The decade began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, and it was a relatively prosperous decade, compared to the others around it.  However, the ’90s weren’t completely peaceful.  The United States entered the First Gulf War early in the decade.  Part of that war was Operation Desert Storm, which was to free Kuwait from Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded and took control.  Bill Clinton’s presidency was rocked by scandal, and former football player OJ Simpson was put on trial for the murder of his ex-wife (and found not guilty, although members of the public continued to question this verdict).  Princess Diana of the United Kingdom was killed in a car accident, leaving behind two young sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.

Technological developments led to the rise of the Information Age with the development of the World Wide Web.  Home computers were much more common, and for those who didn’t have one at home, they were readily available at schools or public libraries, increasingly with Internet access.  Much of was available on the Web wasn’t as well-produced as today and teachers wouldn’t always allow Internet sources to be used in writing reports for school (there wasn’t as much useful information available online anyway), at least not as the only source, but more and more teachers began teaching their students how to use the Internet and how to document sources they found online (although they had to make up their own form for documenting online information because the established systems that were used for citing sources didn’t have a format for internet sources yet, that continued even into the early 2000s).  As the decade went on, the quality and quantity of information on the Internet improved (although quite a lot of false information also found its way to the Internet as well, which was why teachers urged students to supplement Internet sources with print ones).

Merchants began eagerly embracing the Internet as a way to market products to customers they could not reach before, and they created websites where you could look at products and order them to be sent directly to your house, like electronic versions of the old mail-order catalogs.  Private individuals also began creating websites for their own interests, everything from joke lists to fan sites about their favorite tv shows.  Individuals started getting their own e-mail addresses so they could send messages either for work or just for fun to family and friends.  Some amateur websites were known for being poorly designed or ludicrously designed with too many flashing colors or weird sound effects that would put in just for the sake of showing that the people who designed them could do that.

Some people owned cell phones, but not many. They were large, clunky, and expensive, especially compared to later models, which also included more features than just the ability to make phone calls.  DVDs began replacing VHS tapes as the format for home movies, and CDs replaced the cassette tapes people used for music during the previous decade.  Many people had portable CD players so they could listen to music on the go.  Some people began buying digital cameras instead of the film cameras that people used before.

Video games for home systems were becoming ever more popular, and companies competed with each other for people’s money.  Each video game system had series of games with their favorite proprietary characters: Nintendo had the Mario games, Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog, etc.  People had their favorite games and systems.  The quality and variety of games improved throughout the decade, especially in terms of graphic styles (1980s games had very simple graphics).  Many kids owned hand-held gaming systems like the Nintendo Game Boy and other electronic toys (and those who didn’t have them really wanted them).  Parents often worried that their children were playing too many video games as well as watching too much tv.

In children’s literature, horror and scary stories were particularly popular early in the decade, especially the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine.

The first of the Harry Potter books was published in 1997.  They were wildly popular, and the Harry Potter series was credited for helping to get children excited about reading as they eagerly waited for new installments of the series, sometimes lining up at midnight parties at bookstores so they could be among the first to get a copy of a new book.  Some people praised the complexity of the stories, which tackled dark themes like death, corruption, prejudice, and the ability to do the right thing in desperate circumstances, but some parents argued that they encouraged an unhealthy interest in fantasy and the occult.  For the late ’90s and into the 2000s, other fantasy series also became very popular.

For more about 1990s culture:

The People History — 1990s

Thoughtco — Timeline of the 1990s

Wikipedia — 1990s

Lists of 1990s children’s books:

25 books that will take every Nineties kid straight back to their childhood

29 Books Every ’90s Kid Will Immediately Recognize

Classic Children’s Books By The Decade: 1990s

Goodreads — 90s Kids

Fiction Books

General Fiction

Eleven Kids, One Summer

A large family spends their summer at an island vacation home meeting movie stars and investigating the creepy house next door.  It’s a collection of short stories, one for each child in the family.  By Ann M. Martin.


The Best School Year Ever

When the students are asked to list good qualities about their classmates, what will Beth find to say about Imogene Herdman?  After everything she and her wild siblings have done, it’s no easy task!  But, perhaps, there is more to Imogene than just being, well, a Herdman.  By Barbara Robinson.

The D- Poems of Jeremy Bloom

After Jeremy accidentally signs up for poetry class instead of pottery, he spends the entire year annoying his teacher and becoming the world’s best D- poet.  By Gordon Korman.


