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Blast from the Past! – Young Adult books from the 80’s & 90’s

July 25, 2012

I followed a friend’s link to this blog that lists tons of Young Adult books from the 80’s & 90’s. It was like remembering old friends and I actually added a few of my own aren’t on the list. Also, it is really hard to remember which ones were books I actually read and which I just saw the movies. Here are the ones I remember reading:

Sheila Tubman sometimes wonders who she really is: the outgoing, witty, and capable Sheila the Great, or the secret Sheila, who’s afraid of the dark, spiders, swimming, and dogs. When her family spends the summer in Tarrytown, Sheila has to face some of her worst fears. Not only does a dog come with the rented house, but her parents expect Sheila to take swimming lessons! Sheila does her best to pretend she’s an expert at everything, but she knows she isn’t fooling her new best friend, Mouse Ellis, who happens to be a crackerjack swimmer and a dog lover. What will it take for Sheila to admit to the Tarrytown kids — and to herself — that she’s only human?

I really have no clue why I read this book as many times as I did because Sheila bugged me as much then she would now. Oh no! The HORROR of not being the BEST at everything!! What to do?! 

More than anything in the world, Andrew wants freckles. His classmate Nicky has freckles — they cover his face, his ears, and the whole back of his neck. (Once sitting behind him in class, Andrew counted eighty-six of them, and that was just a start!  One day after school, Andrew screws up enough courage to ask Nicky where he got his freckles. And, as luck would have it, who should overhear him but giggling, teasing Sharon. Sharon offers Andrew her secret freckle juice recipe — for fifty cents. That’s a lot of money to Andrew — five whole weeks allowance! He spends a sleepless night, torn between his desire for freckles and his reluctance to part with such a substantial sum of money. Finally, the freckles win, and Andrew decides to accept Sharon’s offer.   After school, Andrew rushes home (with the recipe tucked into his shoe for safekeeping). He carefully begins to mix the strange combination of ingredients — and immediately runs into some unforeseen problems.

He WANTS freckles all over his neck and face?! Not exactly fashion forward, is he? 

Dear Mr. Henshaw,

I wish somebody would stop stealing the good stuff out of my lunchbag. I guess I wish a lot of other things, too. I wish someday Dad and Bandit would pull up in front in the rig … Dad would yell out of the cab, “Come on, Leigh. Hop in and I’ll give you a lift to school.”

Leigh Botts has been author Boyd Henshaw’s number one fan ever since he was in second grade. Now in sixth grade, Leigh lives with his mother and is the new kid at school. He’s lonely, troubled by the absence of his father, a cross-country trucker, and angry because a mysterious thief steals from his lunchbag. Then Leigh’s teacher assigns a letter-writing project. Naturally Leigh chooses to write to Mr. Henshaw, whose surprising answer changes Leigh’s life.

This was assigned reading for the class. All I remember was that it was about a boy who starts writing in a diary at the suggestion of his favorite author. That and something about his mom being grateful for him having straight teeth so he didn’t need braces. I don’t remember the stolen lunch bag bit, but obviously he could have benefited from these:

Breaking up is hard to do. Kat McDonough has a problem. His name is Brent Tucker. Even after she caught him kissing another girl at the Turnaround Formal, Kat still finds Brent irresistible. And things keep getting more & more complicated. First, Brent showers her with flowers. Then Kat’s friend Gabe threatens to cancel their super-successful KHOT radio program. Kat’s best friend, Miranda, may have her doubts about Bret, but she’s sure about one thing. She’s in love with Jackson, so much in love that she dropped Eric, her football-player boyfriend, in the process. Meanwhile Chip has invited outcast Leanne to Jojo’s party of the year. And Eric is bringing a surprise date of your own.

I snagged this book from my cousin Kim’s collection. She had the whole series. Why did I snag #2? I don’t know, but OMG! I was obsessed with this book and couldn’t wait to visit Kim & family again so I could read the others! Except that I never did. I’m not sure if I’d just forgotten about this book by the time we visited again or if we really just didn’t visit again while Kim still lived with her parents.  I’ve always wondered what happened in that series.  I could read them remainder of the series now, but I’ve found that my tolerance for teenage angst is non-existent. I slip immediately into mockery. 

Roald Dahl was a champion of the underdog and all things little—in this case, an orphaned boy oppressed by two nasty, self-centered aunts. How James escapes his miserable life with the horrible aunts and becomes a hero is a Dahlicious fantasy of the highest order. You will never forget resourceful little James and his new family of magically overgrown insects—a ladybug, a spider, a grasshopper, a glowworm, a silkworm, and the chronic complainer, a centipede with a hundred gorgeous shoes. Their adventures aboard a luscious peach as large as a house take them across the Atlantic Ocean, through waters infested with peach-eating sharks and skies inhabited by malevolent Cloudmen, to a ticker-tape parade in New York City. This happily ever after contemporary fairy tale is a twentieth-century classic that every child deserves to know. And Lane Smith’s endearingly funny illustrations are a perfect match for the text.

