A Little History

The 1980s had a number of disasters, including the Iran-Contra affair, the Challenger Disaster, and the Chernobyl meltdown.  At the beginning of the decade, there was little indication that the Cold War situation would change soon, although things would be very different by the end of the decade.

In the United States, the ’80s became known as a materialistic decade.  Society in the United States was much more conservative than it was in the previous decades, and yuppies, a generation of wealthy young professionals (“yuppies” comes from the abbreviation Young Urban Professional) had more buying power, leading to increased consumerism.  However, not everyone experienced this prosperity, and there were hints that even the yuppies were feeling unfulfilled, not happy or completely satisfied with their success.

Culturally, bright colors and neon clothing were in fashion.  Cable television was popular, and MTV was especially popular, showing music videos.  Hard rock, heavy metal, techno, and pop music were popular, with stars like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper.  A number of iconic movies were made in this decade, including the Back to the Future trilogy, the Breakfast Club, E.T., two of the original Star Wars trilogy movies, and the first three Indiana Jones movies.  There were also a number of well-known tv series in the ’80s.  More homes also had VCRs, allowing people to watch movies whenever they wanted or record their favorite tv shows to watch later at their convenience.  People who didn’t own their own VCR yet could rent them from video rental stores along with movies to watch.  Parents sometimes worried that their children were watching too much tv.

Kids in the 1980s had an abundance of cartoons to watch on tv and a wide range of toys, including many based on popular tv shows and cartoon characters.  Toward the end of the decade, it was becoming more common for homes to have computers, and kids were playing video and computer games at home, not just in arcades.  Children had classes in school that taught them basic computer skills, such as typing, using word processors, and some basic graphic design.  The level of skills they acquired depended a lot on the individual students, their schools, and what type of equipment they had.  As a child of the ’80s, I can tell you that Apple computers were popular, and when teachers allowed us free time to play computer games, many of us were playing The Oregon Trail, although it was originally created a decade earlier.

The decade ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Fiction Books

General Fiction




Science Fiction

Historical Fiction

Picture Books


Christmas Around the World

This book explains Christmas customs in various countries around the world.

How to Haunt a House for Halloween

This book was written by a magician to provide tips for setting up a haunted house for a party, either in your house with friends or in a more public setting, like a school, camp, or church party or carnival.

Medieval Holidays and Festivals

This book explains the holidays that people celebrated in Medieval times and how these holidays would have been celebrated, along with some special information about Medieval feasts.

Prayers at Eastertime

A cute picture book with prayers for different occasions, although some are specifically for spring and Easter.

Interesting Facts

Children born in this decade in the United States:

None of them would remember a time before space flight.  Those born in the earliest part of the decade might have some memory of the Challenger disaster of 1986, but may not have fully understood what was happening at the time.  (A friend of mine born in 1982 specifically remembers being surprised the first time that he saw a successful shuttle launch on tv as a child because the Challenger was the very first launch he had ever seen and it had left him with the impression that launches were always accompanied by an explosion.)

Would be the last children born before the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  Those born in the early part of the decade (including yours truly) would have some memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall and associated events, although, being young, would not fully understand the significance until later.  Children born later in the decade would have little or no memory of that time.

In their early years, they would be taught in school to beware of strangers and made aware of the existence of dangerous individuals around them.  There were stories of Halloween sadism during the 1980s (along with scares that occurred during the 1970s), and their teachers and parents carefully taught them never to accept unwrapped Halloween treats or any food from anyone they didn’t know.  Some parents in the 1980s took extra measures in case their children were kidnapped and murdered, such as having their children fingerprinted through the local police in case their bodies had to be identified later.  It is important to note that many people thought that such measures were paranoid and unnecessary, yet the practices did continue through the following decades to the present day.

They were among the first to start using the Internet and e-mail while still in school.  Touch typing lessons for computer keyboards would be common lessons for them.  They all (or almost all) grew up playing with electronic toys, and computer games were popular.  Throughout their lives, they would become comfortable with a variety of new technologies, seeing rapid technological changes beginning early in their lives such as:

  • from cassette tapes to cds to music purchased electronically with no physical copies
  • from vhs tapes to dvds to movies and television streamed online
  • from floppy disks of various sizes to cds of computer games and software to downloads and updates for computer programs managed entirely through the Internet
  • from corded phones to cordless phones to cell phones to smart phones that do far more than just make phone calls

They were taught to write in cursive when they were in elementary school, but they used it less as computers became more popular for doing homework.  In the lower grades, some of our teachers insisted that we write reports by hand, in pen, using cursive, but by high school, it was more common for teachers to insisted on typed reports and that students maintain saved copies of their work in case assignments were misplaced.  As adults, some of them had difficulty remembering exactly how to write in cursive.  Some of them also had trouble deciphering others’ cursive writing, not just because the handwriting was sloppy, but because they were out of the habit.  Children born in the 1990s and later were less frequently taught cursive writing in the first place.

All of them would have been old enough to understand and remember the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.  Most them would have still been students themselves at the time.  The Columbine students themselves would be in this group.  Age range on that date: to 19 to 9 (turning 10 later in the year) years old.  Shootings, violence, and terror would unfortunately be major factors in their later lives and the world around them.  Because of modern methods of sharing information, they would frequently see video recordings of violent events and hear or read commentary about them from a variety of sources.

Those born in the early part of the decade would become adults around the turn of the new millennium, graduating from high school or entering college.  The youngest children born in the 1980s would be close to finishing elementary school around that time.

All children born in this decade would be old enough to understand the events of September 11, 2001 at the time it happened and remember them forever after.  Most of them would still be in school or attending college at the time, with the possible exception of some of those born in the earliest years of the decade.  Age range on that date: 21 to 11 (almost 12) years old.  This incident (combined with Columbine and later shootings and acts of terror) would make them increasingly aware that violent, unpredictable people are always present and that any of them could be killed in similar incidents.  Being young would be no protection.  Most would consider the risks minimal and go about their normal lives, but the knowledge would always be there, along with the understanding that going about normal lives always involves a certain amount of risk.

The Great Recession of the early 2000s would have hit around the time that many of them were looking for their first jobs (particularly those who went to college), making it difficult for them to get a start in life.

None of them would have lived during a time when schools were segregated.  (At least, not official segregation, which would be illegal long before they were born.  Economic, not specifically racial segregation, would have more of a bearing on the makeup of their schools, although some racial segregation may have occurred as a by-product of economics in some of their schools. It would vary by region and social class.)  None of them would live during a time when there were separate bathrooms or drinking fountains for different races in the United States or when people of different races weren’t allowed into certain restaurants or other public places.  Almost all (with a few odd exceptions) 1980s children would find such concepts repulsive later in life.  Racial makeup of churches and other religious institutions would vary by religion and region.

Other Resources

For more about 1980s culture:

The People History — 1980s

Retrowaste — The 1980s

Wikipedia — 1980s

Lists of 1980s children’s books on other sites:

Classic Children’s Books By The Decade: 1980s

Wikipedia — 1980s children’s books

Cliquey Pizza 80’s Books A-Z Guide

This site particularly focuses on girls’ series books.