Basil in the Wild West

After leaving Mexico, Basil and his best friend Dr. Dawson journey north into the western territories of the United States.  There, they investigate smuggled antiquities from Mexico and a strange, glowing Thing haunting a hotel.

Cousins in the Castle

An orphan girl in the 1800s, Amelia, goes to live with distant relatives and finds herself pursued by a strange group of sinister characters, unsure of who to trust.  By Barbara Brooks Wallace.

The Mystery on October Road

A girl and her friends investigate the mysterious man who moved in next door, who keeps to himself and whose face is always covered by a bandana.  By Alison Cragin Herzig and Jane Lawrence Mali.

Mystery on Taboga Island

Amy goes to Taboga Island, off the coast of Panama, with her aunt for the summer and finds a mystery involving a lost painting.

Our Teacher Is Missing

When her teacher mysteriously disappears, Eliza feels like she is the only one who cares and investigates with the help of some friends.  By Mary Frances Shura.

The Vandemark Mummy

A brother and sister move to Maine with their father, where he is put in charge of a collection of Egyptian artifacts at a small college. They are soon confronted with a mystery concerning the mummy in the collection.

Wrapped in a Riddle

A girl staying with her grandmother at her bed-and-breakfast investigates the theft of letters written by Mark Twain.


The Battle for the Castle

The sequel to The Castle in the Attic.  William introduces his best friend to the secret of the castle and the two have an adventure that demonstrates the difference between bravery and foolhardiness.

The Dragon Charmer

Elynne Danneby is afraid of dragons, which is a shame because her family makes its living by dragon charming.  When thieves steal a dragon egg, Lynnie conquers her fears in order to get it back.  By Douglas Hill.

A Plague of Sorcerers and Journeyman Wizard

Jermyn Graves is studying magic, but he is an unusual wizard with a skunk for a familiar.  With the help of his familiar and his teacher, he solves magical mysteries.  By Mary Frances Zambreno.

The Secret of Roan Inish

Fiona leaves the big city to return to the seaside to live with her grandparents, hoping that they might once more live on the island their family has called home for generations and hoping to find her lost little brother, who was apparently washed out to sea the day their family left, but who may actually be alive on the island in the care of the seals that live there. By Rosalie Fry.

I have the movie-tie in version, which was printed much later, but it contains the text of the original book, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry (Child of the Western Isles), which was originally published in 1959.  Copies of the original book are very expensive collectors’ items.  However, there is good news: it’s coming back into print in October (and on Kindle!), so if you’re nostalgic or just curious, you will be able to get a copy easily then!

The Wizard’s Apprentice

Aaron, a teenage boy in Hollywood, California, is recruited to become a wizard’s apprentice.  While learning magic, he also becomes reconciled to his parents’ divorce.

A Wizard’s Dozen

A collection of fantasy stories by different authors.

Historical Fiction

In the Kaiser’s Clutch

A pair of twins star in a silent movie serial during World War I and learn that their father’s death was due to war-related sabotage, not an accident.

The Keeping Room

The son of a colonel in the revolutionary army during the American Revolution becomes the man of his family when his father is captured.  With British soldiers occupying his family’s house, young Joey does what he can to keep his family safe.

A Long Way from Chicago

Short stories about the adventures a brother and sister have with their grandmother in the rural Midwest during the Great Depression.  Hysterical!  By Richard Peck.

The Night Crossing

A World War II story, set in occupied Austria.  A Jewish family realizes that they must flee their home in Austria to escape the Nazis.

Picture Books

Black and White

This picture book contains four stories which are all being told at once, but they are connected to each other, and readers are invited to spot the connections.  By David Macaulay.

Thunder Cake

A girl talks about how her grandmother, who she likes to call “Babushka” because she originally came from Russia, cured her of her fear of storms by teaching her to make a special kind of cake, Thunder Cake.  By Patricia Polacco.

Fiction Series

American Girls Books

A collection of different series of books, each focusing on a girl from a different period of American history. 1986-Present.

Aviva Granger Stories

About a girl whose parents are divorced and the changes in her family.  By Jeanne Betancourt. 1983-1990.

Cranberry Books

Maggie, her grandmother, and Mr. Whiskers the sailor have adventures in the small town of Cranberryport.  By Wende and Harry Devlin. 1971-1995.

