9 Children’s Books that Defined the ’90’s

Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it was the fact that the economy was better and the hairstyles were bigger, or maybe it’s because all the recent college grads spent their time having playdates, going to the park, and watching vintage Nicktoons, but I feel like there’s an unspoken truth that the ’90’s were a better time. So grab your Pogs (does anyone else remember those – they were awesome), and your Tamagotchi pet if it is still alive, and reminisce about the ’90’s and the great books that were read. And maybe we can play Mouse Trap afterwards.

1. The Boxcar Children created by Gertrude Chandler Warner 

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The Boxcar Children was originally published in 1924, so it’s not really a book of the ’90’s per say, but I first came across the series in the ’90’s, and the series expanded a lot during that time, so it will always be a ’90’s book to me.  I thought I was really cool in my 1st grade reading group when it was announced that we would read The Boxcar Children as our first chapter book because had already read it (rather it had been read to me, but what mattered was that I knew what happened already and it was part of my favorite series).

Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny solve mysteries and live with their grandfather in Greenfield, MA after living in an abandoned boxcar in the forest, and it was this series that spurred me to write a bunch of mysteries when I was younger – none of which I finished, except for The Boxcar Cats – original, I know.

There is apparently an animated Boxcar Children movie in the making and I’m a little more excited about this than I probably should be. Does anyone want to go see it with me?

2. The Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary

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Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Lois Lowery had a pretty big monopoly on Middle Grade books aimed at girls in the ’90’s, and Ramona Quimby was a big name. I can still remember a lot of scenes from these books very vividly. Her fights with her sister Beazus, the time her bangs were cut unevenly so they were longer in in the middle and made her head look like a heart, and when her parents showed her how to squeeze toothpaste neatly from the bottom of the tube, but she ended up squirting it all over the bathroom.

I was never quite as unruly a child as Ramona was, but it was fun to read about all her mishaps, and looking back, she was a really strong female character. She also developed a lot over the series, especially since it started when she was so young, and the last book, Ramona’s World, where Ramona is 10 came out when I was 10, so that was pretty cool.

3. Nancy Drew created by Carolyn Keene

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Here’s another series that was clearly not written in the ’90’s but it definitely had a huge following when I was young. I first heard about it because my brother had a few Hardy Boys books that I thought that was really cool, and then I thought it was even cooler that there was an equally great series for girls in the Nancy Drew books (early signs of my feminism, I guess). Nancy Drew jets around River Heights in her cool blue car and solves mysteries with her friends, George and Bess, and her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Even though there was an old timey ’20’s feel to the series, it can still remain a classic throughout the years.

There were also so many books in the series that it never really ended, which meant it was a great series to return to. My favorite book was probably the first one, The Secret of the Old Clock. I had a double edition that had the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase in one. It looks like they have come out with newer, more modern stories since I stopped reading these books, but I will always be a Nancy Drew purist at heart.

4. Thoroughbred: A Horse Called Wonder by Joanna Campbell

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My horse phase didn’t last nearly as long as many of the girls in my class, but I did take horseback riding lessons in fourth grade, and after I got back from the stables I would read Thoroughbred, and  I really enjoyed it. I’ve always loved animals so this fit right in with that, and I thought it was really cool that the main character’s name was spelled Ashleigh.

During my short lived riding career, the pony I always was paired with was very sweet but also very stubborn and I wasn’t a particularly strong child when it came to muscles, so the pony pretty much did what she wanted, which was mostly walk. Her name was Maybe after all, as in maybe she will and maybe she won’t. So Maybe the pony and the Thoroughbred series pretty much defined my horse phase.

5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

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Disclaimer: I’ve never actually read this one, so I don’t have much to say about it, but it was somewhat of a staple at school in the ’90’s. I’ve never been one for scary stories, and I was convinced that if I ever read this book I would never sleep again, and that wasn’t something I was willing to risk.

