This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Boarding school pranks, midnight feasts, crime solving kids, equine competitions and half-human, half-plant hybrids living in the basement. Long before Twilight and The Hunger Games dominated the market, and before we had the internet to distract us after school, these were just some of the storylines that kept us up late at night with a torch under the duvet.
From Malory Towers to Goosebumps and Judy Blume in between, join us as we pay homage to 25 book series we loved as kids and teens.
1. Malory Towers by Enid Blyton
While the first book of the Malory Towers series was published in 1946, girls of all ages have delighted in them for generations. Perhaps the most iconic of all boarding school stories, we grew up with Darrell and friends as they competed in hockey matches, crept out of their dormitories for midnight feasts by the rock pool and played tricks on the poor French mesdemoiselles. Oh, how we longed to be one of the gang with a trunk of our very own to pack before term started. We might have circled boarding schools in the Yellow Pages once or twice too, in an effort to drop hints to our parents.
2. St. Clare’s by Enid Blyton
Another boarding school, which pre-dated Malory Towers, the St. Clare’s series consisted of nine books absolutely brimming with madcap schemes, pranks, games and 1940s jollity. We followed twins Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan, hot-tempered Janet, steady head girl Hilary and mischievous Bobby all the way from their first form to fifth, and might have wept a little when we discovered the series ended there rather abruptly.
3. Judy Blume books
Okay, so Judy Blume’s books can’t really be classed as a series, but we devoured them as though they were. From our very first battered paperback, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, we were hooked on Blume’s honesty and respect for her readers, as well as storylines and characters that we could really relate to. She wrote about buying your first bra, periods, dealing with the divorce of your parents and bullying with such wit and warmth, you always felt as though you had a friend in her books, no matter what you were going through. Also, we all have a copy of Forever that falls open at the precise moment Katherine is introduced to her boyfriend Michael's penis, which he calls Ralph, right?
4. Flambards by K. M. Peyton
When Christina was sent to live with her bad-tempered uncle in his decaying country house, Flambards, we were besotted with her tales of rural country life, horse riding and early aviation. We were equally besotted with the three potential love interests of the series too; from cunning yet charming cousin Mark to his gentle, intelligent brother Will and Dick, the kindly and loyal groom. Team Jacob or Team Edward? Pfft. Team Will all the way.
5. Trebizon by Anne Digby
Yes, we were obsessed with boarding school series. You’ve got us. But Trebizon was slightly different in that it was a much more updated version of our old favourites, Malory Towers and St. Clare’s. The 14 book series focussed on Rebecca Mason, who joins Trebizon in the second year, a whole year later than her classmates. We loved how well that first book dealt with the terrifying ‘new girl’ experience and, by the second, were thoroughly invested in her friendships with Tish and Susan, as well as her burgeoning tennis career.
6. Goosebumps by R. L Stine
Did you ever feel so terrified while reading a Goosebumps novel, you threw it out of your bedroom window late at night in a fit of panic? We did. R. L. Stine’s spine tingling stories were completely addictive nonetheless. Each of the 62 titles focussed on a character who found themselves in a scary situation. Undead children, half-human, half-plant hybrids living in the basement and cursed mummies were just some of the plots we shivered through late at night.
7. Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal
They were ‘perfectly lovely California blondes with stunning size six figures, blue-green eyes and matching dimples’, but that was where the Sweet Valley High sisters’ similarities ended. There wasn’t a teenage girl around in the 80s and 90s who didn’t have a favourite Wakefield twin; whether it was outgoing, party-loving Jessica or sensible, down to earth Elizabeth (we modelled ourselves on high school newspaper editor Elizabeth, naturally). The franchise produced around 500 books – written by a team of ghostwriters under Francine Pascal’s watchful eye – and covered everything from teenage romance to stakers and serial killers. Not to mention all of the 80s prom fashion, mean girl schemes and beachside Californian glamour. Sheer gold. Good news SVH fans, there’s a film coming. Hunger Games who?
8. The Baby-sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
Another slice of nostalgia for children of the 80s, the fictional Baby-sitters Club was founded by Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill to provide a childcare service for local parents in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Not only did these books, which sold a whopping 170 million copies, make us long for the American teenage dream of softball, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Saturday shopping mall sessions, we relished in the the girls’ friendships and relatable drama too.
9. Point Horror by R. L. Stine
Oh, that R. L. Stine. How many times did we sit in Geography or Maths, bleary eyed from a sleepless night with one of these books? He isn’t called the Stephen King of children’s literature for nothing. We moved on to Point Horror after Goosebumps. Though the former was actually the latter’s predecessor, Point Horror was a much more hardcore series of children’s horror books, which took some working up to. Blind Date, Mirror Mirror, Funhouse, Final Exam … even the titles were enough to make our hair stand on end.
10. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S Lewis
A classic series that we must have read a dozen times throughout our childhood. Little did we know that, when we jumped into the pool in the enchanted forest with Digory and Polly in The Magician’s Nephew, a lifelong love affair with Narnia would begin. Mythical beasts (Mr. Tumnus), talking animals (Aslan), a white witch and four brave evacuees became our constant companions, and are still a favourite to this day.
11. Nancy Drew by Caroline Keene
An amatuer sleuth, Nancy Drew was the best kind of heroine. At sixteen, we know that she had studied psychology, was a fine painter, spoke French, could handle motor boats, was a skilled diver, an excellent shot, expert seamstress and gourmet cook. She played tennis and golf, rode like a cowboy and danced like Ginger Rogers. Even without her adventurous travels and detective skills, Nancy killed it as a teenage girl.
