now it was too late. It was probably for the best that I gave them up!
Bonus: Silver Blades
Just so I don’t end on a negative note (and just because I could talk about books from this period of my life forever and ever), I’m gonna give you one more: Silver Blades. The series, written by Melissa Lowell, followed a group of four girls at the Silver Blades skating club – Nikki, Danielle, Tori, and Jil – and their dream of competing in the Olympics. The club is tough and the books cover their struggles on and off the ice, from skating defeats and victories to, of course, romance and rivalry. As a young gangly figure skater, I loved reading these books (and living vicariously through them) while I entertained my own silver-bladed dreams!
Thanks for following me down memory lane! What were your favorite tween books?