I remember coming across this book again towards the end of high school and the stories were laughably dramatic, but I probably wouldn’t have thought that as a 6, 7, or 8 year old, so I made sure to stay clear of this series. But it still does bring me back to the ’90’s and library time at school.

6. The BFG by Roald Dahl

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All of Roald Dahl’s books were classics but the one I returned to the most was probably The BFG. I also got angry whenever people called it The Big Fat Giant, because that’s just mean.

I also loved all the pen and ink drawings in Dahl’s books, and I watched the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie with Gene Wilder too many times to count. Also, the fact that Roald Dahl wrote spy novels along with his children’s books is awesome, and I would love to read one of his adult books at some point, just to come full circle.

7. The Anastasia series by Lois Lowry 

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Lois Lowery’s Anastasia series wasn’t as big as some of her other books, such as The Giver, or Number the Stars, but these were definitely books that I kept coming back t0 when I was younger – more towards the late ’90’s now. I can’t point to specific reasons why I liked this series, other than the fact that I probably related a lot to Anastasia and I liked reading about her life.

I read Anastasia, Again, in which Anastasia’s family moves houses, around the time that my own family moved in fourth grade. Anastasia moves towns and her bedroom was in a tower in her house in the suburbs, and while I was thankful that we were just moving within New York City, my room wasn’t nearly as exciting sounding as Anastasia’s. To this day I still love houses with towers in them.

8. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein 

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Shel Silverstein’s books of poetry were another ’90’s staple in every classroom and child’s bookshelf. He was probably my first favorite poet before I found out about Billy Collins. His poems were always ridiculous and imaginative but they were also relatable and fun. Silverstein’s poems were always a go to favorite for poetry recitals in school if we could chose our own poems, although I don’t think I ever did one of his. I probably should have – it would have made memorizing poetry more fun.

9. Alana: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

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With thirteen years of all female education, and my love of fantasy books, it’s really no surprise that the Alanna books made it onto my list of favorites. Although I never really read the series all at once back to front, I make my way through the Song of the Lioness books during my childhood, although I did return to the first book more than any of the others. Alanna is a girl living in medieval Tortall who wants to become a knight, so she switches places with her twin brother Thom, who isn’t interested in the knight life, and travels to the royal court to train.

Tamora Pierce’s books are great because they all feature really strong female characters, and the strength and feminism isn’t overstated in her books to the point where it becomes old. It’s just the way the characters’ lives are, so the characters’ strength immediately become the norm, and then this becomes the norm for young girls as well. Plus the stories are action packed and really fun. Although Alanna was definitely my favorite of Pierce’s series, I also really enjoyed the Protector of the Small series, which is about the first girl to become a knight after Alanna.

Pierce’s books straddle the Middle Grade/Young Adult line a little more than the other books on this list since they deal with some complex issues, and I’ve actually been debating rereading Alanna at some point, maybe on my next rereading binge.

So there you have it – the 9 books that defined the 1990’s (at least for me). Of course, the American Girl books and Harry Potter also had a huge influence on me during this time, but since I’ve already done posts on both these topics I wanted to expand the selection a little more and show what else influenced my childhood.

What were some of your favorite books when you were little?

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4 thoughts on “9 Children’s Books that Defined the ’90’s

  1. I was a kid in the 80’s and I absolutely loved “The Babysitter’s Club” series..loved it! The American Girls books came out right as I was on the verge of being too old for them, but I read them and enjoyed them.

    • Yup the Babysitter’s Club was definitely still big when I was little too. I don’t think I ever read any (I was a pretty big tomboy at the time) but I remember the covers

  2. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! I loved the Thoroughbred books especially, even though everyone else seemed to be reading the Saddle Club. (Or Sweet Valley High. Ugh.) The only one on your list I haven’t read is the Tamora Pierce, but I’ve heard good things.

    • Tamora Pierce is amazing and I would definitely recommend her. I haven’t read her newer books but I have heard they are good. I am actually planning on rereading some Alanna books soon. I also liked her Immortals series as well. They are definitely worth looking into.

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