It's, like, a totally awesome decade, dude.
I'm really happy with this list of classic children's books from the 1980s even though using the term "classic" is becoming more and more suspect as we close in on the 21st century. As with all my classic book lists, my aim is not to rehash the most famous books of the decade. Instead, I want to introduce you to a few titles that you may not be familiar with but are still worth reading. I'm also very pleased that this list contains a number of books which are quite suitable for younger audiences, both in reading level and subject matter. It's my hope that there is something for everyone on this list.
As I did in previous weeks, I will be offering up a bonus 1980s title each day this week on my facebook page, so head on over there to like the page (click "add to interest lists" on the drop down menu). If you missed the previous weeks' bonus books you can scroll down the timeline to discover what you missed.
So what do you think? What 1980s books are your favorites?
The People Could Fly. (1985) I love finding short story collections to include on these lists. Celebrated children’s author Virginia Hamilton put together this wonderful collection of Black American Folktales. There are several categories of tales ranging from animal trickster tales, tales of the supernatural and slave tales of freedom. At the end of each short story, Hamilton includes her notes on the origin of the tale and its dialect. My sons like me to read from this book during dinner.
Dear Mr. Henshaw. (1983) I’m embarrassed to say that when I was a kid I did not read this book because it suffered from what I considered to be a very boring title. My loss! Through letters and diary entries addressed to his favorite author, Leigh Botts works through his feelings about his parents’ divorce, making friends at a new school and the mysterious lunch thief. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is that Cleary realistically conveys the complex and urgent voice of an 11 year old boy. Epistolary novels for children are rare and this one is eminently readable Also, bonus points for the action being located in one of the small towns near where I grew up!
Wayside School Is Falling Down. (1989) From the gifted author of Holes, this is a crowd pleasing, witty book that you should not pass over. There are 30 stories for the 30 floors of wacky Wayside School. Each chapter is a self-contained, clever joke. Both kids who love the silly and ridiculous and parents who appreciate well-written, humorous books will find something to charm them. This is the second book in the series. My 7 year old has read all of them again and again and still asks me to read a chapter aloud now and then.
Number the Stars. (1989) Even though Lowry’s Newbery winner remains popular to this day, I am including it here because I have yet to include a book about World War II. Plus, sometimes a book is so moving I feel compelled to put it on the list. In 1943 Denmark, 10 year old Annemarie and her family risk their lives to help their Jewish friends escape the Nazis. Howl's Moving Castle. (1986) The late Diana Wynne Jones wrote loads of fantasy novels and you might recognize the title of this one because it was made into a successful animated movie. However, it’s such a captivating book, don’t limit yourself to the film version. Young Sophie is transformed into an old woman by The Witch of Waste and the only way to break the spell is to seek out the Wizard Howl in his bizarre moving castle. The complexity of the story makes it better for older kids, ages 10+.
The Whipping Boy. (1987) The great thing about The Whipping Boy is that it is a Newbery winner which is very accessible for kids reading early chapter books. In this amusing and fast-paced adventure, Jemmy serves as the palace whipping boy, receiving the punishments meant for a spoiled, bratty prince. When Prince Brat decides to run away, Jemmy follows and the two are captured by villains who are fooled into thinking Jemmy is the real prince. In their attempt to escape the villains, both both boys learn much about each other.
The Castle in the Attic. (1985) The idea of a miniature castle coming to life was irresistible to me when I was a kid. I confess that even as an adult I find minatures fascinating. William’s housekeeper, Mrs. Phillips gives him a model castle set but things go awry when Mrs. Phillips is shrunk down to the size of the castle and William must shrink himself down to rescue her. Dragons, wizards, magic forests and knights make this a wonderful fantasy quest kids will love.
The Agony of Alice. (1985) This is the first book in the lengthy Alice series (one of the most challenged book series by prudish parents) and is a wonderful book for tween girls learning to navigate the treacherous waters that lead to adulthood. Motherless Alice is surrounded by males at home and wants a female role model. She hopes a glamorous teacher will fill the position. What she learns instead is that people are much more than their surface appearances. In this first book Alice is a sixth grader but she grows up during the course of the series (more than 20 books); the most recent book was published this year. A terrific choice for tween girls. You may recognize Naylor as the author of Shiloh.
Bill's New Frock (1989). I confess I am a sucker for books that get kids thinking about gender roles and Bill's New Frock by British Children’s Laureate, Anne Fine, does just that. Bill wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a girl. Being a young boy he is naturally horrified! Bill starts to notice that others treat him much differently now that he is a girl. This early chapter book will get kids thinking as well as make them laugh out loud.
War Horse. (1982) I never knew War Horse was a children’s book until I saw the absolutely marvelous stage production (during which I bawled almost the entire time - I haven’t seen the movie). For kids ages 8 and up who like historical fiction this is a really interesting and moving book about a boy named Albert whose horse, Joey, is taken into service during World War I. While Joey experiences the horrors of war, Albert enlists in order to find his beloved horse. In case you haven’t figured it out, this book has a strong anti-war message. I think it would make a great family read aloud.
Are any of these books new to you? Which ones have you read? What books are on your 1980s must read list?
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