Things I Miss: Choose Your Own Adventure books

It wasn’t until late last month when we had our work hackathon and a lady already in the elevator saw the balloon letters reading “HACKATHON” that I remembered that ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books existed, and were one of my favourite “genres” of books to read.

She asked if we were able to make a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ game integrated with Google Maps. I thought about it as Nick and I were walking to lunch and I realised that, if done well, it could be a genius idea that would get people to maybe discover lesser known restaurants, or pretty areas in their hometown, or even randomly explore some exotic town in Europe.

But it also got me thinking about my little collection of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, and how I would often read some over and over again just to get a different adventure each time. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept (I was surprised that Nick hadn’t even come across them), it was invented by Edward Packard. He came up with the idea when he told his daughters bedtime stories and they had many different ideas for paths the protagonist could take.

Choose Your Own Adventure books
Choose Your Own Adventure books

I don’t own any of the books anymore, but above is a photograph of what the front covers looked like.

In ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, which are written in second person, you are the character in the story. As you read, at the bottom of each page, you are prompted to choose between two or three options, and turn to a specific page to continue the story. There is actually a Wikipedia article with a list of all the books in the series. I cannot remember how many I owned but I had at least thirty. Turns out at least 200 different titles in the series were printed.

This is an example I just made up, of what a page in one of these books might be like.

You begin walking up the marble steps cautiously, your flashlight lighting the way. You take some time to look at the specimens in the cabinets along the side wall. You come across a glass cabinet with a giant sparkly gem in it. It’s impossible not to notice – it’s obviously a transparent gem, but in the dim light and against the reflection of the glass, it is a bit hard to tell.

To take a closer look at the gem, turn to page 42.
To continue exploring the rest of the museum, turn to page 16.

This was often very interesting for children to read because it was a deviation on the classic adventure book and meant that you didn’t have to read the book in its entirety, because you didn’t have to turn page after page in the traditional way. What kid doesn’t love choosing how their story pans out? Turning the pages was like an adventure in itself!

Every page – usually after the first few introductory pages – would encourage the reader to make a decision at the end. Sometimes those decisions could lead you down a path of danger, and other decisions would mean that everything goes swimmingly, and you might even get a happy ending.

A lot of the time, even though I ended up with a happy ending, I would go back and find the page I was on, then make the opposite choice, just to see what would happen. I am sure all curious children would want to know where the other path goes.

The funniest part was reaching a bad situation or a bad ending, and deciding, “Oh, I’ve changed my mind!” then going back and choosing a different route, as if to undo the bad decision. I remember one story in particular where I didn’t like the ending I had, because I wound up lost in a forest. I decided to go back and see what happened had I chose something else, and it was also a crappy ending of having a snake strangle me to death. Oh dear.

You could usually read the blurb on the back of the book to get an idea of what the story might be like, and even gauge what kind of endings were possible. “Will you find the lost treasure, or will you end up caught in the sewer tunnels beneath the museum forever?” It was blurbs like this that made me so desperately want to – you know – get the lost treasure.

I think Wikipedia sums up every kid’s experience well:

This allows for a realistic sense of unpredictability, and leads to the possibility of repeat readings, which is one of the distinguishing features of the books.

I guess that is why I enjoyed reading these books over and over, trying to get a different story each time, and trying to see how many possible endings I could find. I have long since given away my ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, but if I did come across one in the future, there is no doubt I would spend some time there flicking through it and following a new adventure with a dorky smile on my face.

Photograph from A Writer’s Desk.

NB: I left my previous job not long ago. A retelling of events in the near future may or may not be imminent. I also know I was supposed to do A Day in the Life today but due to unforeseen circumstances I will be posting tomorrow instead.

Comments on this post

I remember having these books as a kid. But, not just these books, books by R.L.Stine! He did a similar version but it was for his “Goosebumps” series. I’m not sure who came up with the idea first. But who ever did is brilliant.

I rarely see children nowadays reading anymore :(. It’s all due to the evolution of Smart-Phones and iPads. etc.

OMG I had a couple of these books, but like Jamie said, not these particular ones, but the Goosebumps series. I used to dog ear-mark some pages if I thought I might make a different decision. But then I’d ear-mark too many and end up getting confused about where I had previously been hahahaa. There were some horrific endings in one of the books I had…. Set in Hawaii with a volcano or something. So weird…