Here’s the real story behind the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books

In the 1980s, the Choose Your Own Adventure book series was all the rage with kids. From Journey Under the Sea to Your Code Name is Jonah, The Abominable Snowman, and Deadwood City, each novel was a “playbook” in which the reader would make choices throughout the story that would lead to something else would ways and outcomes. Forty years later, the series is still selling a million copies a year. Leslie Jamison explores the history and power of these quaint yet enchanting “interactive” books in The New Yorker:

The story of Choose Your Own Adventure is largely the story of two men: Edward Packard, a lawyer who came up with the concept while telling his two daughters bedtime stories (who sometimes wanted the protagonist to do different things), and RA (Ray) Montgomery, an independent publisher who brought out Packard’s first book in 1976 after all the major houses had rejected it. Each of them eventually wrote nearly sixty titles in the series[…]

When his daughters were little, Packard would tell them bedtime stories about a boy named Pete, a literary alter ego of [daughter] Andrew. (Pete was also the name of a friend she had a crush on, but she believes the character’s creation had more to do with her suspicions that boys had more freedom in the world.) At key points in the story, Packard asked his daughters what they thought Pete should do next, and when they gave different answers, he played through both possibilities. Packard remembers this innovation as a function of necessity — “If I had been a better storyteller, we never would have gotten the form… I would have been stumped and asked the girls what should happen next” — but Andrea remembers it as an example his generosity. He wanted to give each girl their own end, just as he was always meticulously fair in the distribution of snacks, compliments, and attention.

Andrea remembers bedtime stories with her father as sacred—that was the time the kids were allowed to be with him, after his long work days at a Manhattan law firm and his long train rides back to their home in the suburbs of Connecticut. Eventually, Packard began using these commutes to turn his bedtime stories into his first book, Sugarcane Island, a branching tale of Pete’s adventures on a remote island. Working on the manuscript offered Packard an escape from his legal career, which he found largely unsatisfactory.

Image: Ben__Stevens/Shutterstock

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