What Is a Choose Your Own Adventure Book?

Choose Your Own Adventure books are a series of super popular book titles meant for kids. They were originally published between 1979 and 1998, but are enjoying a comeback in online versions as well as reprinted editions of the original texts. During the original run, Choose Your Own Adventure books sold well over 250 million copies and were translated into dozens of languages.

If you were a child of the 70s or 80s, you probably read Choose Your Own Adventure books with the same fanaticism that kids today reserve for Harry Potter. With 185 titles in the original series (and hundreds more in spin off series from Disney and other producers) there are plenty of adventures for kids to choose from.

How Do Choose Your Own Adventure Books Work?

These books are all written in the second person, meaning the reader takes on the part of the protagonist. Second person is a rarity in literature, so Choose Your Own Adventure books occupy a special spot in the world of books. Starting at the first page, the reader learns a basic storyline and starts making choices, which send the reader to a different page. Most CYOA books offer more than one “correct” path, with multiple bad endings thrown in for intrigue. During the course of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the character may get lost, kidnapped, murdered, etc. — not events that most parents would allow their kids to read about these days.

Choose Your Own Adventure: A Brief History

Edward Packard was a busy man in the 60s, juggling a publishing career with the raising of his kids, trying to keep them entertained with wild bedtime stories. Sometime in 1969, Packard wrote a simple story called Sugarcane Island and attempted to have it published. All the major children’s book publishers rejected the book, and it wasn’t until 1976 that Packard approached the right publisher, a small imprint named Vermont Crossroads Press. Luckily for Packard (and millions of CYOA fans around the world), Vermont Crossroads was an innovative publisher that didn’t shy away from his project. It just so happened that the founder of that press had already written a few second person role playing stories for educational institutes, and saw the potential for Packard’s stories in that format.

The first name for Choose Your Own Adventure was the far less catchy “The Adventures of You.” Original ideas are not common in publishing, especially in children’s publishing, and it is probably the sheer uniqueness of the CYOA books that led to their popularity.

Choose Your Own Adventure Titles

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Kids have very specific taste, and the producers of the Choose Your Adventure were masters of catering their titles to subjects that would look good to kids on bookshelves. Some of the titles have become classics, remembered more for the cover images (The Race Forever) or their weird titles (Your Code Name is Jonah) than anything between the covers. Here’s a sampling of Choose Your Own Adventure books’ titles.

  • The Cave of Time — This was the first ever Choose Your Own Adventure Book, and its popularity launched the series from obscure educational tool to mega-popular kids’ book series. The Cave of Time has lots of elements of fantasy, from the cave in question (which exists outside of time and space) to the groovy almost psychedelic cover art.
  • Survival at Sea — This title gave us two important “firsts” for the Choose Your Own Adventure books series. It was the first CYOA book to offer more than two possible possible tracks to victory, and also the first to include detailed charts and graphs rather than just straightforward narrative.
  • The Terrorist Trap — This CYOA book is noteworthy because it is one of just a handful of titles that aren’t being reprinted in the CYOA revival. The reason for the exclusion is obvious — America’s views on terrorism and even the word “terrorist” are vastly different from 1991, the year this title first appeared.

Alternative Choose Your Own Adventure Series

Because the original run of 185 Choose Your Own Adventure books were so popular it was natural for publishers to branch out and aim CYOA titles at other audiences.

  • Younger Readers — This series ran from 1981 – 1992, offering simpler story lines, primary color illustrations aimed at a younger set, and less traumatic negative endings.
  • Walt Disney Series — The CYOA Walt Disney Series are increasingly harder to find. These titles had something to do with the world of Disney, with titles like Cinderella’s Magic Adventure and Peter Pan in Neverland.
  • Super Adventure — Though only two “Super Adventure” titles were ever released (Journey to the Year 3000, and Danger Zones), they are a favorite among the Choose Your Own Adventure books fanatics.
  • Choose Your Own Nightmare — Towards the end of the original run of CYOA books, the publisher tried to capitalize on the popularity of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series by combining the two. Stine himself had nothing to do with this series, instead releasing his own line of CYOA style Goosebumps books called Give Yourself Goosebumps.

The Future of Choose Your Own Adventure

A company called Chooseco is already publishing new versions of classic CYOA titles with revamped graphics and cover packages, but that’s not the end for innovation with this series. Online versions of several books are playable for free at CYOA.com. DVD versions of the books are available (with voice talent like Frankie Muniz and William H. Macy) and the CYOA series has even spread to the Kindle — instead of flipping pages to continue the adventure, readers click links.

Because CYOA had a big impact on kids growing up in the 70s though the 90s, as those kids start producing art and creative material of their own, the impact of CYOA is being felt. Several recent new books have indicated a debt to Choose Your Own Adventure, the series turns up every now and again in standup comedy routines, and you could argue that CYOA influenced video game creators and still continues to do so.

The impact of Choose Your Own Adventure can’t be overestimated. So many millions of these books exist, both in new and used formats, and in so many languages that you’d be hard pressed to come up with a book series that had as much success during the time period of the original series.