13 Books From Your '80s Childhood Your Kids Need To Read

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 

Attention all geeky little girls of the late 1970s and early ’80s, your childhood librarian called. She says it’s time to remove Diary of a Wimpy Kid and all vampire books from your tween’s hands and introduce them to Fudge and his older brother, Peter Hatcher, the most original and infamously vexed little boy in children’s literature.

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Oh, and while you’re at it, it’s high time they met Dicey, Sheila, Sodapop, Margaret, Claudia Kincaid, Julie, a set of blond wholesome twins and, of course, Mr. Samuel W. Westing, among others. Remember those paperbacks you read over and over again as a kid? The ones with the cheesiest of corny covers, and the yellowed and browning crispy pages you just wanted to smell over and over again? The ones you read under the covers at slumber parties and in the backs of station wagons?

Well, the good news is they are still around, just waiting to be reread by you and your kids. The bad news? Those sentimental corny covers have been replaced with stylishly streamlined, contemporary and modern covers. If you happen to find your old tattered copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and the cover is bordered in purple and features a very blond Margaret on the front, cherish it. The new one? It’s got text-message conversation bubbles on the cover. Text bubbles! Say it ain’t so, Margaret!

Here are 13 books from your youth you need to read again with your kids:

1. ‘Dicey’s Song’ by Cynthia Voigt

This novel set the gold standard for YA fiction published in the 1980s. A Newbery Medal winner, Dicey’s Song picked up where Homecoming left off, with a very teenaged Dicey raising her three younger siblings while living with their mentally unstable “Gram.” Dicey struggles with her own identity as she becomes the caretaker for so many (bet you can relate). She is also weighed down with enormous responsibility while learning how to let go of her painful, neglected past. Beautiful writing with depth and honesty.

2. ‘Then Again, Maybe I Won’t’ by Judy Blume

One of two Blume books on the list, this classic is told from the perspective of a young man, Tony, who is experiencing life in a new town during that very awkward phase of entering puberty and leaving childhood. Peer pressure in a new school with new friends, changing relationships with girls, and typical teen angst are brilliantly told from a male, witty point of view.

3. ‘The Cat Ate My Gymsuit’ by Paula Danziger

Meet Marcy, a self-conscious, misunderstood, overweight teen who is navigating the murky waters of her freshman year of high school. Danziger gracefully tackles some heavy themes here, such as a verbally abusive father and other family dysfunction. Marcy matures throughout the book, learning many life lessons while coming to the defense of her favorite English teacher, and ends with a newfound love of bibliotherapy. How can we not like that?

4. ‘The Westing Game’ by Ellen Raskin

Another Newbery winner here, this cleverly plotted, smartly written, forever twisting mystery will have your kids staying up late turning pages. Full of suspense, humor and a cast of characters who you wish were real, this classic cliffhanger is a must read for kids ages 8 and up.

5. ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ by Lois Duncan

Duncan has been called the “master of teen horror.” Her books were my first taste of the creepy, spine tingling, chilling genre of the thriller. This one, as well as Stranger With My Face and Killing Mr. Griffin, are the perfect novels for a teen who is ready for a little more edge and shock in their fiction. These are hard to put down, and will have you checking inside closets and under the bed before you turn out the lights.

6. ‘Sweet Valley High’ Series by Francine Pascal

Yep. I had to add these gems, because who didn’t dream of having a twin sister, being a cheerleader and dating the high school football team’s quarterback? Sure, there are totally ridiculous plotlines, over-the-top gooey and sweetly innocent romantic scenarios, and often soap opera-like drama, but this series still satisfies that yearning for girlie melodrama.

7. ‘Dear Mr. Henshaw’ by Beverly Cleary

Another award-winning title, this classic is voiced by a sixth grade boy, Leigh, and told through a series of letters he has written to his favorite author. An unexpected friendship blossoms between the author and the boy, who is transitioning into adolescence. Don’t forget to add Cleary’s other gems about boyhood, and a boy named Henry, in Henry and Beezus, Henry and Ramona, Henry and Ribsy, and Henry Huggins.

8. ‘The Witch of Blackbird Pond’ by Elizabeth George Speare

Also a Newbery winner, this oldie but goodie, first published in 1958, is an engrossing tale of 16-year-old Kit, a native of Barbados, relocating to colonial Connecticut. A great intro to historical fiction, featuring a strong-willed female heroine, this story is sure to connect with readers both young and old.

9. ‘The Outsiders’ by S.E. Hinton

Johnny, Two-Bit and Ponyboy. Need I say more? Powerful and brutally honest characters, explorations into deep familial relationships, and a plot that is timeless—this is a must read for every teen. A coming of age novel about a darker world than your typical suburban high school, The Outsiders is truly a classic to be enjoyed by young men and women alike.

10. ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ by Judy Blume

Soooo, I got my period way after all my friends did. And that is why I must have read this book 467 times between the ages of 12 and 15. A fun and touching story about everything from boys to bras, it should be required reading for every middle school girl on the planet. That is all.

11. ‘Julie of the Wolves’ by Jean Craighead George

Young Julie is lost in the Alaskan wilderness and befriended by wolves in this epic adventure story with themes of nature, friendship, loyalty and Eskimo culture. Also a Newbery winner, and also not to be missed.

12. ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ by E.L. Konigsburg

All I have to say about this book is I wanted to be Claudia with all my heart and soul and forever live at the Met, where I would sleep among the Renaissance masters and discover hidden artifacts. Truly a special book that instantly brings me back to the fifth grade, Mixed-Up is a sharply told romp about a brother and sister who run away and end up having the adventure of a lifetime.

13. ‘Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing,’ by Judy Blume

Last but definitely not least. The first in a memorable series (followed by Superfudge, Fudge-a-Mania and Double Fudge), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing introduces us to the Hatcher family, their quick-witted son Peter, and his lovably mischievous younger brother, Fudge. The two brothers, along with their neighbor, Sheila (whom we later meet in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great), find themselves in all manner of trouble and sticky situations, as Peter learns to deal with Fudge’s antics. Fast-paced and humorously told, all the books in the Tales series are rich in substance, relatable plot and readability for both girls and boys. And Sheila? Well she actually does end up being great. Check her out too.

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