If someone asked you, on the spot, what you read when you were a kid (think elementary through middle school), there’s a good chance you would immediately remember wildly popular series like Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club, Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High, or a novel by Her Majesty of Young Adult Literature, Judy Blume—all fantastic choices. Those are the books that, even today, so many years after they were first published, get all the attention. But what about all those other less remembered, but no less loved series of the ’80s and ’90s? Those books you checked out of the library 10 at a time, swapped with your friends, and went through them like candy? It’s time to give them their nostalgia moment.
1. The Magic Attic Club by various authors
I certainly wanted to be a member of The Babysitter’s Club, but I would’ve loved a spot in The Magic Attic Club as well. Four friends, Keisha, Alison, Megan, and Heather discover that a neighbor’s attic filled with old costumes and jewelry will transport them to whatever moment in time the costume is meant for. They become princesses, and circus performers.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: the four main characters had their own dolls–the poor man’s American Girl doll, if you will. I proudly owned Megan (the one in the sweet yellow getup).
2. The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey
In each book, the Bailey School Kids meet a new teacher, janitor, or other school employee who may or may not be a mummy/witch/pirate/Santa Claus—you get the idea. Authors Jones and Dadey were doing the mythical creature thing before it popped up pretty much everywhere.
3. Sleepover Friends by Susan Saunders
OK, so literally all I remember about this series is that a group of four girls had sleepovers every week, and the one thing that sticks out is that one of the four was obsessed with all of her clothes and her room being a black, white and red color scheme. All I know is she would not shut up about it. Still counts, right?
4. Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss
These books were EVERYTHING when I was seven. I can’t even tell you how many black Mead composition notebooks I went through, attempting to decorate them with stickers and quirky cartoons just like Amelia’s, but nothing compared. She wrote about everything from an epic road trip up the west coast (which I am still determined to recreate one day), the new girl in her class, attending space camp, and of course, her older sister Cleo’s jelly-roll nose.
5. Girl Talk by L.E. Blair
Another foursome—what, were girls not supposed to gather in groups greater than four?—Sabrina, Allison, Randy, and Katie, living in the fake town of Acorn Falls, Minnesota. I will give you one guess as to which girl on that cover is named Randy: yes, the “tough” looking one with spiky black hair and a leather jacket. Of course.
Discovery made while writing this very article: L.E. Blair is a pseudonym for K.A. Applegate, author of the Animorphs series! If K.A. Applegate is even her real name. So many initials make me skeptical. What other authors have been lying to me all these years?!
6. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
First, let us all take a moment to appreciate that cover, from a time when a brand new, physical copy of a book was only three dollars. Sigh. The Anastasia series is not as widely beloved at Lowry’s The Giver, but it totally should be, because Anastasia is a boss. She’s a smart, sarcastic, melodramatic 10-year-old who writes weird poetry to be more like her dad and is horrified when her mother wants to move out of the city to the suburbs in the second book. The series was a staple of many “most banned/challenged books” lists for mentions of beer and Playboy. I don’t even know why people bother challenging books anymore, because any normal person just uses those lists as “what to read next.”
7. Dear America by various authors
One of these books was possibly assigned to you in school, but you probably didn’t mind because they make history interesting and relatable for a little kid. Each diary chronicles a young girl’s experience during a major historical time period or event. There are diaries from the arrival of the Mayflower to protests against the Vietnam War and every major American turning point in between. The “boy” version was called My Name Is America, because apparently “Dear” in the title was too girly or something.
8. P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger
In a list of BFF duos I want to hang out with, Ann M. Martin and the late Paula Danziger are way up there with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. These two books are really a novel and one sequel, not a series, but they deserve a spot on the list. Told entirely through written correspondence between two best friends after one of them moves away, Ann M. Martin writes as pensive Elizabeth and Paula Danziger writes as the bold and rebellious Tara*Starr. Their heartfelt letters share stories about their family problems and trying to make new friends now that they’re apart.
9. The Amazing Days of Abbey Hayes by Anne Mazer
Abbey is a regular fifth grader with “Super Siblings.” Older sister Eva is a star athlete, Eva’s twin Isabel is the most stylish historian to ever exist, and even her little brother Alex is an engineering genius. Third-person narration is peppered with entries from Abbey’s journal about her family, friends, and school, as well as fun and inspirational quotes from the calendars that cover her bedroom walls. Though Abbey isn’t as precocious as Anastasia or as adventurous as Amelia, she was another observant writer that many little girl readers aspired to be like, self included.
10. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
This series began back in 1924, but has been re-launched many times over the years to include 137 books and 21 Specials. Four siblings, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, become orphans and create their own makeshift home in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. Doesn’t sound like the most uplifting plot for a children’s story, but it’s lasted 90 years so they must be doing something right.
11. Animorphs by K.A. Applegate
We’re back to K.A. Applegate with a series that’s totally different from Girl Talk (okay, probably why her name was changed). Animorphs was really, really weird, you guys. Some kids become friends with an alien, gain the power to morph into any animal or creature they touch, and use this power to fight off another evil alien race that is trying to take over humans by slithering in through their ears and controlling their brains. WHAT MONSTER THOUGHT THIS UP FOR KIDS TO READ? But of course, young readers couldn’t get enough.
Over fifty books were published and Nickelodeon aired an Animorphs television series starring Shawn Ashmore from 1998-2000. Many of these stories captured my love of books and made sure reading would be a passion throughout my whole life. For that, I will always have a soft spot for each and every one of them.
Jenna recently graduated from college where she majored in English and minored in binge-watching TV shows created by Shonda Rhimes. She loves reading, everything bagels, and quoting My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Follow her @jroseballard for books, TV, food, and hilarious quotes from her unsuspecting parents.