Throwback Thursday is your weekly concentrated dose of nostalgia, where we round up the bests and worsts of all things 90s (and the early 2000s.) This week: The top 5 books from the Scholastic Book Fair!
Certainly at this point most of you have picked up on the fact that, as a child, my social life was not exactly thriving, and my time was mostly spent with piles of books. And, even though I want to right now, I will not compare my own bookishness to that of Hermione Granger, but only because I promised my mom that I would stop making up excuses to reference Harry Potter in every post I write. But, essentially, my favorite week of every school year was the week that the Scholastic Book Fair came to school. The Book Fair was the best because, for the one hour that your class was scheduled—not nearly enough allotted time in my opinion—you got to browse and buy books instead of attending what would probably normally be math class. While everyone else was busy buying funky pencils and erasers at the Book Fair, I was busy browsing books. So, without further ado, here are some of the best books found at the school book fairs of the 90s.
“Hatchet” by Gary Paulson
First off, let’s address the fact that survivalism became a really strangely re-occurring trend in the 90s. I remember having an entire unit on survivalist books in the fifth grade. We read books like “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and “My Side of the Mountain”. What exactly were our teachers trying to prepare us for? Were they expecting some sort of “Lord of the Flies” scenario? I remember Gary Paulson’s “Hatchet” to be particularly traumatizing because, not only was the protagonist Brian Robeson lost in the wilderness after a plane crash, but he is also the child of divorced parents. For some reason, as a kid, the impact of Brian’s parents’ divorce was more traumatizing than the plane crash and wilderness survival. Also, what kind of mother gives her son a hatchet as a present? She must’ve been pretty bitter over the divorce. “You’re going to visit your father this summer? Here, take this small weapon with you.” Quality parenting. I think Brian may have had a little more fun if he had at least been given a Wilson volleyball to hang out with instead.
“Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech
While in a way a whimsical story about a 13-year-old girl, Salamenca Tree Hiddle, the text is surprisingly profound. Sal is traveling across the country on a bus tour with her eccentric grandparents and to entertain them, tells the story of her life since her mother’s death and her move to a new town, including the details of the lives of her two new friends, Phoebe and Ben. While lighthearted in nature, the novel touches upon some serious subjects such as grief and cultural identification (Sal is of Native American descent). The story has real emotional depth as Sal experiences love for the first time, while reflecting on her mother’s unhappiness with her father, as well as her own relationship to her mother, and the relationship between daughters and mothers in general. The book, while bittersweet, is also inspiring, and has deservedly received several awards and high praise.
“Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine
The novel is, unsurprisingly, an adaptation of the beloved fairytale, “Cinderella”. But what I want to ask Gail Carson Levine is, really? You wrote a novel about a woman who literally cannot disobey orders? And you thought this would be a great thing for a bunch of elementary school girls to read? What kind of steps for feminism were you trying to take, Gail? Why didn’t you just name the book “Patriarchy: The Novel”. Okay, okay, I have criticized Levine enough; I have to give her some credit for her imagination and storytelling. And I guess there is a good message in there somewhere, stemming from the fact that Ella breaks the obedience spell with a selfless act. Who am I even kidding? I loved this book—can I be a princess now?
“The Watsons Go To Birmingham” by Christopher Paul Curtis
Curtis is an incredibly influential writer for children, also known for “Bud, Not Buddy”. In a moment of rare seriousness, I’d like to say that “The Watsons Go To Birmingham” is one of the more powerful texts read in elementary schools. The story largely revolves around the narrator, Kenny Watson, and his relationship with his brother, Byron, as well as the heavy impact of the tragic 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. The texts reflects the influence of the spark that the Bombing had on the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the shifting dynamics of the relationship between Kenny and his originally trouble-making brother. While this may be a book written for children, it is not a text to be taken lightly. As is sometimes the case with children’s novels, there is a real element of seriousness to the story, a seriousness that should not be glossed over.
“Holes” by Louis Sachar
There is one thing everyone needs to know about this book, which is that next to Harry Potter (sorry, Mom) THIS IS THE SINGLE GREATEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN IN THE 90S. And if you disagree, you are lying to yourself and the world, because everyone knows it’s is a true fact basically proven by science and probably also religion (read: this not an actual fact proven by either science or religion but it is still probably true). Stanley Yelnats III is yet another member of the Yelnats clan effected by the ancient family curse placed on them by a gypsy. Everywhere the Yelnats men go their lives are fraught with bad luck, which is how Stanley ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time with a pair of stolen sneakers. He is sent to Camp Greenlake where he meets his cabin mates, X-Ray, Zigzag, Armpit, his new best friend Zero (i.e. Hector Zeroni, a direct descendent of the gypsy that cursed the Yelnats family). The camp is of course disciplinary, and the boys are forced by the offbeat Dr. Pendansky, Mr. Sir, and the Warden, to dig holes every day in order to “build character”. In reality, the Warden was forced to dig holes by her her own family, trying to find the buried treasure of Kissin’ Kate Barlow. Basically, the interwoven plot lines as well as mysterious story-lines filled with secrets and intrigue make for the greatest book ever. Also, Sigourney Weaver and Shia LeBeouf are in the movie.
What was your favorite 90s Book Fair find?
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