Books for '80s Kids to Share With the Kids in Their Lives

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Books for '80s Kids to Share With the Kids in Their Lives

Ah, the 1980s--era of Rainbow Brite, the Electric Company, and the after-school special. Ronald Reagan was our president, the Cold War was still on, and computers were just beginning to be more than a curiosity to the average person.  In children's literature, the '80s sometimes get a bad rap for being the era of the "problem novel"; basically, an after-school special in book form.  Still, some pretty great books were published during that decade.  And at least some of my fellow '80s kids now have kids of their own, or nieces/nephews/godchildren, who are hitting their upper-elementary years.  It's time to dust off some childhood favorites, and introduce a new generation to a world of pre-cell phone trouble, adventure and mischief.

Paula Danziger--This Place Has No Atmosphere. 
Starting in the 70s and continuing into the 80s, Paula Danziger was known for her pioneering teen and tween novels, which explored serious issues with a dose of wacky humor that kept them out of after-school special territory.  Her titles included The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, to name a couple. 

However my personal favorite (then and now) is Danziger's 1986 foray into science fictional territory, This Place Has No Atmosphere. Middle schooler Aurora has it made--she has a cool group of friends and new boyfriend--until her parents announce they're moving to a new colony on the moon.  The school there is the equivalent of a pioneer's one room schoolhouse and the only boy anywhere close to Aurora's age is a giant nerd. But when they start working together on a school play, Aurora discovers that nerds (and even living on the moon) might not be so bad. This Place Has No Atmosphere's take on the future is about as dated as Back to the Future's 2015, but that's part of the fun for today's kid readers. (And wow, 80s tween literature was really obsessed with the mall, am I right?)

Beth Hilgartner--A Murder for Her Majesty.
Unlike some others in this list, Beth Hilgartner wasn't a household name in the '80s, yet her most beloved book, A Murder for Her Majesty, has remained in print since its publication in 1986.  Set in Elizabethan England, A Murder for Her Majesty recounts the adventures of Alice Tuckfield, a young noble girl whose quest to learn the truth about her father's murder leads her to conceal herself as a boy chorister in a cathedral choir.

With the help of her new friends among the choirboys, Alice investigates, but runs into danger when one of the conspirators turns out to be very close indeed. The mixture of suspense, friendship, period detail, and a strong female character at the center is still a winner for tween mystery fans.

James Howe and Deborah Howe.--Bunnicula.   Middle schoolers of the 2010s are most likely to know Howe for his insightful series about four friends who stand up to bullying--The Misfits, Totally Joe, Addie On the Inside, and Also Known as Elvis.  But former '80s kids are more likely to remember him as the author of a classic funny/scary scary series for slightly younger kids: the Bunnicula series; the first book of the series was co-written with his wife Deborah.

"Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Harold. I come to writing purely by chance. My full-time occupation is dog."  Told in the first-person voice of elderly family mutt Harold, the novel (and its sequels) recounts the adventures of Harold and overly imaginative family cat Chester, as they investigate whether the Monroe family's new pet rabbit, Bunnicula, is actually a vampire bunny.

Lois Lowry--Anastasia Krupnik. Nineties kids remember Lois Lowry primarily for her Newbery Award-winning dystopian fable The Giver, and 2010s kids may have gotten to know her through the film of that book. However, to '80s kids Lowry is first of all the author of the Anastasia Krupnik series about the everyday life of a  brainy elementary schooler and her quirky family.  

This is cheating a little, because the first book came out in 1979, but Lowry continued to publish them throughout the '80s so I say they count. In my not so humble opinion, you should get the originals before the modernized versions are published, which change Anatasia, Ask Your Analyst to Anastasia Off Her Rocker and get rid of the scene where Anastasia bohemian-poet dad lets her have a sip of his wine, among other things.

Tamora Pierce--Alanna: the First AdventureIt's hard to believe that this iconic feminist fantasy novel, which has inspired more than one generation of adventure-loving girls, was first published in 1982. But it was, and Tamora Pierce is still going strong and writing outstanding teen and tween fantasy.

On the border between middle grade and young adult fiction lies the tale of Alanna of Trebond, a girl who devises a daring plan to train as a knight by disguising herself as a boy and trading places with her twin brother. Through hard work and a little bit of magic, Alanna achieves her goal, but her biggest challenge is yet to come.  It's a great novel to share with the middle schoolers in your life. 

Mildred Taylor--Let the Circle Be UnbrokenA lot of '80s kids got a window into the Jim Crow South and its harsh realities through Taylor's novels, which were inspired by her own family heritage and stories. Brave, independent Cassie Logan and her family were wounded but not broken by the oppressive situation around them, and Taylor didn't shy away from depicting the constant danger their resistance placed them in.

Taylor begins Cassie's story in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; she depicts Cassie's middle grade years in Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1986) and her high school years in The Road to Memphis (1990), while she tells other stories of the Logan family in short chapter books like The Friendship and The Gold Cadillac.  Her books are character-driven yet suspenseful, and still incredibly relevant.