Crazy Cousin Courtney Series

The hilarious escapades of Cathy and her crazy cousin Courtney in New York and California. By Judi Miller. 1993-1997.

Double Trouble Series

The antics of a pair of twins who have a tendency to switch places.  By Michael J. Pellowski. 1986-1998.

Eagle-Eye Ernie

About a girl in elementary school who solves mysteries with the help of her friends, who call themselves The Martians.  By Susan Pearson. 1990-1991.

Flee Jay and Clarice Mysteries

About a girl who wants to be a detective and her genius younger sister.  By Carol Farley. 1986-1991.

Fudge Series

Peter Hatcher tells humorous stories about his little brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher, who everyone calls Fudge.

Grandma’s Attic Series

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.

Hawthorn Bay Trilogy

This is a very loose trilogy that takes place mainly in Canada, at a place called Hawthorn Bay on Lake Ontario, at various periods in history.  It’s partly an historical series and partly fantasy because some of it involves fantasy elements like ESP and time travel.

Hardy Boys Mysteries

Two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, solve mysteries in their East Coast town of Bayport and around the world. By Franklin W. Dixon, A Stratemeyer Syndicate series. 1927-Present.

The Kids From Kennedy Middle School

This series is about the kids who attend Kennedy Middle School, their friendships and rivalries, and the pressures that kids encounter from school, classmates, and parents.

The Kids of the Polk Street School

About the children in Ms. Rooney’s second grade class, their friendships, rivalries, school issues, and special occasions.  By Patricia Reilly Giff. 1984-1991.

MacDonald Hall Series

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.

The Magic School Bus Series

An educational series.  Ms. Frizzle takes her students on impossible field trips in a magic school bus to teach them science lessons. 1986-Present.

Mandie Books

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 who finds a new life with relatives she had never met.  By Lois Gladys Leppard.  1983-2004.

Mary Rose and Jo-Beth Mysteries

About a pair of sisters who live in Indiana and have adventures on road trips with their father. Written by Eth Clifford. 1979-1993.

Meg Mackintosh Mysteries

Meg Mackintosh is a girl who likes to solve mysteries. The interesting thing about this series is that the books are designed so that the readers can attempt to solve the mysteries along with Meg, using the pictures provided and other clues.  By Lucinda Landon. 1986-2013.

Nancy Drew Mysteries

Nancy Drew encounters and solves mysteries with her friends in her hometown of River Heights and around the world. By Carolyn Keene, A Stratemeyer Syndicate series. 1930-Present.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Series

This series is about two best friends, elementary school students Polly Butterman and Jillian Matthews, better known as Peanut and Jilly. 1988-1991.

The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks Series

Michael and his brother Norman grow a pair of sock-eating plants.  By Nancy McArthur. 1988-1999.

Polka Dot Private Eye

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.

The Samurai Detective Series

The adopted son of a famous judge helps him to solve mysteries in feudal Japan.  Not a series for young children!  By Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. 1999-2014.

Sarah Capshaw Mysteries

About a girl who wants to be a detective and her two friends.  They investigate spooky mysteries in a small town in Pennsylvania. By Drew Stevenson. 1991-1996.

Sleepover Friends

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.

Something Queer Mysteries

“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.

Stardust Classics

This is actually a collection of fantasy series about different girls: the princess of a fairy-tale kingdom, a fairy, and a girl who travels through time with her aunt.  The format is similar to the American Girls history series, and there were dolls associated with it. 1997-2001.

Star Trek Starfleet Academy

Based on the Star Trek television series.  Focuses on Spock, McCoy, and Kirk during their Academy years.  Written by different authors. 1996.

Strega Nona Series

Strega Nona is a witch in a small town. Big Anthony is an assistant that she hired to help her with chores but sometimes messes up because he doesn’t know what he’s doing or doesn’t listen to what Strega Nona says. 1975-2013.

Third Grade Ghosthunters

A group of third graders investigates strange phenomena and possible ghosts, including one at their school.  By Grace Maccarone. 1984-1990.

Wayside School Series

Short funny stories about a school that was accidentally built sideways.  Nothing normal ever happens at Wayside School!  By Louis Sachar. 1978-1995.


Kate Waters Books

Kate Waters is the author of a series focusing on historical reenactors, showing them acting out the lives of real children who lived in Colonial America.