I read so much as a preteen. That voraciousness carried over into middle school, but I have to admit that I was a bit of a risque reader in junior high. I was definitely guilty of reading certain books before being aware of what some of their content even meant or implied. I remember very awkward conversations when my mom discovered that 11-year-old me was reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and one of the more adult Meg Cabot books. Cabot and Judy Blume are essentially my literary equivalent of the freethinking, easygoing aunts who will sneak you magazines explaining everything your mom avoids talking about with you. On the other hand, I still got away with reading raunchy-for-a-tween things like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books because of the unassuming titles.
Before those experiments with more worldly material and when I was still in elementary school, I stuck to the innocent, episodic chapter book series that were stocked in abundance at the library. Back then, I reread the same books constantly, out of both desire and boredom. While standalone books and the Harry Potter series dominate my reading memories from this stage, it also included so many middle grade series that are easy to overlook at first glance but were still such a huge part of my reading life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fond memories of the often forgotten books below!
1) The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin
I get that the re-design of these covers was an attempt to make the books look less dated, but the fact that the stories themselves are so ’90s is just so charming and hilarious now. You only have to reach as far as one of Claudia’s outfit descriptions to figure out when the series takes place, and that was just one of the many BSC Club charms that kept me invested from about fourth to seventh grade.
Although the series added more main characters in later books, the first few books revolved around three 13-year-old girls who grew up together in their Connecticut suburb. They and a fourth girl, who just moved to town from New York, form a baby-sitting business for local families to use. While the series always focused on their adventures with the neighborhood kids, it also explored the club members’ personal issues, like dating, school troubles, their parents’ divorces or second marriages, and even coping to life with diabetes. I remember coming across many a “where are they now” story during my Harry Potter fanfic-writing days.
I had a special fondness for the BSC Super Specials, which were multi-narrative vacation stories that included trips to Disney World and the girls working as counselors-in-training at summer camp, among other special vacations. There was also the Little Sister series that focused on a baby-sitter’s stepsister in second grade, and before graduating to the main series, I flew through those too.
2) Time Travelers Quartet series, by Caroline B. Cooney
Again, a determinedly ’90s cover design.
I can’t remember if I actually read all four of these books, but I definitely read at least the first two more than once. The story followed a teen girl, Annie, in the 1990s who magically time travels back to 1895, where she falls in love with the elegant era and a boy from a privileged family, Strat. The following books were about Annie and Strat’s attempts to cross through time and find each other again, but they have obstacles like Strat’s commitment to an insane asylum and his sister traveling forward in time that prevent their reunion. Think of it as a middle grade, less sexy version of Outlander (which, side note, I unsuccessfully tried to read years before the TV show was a thing. I now want to try it again).
Out of everything on this list, memories of these books are fuzziest in my mind, but I remember loving the ones I did read. Just as I’d recommend the Young Royals series for Tudor fans too young for Philippa Gregory novels, I’d list this series for preteen readers interested in time travel but who aren’t ready for something like Outlander yet.
3) The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes series, by Anne Mazer
Oh man, I loved these books. Similar to Baby-Sitters Club, the Abby Hayes series comprised of episodic stories told through both a regular narrative and eleven-year-old Abby’s journal entries. She was an aspiring writer and was one of four siblings, which I loved because it fit my own family format when a lot of other books never did. The majority of the series took place throughout Abby’s fifth grade year, but the last few books chronicled her move up to middle school and a decidedly different style and friend group. They were perfect, simple books for the preteen age level, and I definitely miss just picking several of these out from the library and ripping through them in no time.
4) The Magic Attic Club series
There is a definite theme in this list of covers that simply couldn’t be from any other era, huh? Not to be confused with the Magic Tree House series (a favorite of mine from early elementary school), the Magic Attic Club books involved a group of girls who realize that wearing the costumes in their neighbor’s attic transport them to the time or place that the clothes are linked to. Although some girls’ adventures involved time travel, others were trips to contemporary places almost in an alternative universe. If there are tween girls in your life who’ve outgrown Magic Tree House but love the concept, track this series down for them!
5) The Mary-Kate and Ashley chapter books
Not going to lie, but Mary-Kate and Ashley movies and books dominated a huge part of my late elementary school days. I was an Olsen twin fan before my sisters and I even started watching Full House reruns, and I was probably 10 or 11 when we first discovered the show. I still credit Winning London with inspiring my initial love for London early on in life, but I loved all of the twins’ international travel movies and the novelizations of the films. Of course, there were also the classics with normal American settings, Billboard Dad and Switching Goals. Is there anything more early 2000s than movie novelizations you ordered from a Scholastic book catalog?
In addition to the print versions of the travel movies, there was also a Mary-Kate and Ashley mystery series, one of which is seen above, and a series loosely based on their Two of a Kind show that branched into stories about their characters attending boarding school. I read all of these series voraciously, and the fact that the Olsen twins’ movies aren’t streaming anywhere remains one of my biggest personal travesties.
What about you? What books from past life stages do you forget you loved?