12. The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
Lashings of ginger beer, boiled eggs, jam tarts, meat pies and sardine sandwiches; the descriptions of food in the 21 Famous Five novels alone were enough to keep us turning the pages as we tucked into our fish fingers at the dinner table. Throw in treasure hunting, smugglers, mysterious moors and lots of suspicious goings on, we followed the adventures of Julian, Dick, George and Anne as faithfully as Timmy the dog.
13. Shoe Books by Noel Streatfeild
Based on the fictional story of three adopted sisters who are discovered by Matthew Brown, an elderly, absent-minded paleontologist and professor, during his world travels, and sent home to live with his great niece, Sylvia. When Great Uncle Matthew goes missing, however, the girls must take in boarders to make ends meet. What follows is a character rich celebration of unconventional families. Though the first book was written in the 1930s, it’s just as charming today.
14. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The story of an orphaned, chatty, red-headed 11-year-old girl sent to a remote farm by mistake, Anne of Green Gables was a raging success when it was released in 1908 and, a century later, is still loved by girls the world over.
15. Sweet Dreams by Various
This is what the young adult genre looked like in the 80s. Not a sparkly vampire in sight, just good, old-fashioned teen romance. There were 230 Sweet Dreams books in total, each of which focussed on high school drama and romance from first dates to real love. One of our favourite was P.S. I Love You, which features wannabe writer Mariah who is forced to spend her summer house-sitting with her mother in snobby Palm Springs. Rich boy next door Paul – with his sandy hair and piercing blue eyes – certainly made our summer a little sweeter. Dreamboat. What? Don’t act like you didn’t think the same thing back in the day.
16. First Love / Romance Silhouette
We were finally able to stop stealing our grandmothers’ Harlequin titles when Silhouette introduced First Romance, its series of teen romance books in the 80s. Chock full of drama, conflict and some seriously cheesy lines, we loved them all the same.
17. The Saddle Club by Bonnie Bryant
Following the adventures of best friends Carole Hanson, Stevie Lake and Lisa Atwood while indulging every girl’s fantasy of owning a horse, The Saddle Club centred on the three girls training for and competing in equestrian events. More than just a girly, horsey novel, however, we really grew to know and love the main characters through their individual family struggles and problems in their personal lives. P.S. We’re still waiting on that Arabian-Saddlebred mare like Belle, Santa.
18. The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton
The Secret Seven were pretty much like the Famous Five in their escapades, except they had an actual society. And, oh, how we longed to be members. The Secret Seven Society consisted of Peter, his sister Janet, and their friends Jack, Colin, George, Pam and Barbara. Although not an official member of the Secret Seven, Peter and Janet's spaniel Scamper also attended meetings, which were held in the shed with S.S written on the door. You could only enter if you knew the password and members had to wear their badges at all times. Did anyone else make themselves a Secret Seven member badge? No? Just us? We’ll get our coats.
19. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Admittedly, we tried to read this series a few times in childhood and failed miserably. Have you seen how thick those books are? When we finally got into the story and completed all four books in our teen years however (including The Hobbit), we were fans for life. To think that, from a tiny corner in his house on Northmoor Road in Oxford, Tolkien created a whole new world in Middle Earth and enduring characters such as Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, is still a little bit mind blowing.
20. What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
A series passed down from our grandmothers to our mothers and from our mothers to us, What Katy Did was actually written in 1872. This was followed by What Katy Did at School in 1873 and What Katy Did Next in 1886. The books follow the adventures of a twelve-year-old American girl, Katy Carr, and her family who live in a lakeside town in the 1860s. Katy is tall, untidy and tomboyish; she hates sewing, tears every dress she owns and is forever getting into scrapes (perhaps this is why we loved her so much). We won’t spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t read it, but it’s a firm favourite.
21. The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer
Yes, we realise we’ve already included several boarding school series in the list already, but this one is different. No, really! This school is located in the Austrian mountains (until it moves to Guernsey in 1939 following the Nazi Party’s rise to power, before finally settling in a house on the border of England and Wales). There were roughly 60 books featuring the usual boarding school hijinks, however, with pupils from all over Europe, Chalet School had a real focus on cultural exchange, which we loved.
22. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
We can remember debating whether or not to spend our precious pocket money on The Dark Is Rising one Saturday morning in a local bookshop. We’re so glad we did. The series depicts a struggle between forces of good and evil – called the Light and the Dark – and is based on Arthurian legends, Celtic and Norse mythology. With a teenage love of myths and legends, we couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
23. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Boxcar Children tells the story of four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, who create a home for themselves in an abandoned train car in the forest. The series saw the children taking to amateur sleuthing and solving various mysteries, but it was the idea that kids could live so independently that was fascinating to us when we were growing up. We might have tried it ourselves had we not been so attached to Saturday morning TV and Cheerios.
24. Fearless by Francine Pascal
Written by the very same Francine Pascal of Sweet Valley High fame, Fearless was a late 90s series, which focused on Gaia Moore, a seventeen-year-old girl who was incapable of feeling fear. Though Gaia tried her best to be just another high school teenager, the books followed her into various dangerous situations, vengeful encounters and mysteries that had to be solved.
25. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Sailing, camping and fishing, this gorgeous set of books captures wild childhood summers – spent scampering around the countryside – perfectly. John, Susan, Titty and Roger are staying at a farm in the Lake District. They sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow and, while out fishing, meet Nancy and Peggy, who sail a dinghy named Amazon. Together, the children join forces in a variety of summer holiday adventures, which will have you yearning for lakes, fresh fish and stories around the campfire.
Did you read any of these books when you were growing up? Have we missed your favourite? Tell us what you read under the covers every night in the comments below.