I hate to argue with the publisher,  but I did in fact forget little James and his family of overgrown insects. The only thing that stuck with me was that their solution to food problem (eating the peach) wasn’t in itself a problem (generally eating your residence is discouraged) because the peach was SOOO big. It always felt like a cop out.

In this award-winning, national bestseller, Elsie Edwards is the new girl in the fifth grade. But she is overweight and miserable. Her new classmates dislike her because they find her disgusting. And Elsie even steals their lunch money. When Jenny, another fifth grader, befriends Elsie, she begins to feel more comfortable in school. And the other students begin appreciating Elsie’s good qualities. And while nothing seems to be fair in fifth grade, “some things are not as bad as they seem.”

I read this book over and over again but only have vague memories of it. I think towards the end someone makes each of the girls in their group little purses made from remnants at the fabric store? And really what kind of name is Barthe? I hope it’s a pen name and that someone wasn’t that cruel to their child. Then again, if it’s a pen name someone chose that to be their name. I’m not sure which is worse.

Eleven-year-old Lauren’s not too sure about returning to gymnastics. She hasn’t taken lessons in years, and doesn’t think she was even that good to begin with. But her best friend Cindi’s signed up, and Lauren’s used to doing everything together, so….Once she arrives, Lauren discovers there are other girls just like her. Eleven-year-old Jodi – the daughter of the new assistant coach – comes from a family of great gymnasts, but is a little lacking herself. With 13-year-old Darlene, the daughter of a famous football player, she and Cindi make up the Pinecones, Evergreen Academy’s newest group of gymnasts.  Together, the girls cheer one another on…even as Becky, an older, more elite gymnast does everything in her power to sabotage them…

I loved these books. LOVED THEM. Seriously, I wanted to be a Pinecone.  I still think I would have been a good gymnast, had I ever taken lessons. My Jr. High did a gymnastics component in PE and I loved it. It was so fun swing around the bars, even though the moves we did were extremely basic. I could have been great, I tell you! Lauren’s hair is also styled in what they describe as punk-pixie. I’ve never been brave enough to try a pixie cut, punk or otherwise. Instead, I just covet from afar. Maybe I should ask my stylist about it next time I see her.   

To 13-year-old Anastasia Krupnik, this Single White Male from the magazine personals section sounds perfect. And really, she’s not lying when she writes to say she is tall, young, hates smoking, has seen Casablanca so many times she can recite some of it, is quite sure she would like Caribbean vacations, and is definitely ready for romance. And later, when she writes to say she owns a sloop and that she races occasionally, well, that’s not exactly a lie either. Tension and hilarity build as Anastasia digs herself deeper into this embroilment. When SWM writes to say he would like to meet her, it looks like the jig is finally up. How will our outspoken, fast-thinking, SWF get herself out of this mess?

I loved this book too. I read it over and over agan and I actually liked Anastasia, which helps. I also read All About Sam, which is a story written from her younger brother’s point of view. That was a good one too.  Now, I have recently read another book with a main character named Anastasia and that book was horrible. This Anastasia is much more worthy off being immortalized in literature.   

Their mother died the day after Caleb was born. Their house on the prairie is quiet now, and Papa doesn’t sing anymore. Then Papa puts an ad in the paper, asking for a wife, and he receives a letter from one Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton, of Maine. Papa, Anna, and Caleb write back. Caleb asks if she sings. Sarah decides to come for a month. She writes Papa: I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall, and Tell them I sing. Anna and Caleb wait and wonder. Will Sarah be nice? Will she like them? Will she stay?

I don’t remember much about this book, other than she arrives via train and describes herself as plain & tall. She does decide to stay and the story ends in a happily ever after. Really, shouldn’t all children’s books end in happily ever after?  Life will intrude soon enough and let them know that sometimes things don’t work out, or dogs die. Do we really need to drive this point home with literature for the for 12 year old set?  Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows, I’m looking at you.

Seventh-grader Kristy Thomas organizes her friends into a baby-sitters club. In the course of the operation of the club, Kristy comes to terms with her mother’s engagement, Stacey confides to her new friends that she has diabetes, Claudia learns to tolerate and even appreciate her gifted older sister, and Mary Anne makes some compromises with her over-protective father. All of the elements of concern to pre-teen girls (wearing the “in” clothes, keeping friendships stable, coping with family stresses, and trying to grow up) are here, tied to the almost universal experience of baby-sitting.

