The 1990s saw me from ages two through 12 — essential years for anyone growing into a young reader (especially since between the ages of two and 12, you presumably learn how to read at some point.) And even though reading or being read to in school was always the best hour of the day, the books I read over the summer as a kid became some of my all-time, life-long favorites — even well after I grew out of them. Every June, after stockpiling a school year’s worth of Scholastic Books orders and signing up for my local library’s summer reading challenge (which, not to brag or anything, I pretty much always won) I wanted nothing more than to hole up in my bedroom for the next three months, reading my way through a stack of books every kid who grew up in the ‘90s remembers. (Bunnicula, anyone?) Needless to say, my obsession with reading started pretty early — and it hasn’t let up yet. But even if you’re not as completely obsessed with the written word as I am, you still probably remember some of these books from your own childhood summers.
Revisit the best from your bookshelves of years gone by, with these 20 books that were on your summer reading list in the ‘90s — and then read ‘em like its 1999 all over again.
1. Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne
The Magic Tree House books were my first serious book series as a child — in that I seriously had to have them all. Between the riveting plot, the short chapters, and the detailed illustrations, you could easily read one of these gems a day during the summer. So thank goodness there were only about a thousand of them in the series. In case you forgot (but honestly, how could you?) The Magic Tree House series features two kiddos named Jack and Annie, who discover a tree house filled with books, which transport them back in time. Basically my dream as a kid. Maybe minus the time travel.
2. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
This was one of those books that I distinctly remember as being read aloud to me in school — and then I just had to get a copy of my own to read (and reread) again over the summer months. From the entire school having been built 30 stories high, one classroom on top of the other; to the raincoat-wearing rats who were inexplicably desperate to attend classes; to the day each student was invited to make ice cream that tasted like their personality this book was literally everything to a second grader. Everything.
3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
I may have been the only young girl I knew who didn’t go through a horse phase when I was growing up — quite frankly, they terrified me. But the classic story of Black Beauty was definitely an exception, with its message about treating not only horses, but all animals with kindness and respect. It almost made me want to go to sleep-away horse camp (but not quite.)
4. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Trapped in a house with your siblings all summer long just meant that Ramona and her sister, Beezus, became more relatable than ever. From Ramona's inability to sit still for more than three seconds, to the fact that I’m pretty sure she could have probably built a scud missile out of construction paper if left alone for long enough, I loved Ramona and her (admittedly pesky) antics when I was a kid… although if I had to choose as an adult, I think I’m totally on Team Beezus.
5. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
One thing I didn’t appreciate nearly enough about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a child growing up in the ‘90s was the fact that she really was a woman who lived outside the box, knew herself well, and wasn’t afraid to be exactly the person who she was. The divorcée of a pirate? No problem. Her house upside-down and in constant shambles? Kind of like my first version of Louise Erdrich’s Advice to Myself. Plus, her theories about raising children are spot-on.
6. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
This collection of short, endearing stories features an American-as-apple-pie boy named Homer Price, who lives in Centerburg — a town that somehow manages to out-Mayberry even Mayberry. The homemade doughnuts and the crime-fighting pet skunk were really the highlights of Homer Price.
7. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
The utter absurdity of this book definitely did not register with me as a young reader, and it doesn’t detract from my love for this novel now (it was just nice to think about penguins during the hot summer months.) Mr. Popper is a humble house painter who somehow acquires the only penguin in the history of penguins to give birth to ten baby penguins. And then he tries to keep them in his bathroom.
8. Stuart Little by E.B. White
One of the companion books to Charlotte’s Web (remember, they came in that fantastic three-book box set with Trumpet of the Swan?) Stuart Little is the book that made elementary school children everywhere ask their mothers when they were going to give birth to a mouse-brother of their own. To no avail, I might add. I personally just kept getting human siblings. Nonetheless, Stuart is a great adventurer, and I’d like to think of this novel as the one of the first that sparked my love of travel memoirs.
9. The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth
Another perfect ‘90s summertime read in which reality played absolutely no part whatsoever. The Enormous Egg tells the story of Nate Twitchell, whose farm hen somehow manages to lay a triceratops-hatching egg. I didn’t look at a hard-boiled egg the same way for years after reading this novel.
10. Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine
Technically I was discouraged from reading the Goosebumps series when I was a young’un, because their covers kinda freaked my mom out, but I still recognize that these books were on every 10-year-old’s must-read list in the 1990s. Especially since the word Goosebumps on the cover had actual goosebumps.
11. The Camp-Out Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Amazingly enough, The Boxcar Children series saw its first published title all the way back in 1924 — which means the books are almost a century old. So it’s a testament to the quality of storytelling that we were still reading these well into the 1990s. The Boxcar Children books tell the story of four orphaned children: Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, who create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the woods, before discovering their long lost grandfather, upon which they have a real home (and if I recall correctly, the boxcar is relegated to the backyard, for sentimental reasons.) In The Camp-Out Mystery the children are off on a camping trip with their grandfather, where they’ll inevitably have a mystery to solve.
12. Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss
How many of you just had to have a black-and-white composition notebook of your own after reading Amelia’s Notebook? I will literally never forget my excitement when my mother brought me home one of my own (because in my 1990’s mind black-and-white composition notebooks were extremely rare, and my mother obviously had undertaken an Indiana Jones-esque odyssey in order to procure me one exactly like Amelia’s.) These books were seriously just the best.
13. Baby-sitters' Summer Vacation by Ann M. Martin
Whether you were old enough to be them, or just old enough to be babysat by them, the stories, struggles, and diversity of the members of the Babysitters's Club made these books must-reads. As one of those book series with the irresistible seasonal “specials” — Super Special #2: Baby-sitters' Summer Vacation saw the girls off to Camp Mohawk, where the adorable campers were almost as fun as the boys camping across the lake.
14. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Take just about any book written by Judy Blume before 1999 and insert it here, because she was essential to every young reader’s bookshelf from the moment she was first published. With her feminist themes, real-world discussions, and characters who weren’t ever afraid to just go there, Judy Blume helped teach us young readers everything that we needed to know to survive growing up in the ‘90s.
15. Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger
How much did we love Amber Brown growing up? Let me count the ways: first of all, she was rocking the white tee, black yoga pants, eyebrow-brushing bangs look way before it was cool. Second of all, she is super sassy about the fact that her parents named her after what could very likely have been a crayon, and definitely could have been a shade of hair dye — and who can blame her? Thirdly, her best friend was a boy, which was pretty inconceivable to me (and kind of exotic) in the third grade.
16. Cam Jansen and th e Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds by David A. Adler
Who could forget Cam Jansen and her photographic memory? Somehow this gal always seemed to be in the right place at the right time — aka: just as some petty crime is being committed. As the first title in the Cam Jansen mystery series, The Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds is the book that introduced readers (and Cam’s local detective force) to the fifth-grade sleuth with an eye for the truth.
17. Titanic: The Long Night by Diane Hoh
After the movie Titanic was released on VHS, (those whopping two tapes) and subsequently stolen from all our parents’ bedrooms during every single sleepover party for the entire 6th grade, all a novel basically needed to have was a boat on the cover for me to investigate. Titanic: The Long Night is basically the story of Kate and Leo, but from a teenage perspective (less nudity, more necking.) Perfect for when you just had to relive the agony of Jack letting go, all summer long.
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
That’s right — in case you forgot, the first title in the Harry Potter series hit bookstore shelves in the U.K. and the U.S. in 1997 and 1998 respectively. And even though they took a few years to become the mega, household name book series they are today, if you were any kind of up-to-the-minute reader Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was on your reading list by the summer of ’99 at the very latest.
19. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
Is it just me, or did this book feel so very mature when we first read it, circa 1999? Never mind the fact that Janie Johnson saw her face on a cardboard milk carton one afternoon during lunch hour, and subsequently realized her parents were actually her kidnappers, and had a major identity crisis. Janie also got to second base in this book. Or even third, depending on your measuring stick for base-rounding.
20. That Summer by Sarah Dessen
Growing up, Sarah Dessen was always good for an irresistible summer read. Filled with totally relatable growing pains, tons of summer romance, and just a little teenage rebellion, Dessen’s YA novels almost make you want to go back and relive the ‘90s all over again. Almost. In case you forgot, That Summer tells the story of 15-year-old Haven, who is beginning to see her imperfect family through adult eyes for the first time in her life. And of course, there’s also a boy who takes her (and took your) breath away.