With over 250 million Choose Your Own Adventure sold from 1978-1998, this series was an absolute phenomenon.
If you’re not familiar with the books, quite simply, you choose your own adventure by dictating the plot and pace of each book. After a page or so, there’d be a few options for what you (playing the lead character) could do next.
If you wish to grab the vine and swing across the shark, alligator and piranha-infested lava pit, turn to page 11.
If you decide to look for another way around the pit, turn to page 8.
It was all really fun. You didn’t know what was going to happen next. Sometimes the best & safest choice turned out to be the worst and the very next page would say…
“You decide to find another way around the pit, but as you turn back onto the path from which you came, a boulder rolls down the mountain crushing you. The end.”
Of course, none of this really mattered, as I usually read through every option in the book to get the full experience. Oops, did I just die? No, I didn’t mean to turn to page 5, I meant to turn to page 12… Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Some of the books were goofy, some were actually downright creepy (usually the earlier books), but they were always fun. My elementary school, middle school and church library always kept them on hand, so I was constantly checking them out. One big plus (for me, anyway) was that the books were fairly small and never too text-heavy. Perfect for a kid who doesn’t like to read all that much!
I think the golden age for the books ranges from the debut in 1978 up until the late-80s. Everything after that just seemed to talk down to us young readers. There were also a number of Choose Your Own… spinoff series (First Adventure, Super Adventure, Nightmare, Star Wars and Disney). I haven’t read the whole line, but I believe I’ve read most of the 70s & 80s output under the regular Choose Your Own Adventure title.
I always judged the books by their covers though and I usually picked up the horror and scifi stories. Sorry, but tales like You Are A Shark, Search for the Mountain Gorillas and Spy for George Washington just don’t appeal to me. I needed stories like Space Vampire, Outlaws of Sherwood Forest, The Deadly Shadow, War With the Evil Power Master (gotta love that title), Vampire Express, Escape and The House of Danger!
There were a number of copy-cat book series (Find Your Fate, What Would You Do?). I think the most notable was Which Way Books, which ran from 1982-1986, but none of them captured the charm of Choose Your Own Adventure.
The series’ original publisher was Bantam Books, but publisher Chooseco has been reissuing the books since 2005. So head over to your local bookstore and relive your youth! But remember… make good choices.
If you’re interested in learning more about Choose Your Own Adventure, or the gamebook genre in general, head on over to Demian’s Gamebook Web Page for cover art, reviews and more.