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.
For more about 1980s culture:
Lists of 1980s children’s books:
A boy finds a book at the library that promises to teach him to be a perfect person in only three days. By Stephen Manes.
A girl is kidnapped along with the three children she is babysitting.
A group of scouts camping near a boarding house get involved in a mystery concerning a stolen Egyptian relic. By Pat Hutchins.
Laura and Bill are visiting their Uncle Joe, who is the caretaker of a large hotel in New Hampshire. The hotel is closed for the winter, but the children investigate the ghost who supposedly haunts it and may have their uncle under her spell. By Janet Adele Bloss.
A humorous adventure story where a group of British school children track down a famous stolen painting. By Pat Hutchins.
A girl who has recently lost her vision struggles to find the people who are sabotaging the camp for disabled children where she has been learning to cope with her new blindness.
When Brian visits his pen pal in Hawaii for the summer, he confronts a ghostly mystery based on Hawaiian legends. By Janet Lorimer.
An orphan girl arrives at her aunt and uncle’s house only to learn that it has been taken over by a cruel woman and turned into a retirement home that is cruel to the occupants. Her aunt is treated as a virtual slave and her uncle has mysteriously disappeared. By Barbara Brooks Wallace.
A girl takes a part-time job helping a woman move into an old house where mysterious things are happening.
William learns that the toy castle given to him by his nanny is magic and that a magic token has the power to shrink people small enough to enter it. The sequel is The Battle for the Castle.
A fairy’s wish at a young princess’s christening ensures that she will be an ordinary, imperfect girl instead of the perfect princess that her parents were expecting, but what others think of as a misfortune turns out to be a blessing. By M. M. Kaye.
A girl falls asleep on her school bus and has a fantastic dream, only it turns out to be more than just a dream. Jennifer learns that she has been adopted by a king only to be used as tribute to an evil enchantress. She struggles to find the key to breaking the enchantress’s spells and saving not only herself but the six princesses who went before her. By Nick Sullivan.
Audrey and her younger brother Nathan are having a picnic when they accidentally unearth an old pocket watch that transports them back in time to the Revolutionary War.
A boy journeys to a far-off city and discovers his destiny as an ancient legend is fulfilled. By Maeve Henry.
During World War II, in occupied Denmark, a family risks everything to help their Jewish friends escape. By Lois Lowry.
A Jewish girl and her sisters deal with growing up in a new country after her family flees World War II Germany and resettles in the United States.
The book is largely pictures, each one themed on animals starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Readers are invited to notice the details in the pictures, finding all of the things that start with that page’s letter of the alphabet, and the author himself, who is somewhere on each page. By Graeme Base.
A picture book with hidden clues, codes, and puzzles. Can you find the thief who stole the feast from Horace the elephant’s birthday party? By Graeme Base.
About a girl whose parents are divorced and the changes in her family. By Jeanne Betancourt. 1983-1990.
The everyday adventures of a group of neighborhood children. By Carolyn Haywood. 1939-1986.
A group of dissidents sent into exile on an alien world struggle to survive and join with others to rebel against Earth’s oppressive government.
Maggie, her grandmother, and Mr. Whiskers the sailor have adventures in the small town of Cranberryport. By Wende and Harry Devlin. 1971-1995.
A spooky little series of stories about different children and the monster stories they invent and tell each other. It’s fun to be scared! By Rose Impey. 1988-2004.
The antics of a pair of twins who have a tendency to switch places. By Michael J. Pellowski. 1986-1998.
About a girl who wants to be a detective and her genius younger sister. By Carol Farley. 1986-1991.
A granddaughter passes on stories that her grandmother told her about growing up on a farm in Michigan during the 1800s. The stories often have a Christian moral. By Arleta Richardson. 1974-1991.
About the children in Ms. Rooney’s second grade class, their friendships, rivalries, school issues, and special occasions. By Patricia Reilly Giff. 1984-1991.
About three siblings who solve mysteries together. Many of them are treasure hunts. By Peggy Parish. 1966-1986.
Also called the Bruno and Boots series. Bruno and Boots are a pair of pranksters at a boarding school in Canada. By Gordon Korman. 1978-1995.
A historical mystery series with Christian themes that takes place in turn-of-the-century South Carolina. Amanda Shaw is an orphan with a mysterious past but who finds a new life with relatives she had never met. By Lois Gladys Leppard. 1983-2004.
About a pair of sisters who live in Indiana and have adventures on road trips with their father. Written by Eth Clifford. 1979-1993.
J. Huntley English is a boy genius who also happens to believe in monsters and wants to find real ones. With his friends, he investigates strange phenomena and odd people in their small town in Pennsylvania. 1984-1988.
A series of mysteries with The Kids of the Polk Street School. Dawn uses her Polka Dot Private Eye detective kit to solve mysteries with her friends and classmates. By Patricia Reilly Giff. 1987-1990.
Four friends, Kate, Stephanie, Lauren, and Patti, love to have sleepovers. They also help each other through common problems that preteen girls face and have adventures in their small town. By Susan Saunders. 1987-1991.
“Queer” as in strange, weird, mysterious. No other sense of the word! Two friends, Gwen and Jill, solve mysteries with the help of Jill’s dog, Fletcher, who loves salami. By Elizabeth Levy. 1973-2003.
A group of third graders investigates strange phenomena and possible ghosts, including one at their school. By Grace Maccarone. 1984-1990.
A classic mystery series featuring a girl and her group of friends who solve mysteries and support good causes. Created by Julie Campbell and continued by other authors. 1948-1986.
Short funny stories about a school that was accidentally built sideways. Nothing normal ever happens at Wayside School! By Louis Sachar. 1978-1995.
This book explains Christmas customs in various countries around the world.