This post is targeted at childhood favorite reads for a certain age-bracket. I’m talking to you, old millennials. We learned the old card catalog and are digital natives at the same time. We remember watching TV when suddenly everything had a full web address mentioned at the end of the show. We taught our parents how to use a computer mouse. And we had some awesome kids books in the ’90s, and some of those authors are still writing for kids.
Back in my day, oh about 1995, I could. Not. Get. Enough. Of The Bailey School Kids. Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots, Werewolves Don’t Go to Summer Camp, etc. I love cozy monsters, the kind that want to play baseball and teach social studies. Something about about when the macabre meets the mundane is like catnip to me. Apparently it is for other people too, because Dadey wrote more than 80 books about The Bailey School Kids. The gist of each book is that an adult in the school or town seems to be a mythical/supernatural figure. The kids, Liza, Melody, Howie, and Eddie, try to figure out if this person really is a mythical character. But they, and the reader, are always left with some ambiguity.
Today, Dadey still mixes the mundane and the magical, writing books for the early-chapter book readers. My daughter brought home Mermaid Tales from her school library (she picked it out to give me a break from The Rainbow Fairies—hallelujah!). I had to look up Dadey’s name because I couldn’t place it at first. Mermaid Tales gives us the stories of four mermaid friends who go to Trident Academy and struggle with the friendship questions that kids under 10 love to read about. I would have been all over this series as an elementary school reader.
Golden Mountain series
There were not a lot of Chinese authors gracing the shelves of my rural library in the ’90s, but Laurence Yep was the most prominent #ownvoices author of Chinese experiences. First published in 1975, the Golden Mountain series follows the Young family between 1835 and 1995 as they move between China and America. He wrote for some of the big series of the late ’90s/early ’00s, such as the Royal Diaries, American Girl of the Year, and My Name is America. But, my main memories of Yep are his dragon books, taking elements of Chinese mythology and spinning them up into fantasy stories. If you love dragons (and I do), Yep is your kind of author.
Yep received a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 2005 for his “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children,” in particular for the way he approaches cross-cultural and cultural outsider experiences, and he has’t stopped. His 2009 City Trilogy gives Rick Riordan fans another place to turn for mythology reimagined, and Yep continues to write books in the Golden Mountain series. Most recently, Yep and his wife, Joanne Ryder, are co-authoring a series about Miss Drake, a delightfully grouchy dragon whose elderly human friend (“pet”) dies and is replaced by an exuberant girl named Winnie who thinks the dragon is her pet; Yep is still my dragon dealer.
Katherine Applegate (K.A. Applegate)
If you were a kid in the ’90s you can probably picture the Animorphs covers, the ones where the kids pictures sort of creepily changed into an animal as they morphed. My brother had a LOT of Animorphs books (love you, book orders!) and we swapped them as we burned through the series. I think I fell off around book #20 (out of #53), so I don’t even know how it ended. But with topics covering war, morality, leadership, and dehumanization, this was such a solid foundation for science fantasy kids. Also, it was my introduction to Cinnabon.
Applegate has shifted to writing books that have won her awards. I cried my way through Crenshaw, the story of a boy who starts seeing a giant talking cat whom he hasn’t seen since last time his family lost their home and had to live in their van. It is a beautiful look at a child struggling with housing insecurity, which isn’t something we see nearly often enough in books. I haven’t been ready to read Ivan the One and Only, based on a real story about a captive mall gorilla, and which won the 2013 Newbery Award. Not too shabby, K.A.!
Ann M. Martin
Even if you tell me that you were too dude-ly in the early-to-mid ’90s and never picked up a Baby-sitter’s Club book, I will have a hard time believing you. This series was everywhere. I’m sure you had a favorite BSC member. I don’t even know how many BSC books I read, including the Baby-Sitters Little Sister series. Revolutionary because it focuses on the lives and concerns of pre-teen and young teenage girls.
Martin finished the BSC in 2000, and has since moved on to writing other series and standalone books. She is the author of two new Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books and co-authored the ever popular Doll People series. One of Martin’s most recent, Rain Reign, won the Schneider Award, among other awards, for representation of a child with autism.
Are there any authors that you loved as a kid who continue to write? Any childhood faves who went on to change tack and write something that surprised you?