Decades in Literature (Part 5): the 1990s

As I’m a ’90s kid (I don’t think being born in November 1989 really qualifies me as an ’80s child), I thought I’d focus this week’s blog on children’s literature – it’s what I remember best from the decade. And I may be biased, but I think the 1990s was an exceptionally good time for children’s books. The obvious highlight, which you’re all probably already thinking of, is Harry Potter. The first three books in the series were all published in the 1990s, generating a wave of Potter-fans (including myself) who became completely addicted to Rowling’s stories.

SabrielHarry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneThe Northern Lights

But I won’t harp on about the delights of Harry Potter – there were other notable books, particularly in the realm of children’s fantasy. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (the first book published in 1995, the last nicely rounding off the decade in 2000) was brilliant, despite the lacklustre film adaptation later on. And I’d like to mention some less well-known examples too: I remember Garth Nix’s Sabriel (1995) being a compelling read (followed in the early 2000s by two sequels). Another of my favourites was Gail Carson Levine’s fresh take on the Cinderella fairytale, Ella Enchanted (1997).

Perhaps we adults should be more open to reading ‘younger’ fiction. I’m not suggesting we all take to reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but there is a growing trend at the moment to ignore the ‘YA’ label on some books and read them unashamedly. And thinking back over some of the books I’ve mentioned, they have some pretty dark and complex themes which you can’t say should be restricted to children. Harry Potter is basically a story of a racist psychopath trying to take over the world (lots of parallels with Nazism here); His Dark Materials could generate so much religious debate I don’t even know where to start; and Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy revolves around necromancy and journeys into the underworld. All pretty serious stuff really, even if it is veiled by fantasy.

So if you have some free time this week, why not open up a book from your own childhood and take a trip down memory lane? You never know, it might bring back those feelings that made you love reading in the first place…

Next week: The present day – which are the best books of the past ten years?

Sara Magness, Editorial Administrator

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