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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Technically I was discouraged from reading the Goosebumps
series when I was a young’un, because their covers kinda freaked my mom out
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.