I read a ridiculous number of Babysitter’s Club books, especially for someone who didn’t babysit until she was 15! I wanted to be Stacey or Dawn or any of them, actually. I loved that Dawn’s house had an old secret passage in it. I watched the TV show and the movie and at this very moment, the theme song is running through my head.  Do you think my co-workers would notice if I busted out singing a sappy tv theme song?  They probably would and then I’d probably wind up being drug tested.

Scott O’Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphinsin 1961, and in 1976 the Children’s Literature Association named this riveting story one of the 10 best American children’s books of the past 200 years. O’Dell was inspired by the real-life story of a 12-year-old American Indian girl, Karana. The author based his book on the life of this remarkable young woman who, during the evacuation of Ghalas-at (an island off the coast of California), jumped ship to stay with her young brother who had been abandoned on the island. He died shortly thereafter, and Karana fended for herself on the island for 18 years.

O’Dell tells the miraculous story of how Karana forages on land and in the ocean, clothes herself (in a green-cormorant skirt and an otter cape on special occasions), and secures shelter. Perhaps even more startlingly, she finds strength and serenity living alone on the island. This beautiful edition of Island of the Blue Dolphins is enriched with 12 full-page watercolor paintings by Ted Lewin, illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, including Ali, Child of the Desert. A gripping story of battling wild dogs and sea elephants, this simply told, suspenseful tale of survival is also an uplifting adventure of the spirit.

I don’t remember much about this book either and I’m pretty sure that I never knew it was based on a true story!! Of course, I had to look them the current name of the island (San Nicolas). It is the most remote of the CA Channel Island and controlled by the military for training. The real person this story was based on died 7 weeks after she was brought to the mainland. That’s pretty sad that she survived so much by herself and then couldn’t handle the new environment in Santa Barbara. Also, the tribe that she was from and was moved off the island, thus leaving her alone? They all died within a few years of being brought to the mainland, making their language extinct. They were brought to the mainland after being attacked several times by fur trappers. I’m thinking we didn’t do them any favors by trying to rescue them and probably should have left well enough alone.

Wait a minute, why is a book written in 1960 on a list of books from the 80’s and 90’s?! Hmph. Well if they are including Island of the Blue Dophins, then I’m going to include the Borrowers.

The Borrowers—the Clock family: Homily, Pod, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Arrietty, to be precise—are tiny people who live underneath the kitchen floor of an old English country manor. All their minuscule home furnishings, from postage stamp paintings to champagne cork chairs, are “borrowed” from the “human beans” who tromp around loudly above them. All is well until Pod is spotted upstairs by a human boy! Can the Clocks stay nested safely in their beloved hidden home, or will they be forced to flee?

I remember reading this book and actually, my sister mentioned it a few nights ago when I was lamenting the loss of my knitting needles. I wonder what these jerks could have used my knitting needles for. Pole Vaulting? Jousting? Either way, I WANT THEM BACK! I’ll try to refrain from mentioning the other books from outside the 80’s & 90’s, but I thought maybe if I posted this on the internet, they might read it and my needles will reappear.

The series began in 1983 and ceased publication twenty years later with over 152 books to its name. The books revolved around the lives of twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who live in Sweet Valley, California.

I loved both Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Kids. In 2011 Sweet Valley Confidential was published and it picks up with the twins as adults. I haven’t read it, but maybe I should. It would be interesting to see where Elizabeth and Jessica ended up. Then again, if Jessica & Elizabeth turned into crackheads, I probably don’t want to know.

Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!
I loved this book, so I had to include it even though it wasn’t written in the 80’s or 90’s. I know, I know. How many times can I state I loved a particular book? But really, I did. I actually purchased a copy as an adult, because I loved it so much. Of course, I’ve moved a few times since then and I currently have no idea where the book is. Maybe I should buy another one.  Or maybe those little punk Borrowers have it. Anyway, this book is why I want to go to Barbados and it doesn’t even take place in Barbados! I have wanted to go there since I read it in 4th or 5th grade and I still want to go. One of these days, I’ll be sitting on a beach in Barbados, sipping a cocktail and thinking of Kit Tyler.  It’s essentially a historical love story for pre-teens, complete with the requiste happily ever after. What’s not to love?

Set during the pioneer days of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books chronicle her life growing up on the Western frontier.

Who doesn’t know the Little House books? If you don’t, don’t tell me. I’ll just want to tie you to a chair and make you read them. My favorites were On the Banks of Plum Creek and Little Town on the Prarie. And yes, I’ve completely abandoned any pretense that this post is about books from the 80’s and 90’s. I would love to visit the Wilder Family farmhouse in Mansfield, MO and wouldn’t you know it? It’s only about 14 miles from the farm that Jake’s parents own outside of Seymour, MO. I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota, or to De Smet, SD but I think I can manage Mansfield.

I could continue this post with Encyclopedia Brown and the Boxcar Children, but really. You can’t beat the Little House series.

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