Penn State

Bernadette A. Lear - behavioral sciences and education librarian, Penn State Harrisburg

Book Title: Cave of Time

Author: Edward Packard

Book Description:

Auntie Mary Jane bought us books each Christmas, and being a voracious reader, I devoured my brother Tony’s as well as my own. Comparing Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown mysteries and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps horrors to Ann Martin’s The Babysitters Club and Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High, his paperbacks seemed much more interesting than mine. The ones I enjoyed most of all were the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series, which premiered in 1979 with The Cave of Time.

CYOA books allowed me to transcend the usual boundaries of a Catholic schoolgirl growing up in a rusting factory town. Each night once my parents were asleep, I snuck out of bed, drew back my bedroom curtain, and allowed light to stream in from the baseball fields across the street. Within a few minutes of cracking open my book, I was transported fathoms below the ocean, or a hundred years back to a dusty town in the Wild West. After a short, opening introduction, my book asked me to decide between two different courses of action, each leading to a different page. Subsequent pages presented additional choices. Unlike many series books of the time, CYOA stories were told with second-person voice and androgynous illustrations, so girls like me were not excluded from the adventure. I drove a stock car across Africa, tracked Yeti through the Himalayas, and escaped imprisonment by the Ant People. It was a world-opener, considering that the babysitters and Sweet Valley girls were largely confined to bland, unnamed towns where plots tended to revolve around interpersonal conflict.

Besides being highly interactive and a lot of fun, CYOA books encouraged me to think deeply about concepts such as linear time. Within the covers of one paperback, there were twenty to thirty possible stories, all existing simultaneously and leading to different endings. Thus I was introduced to the idea that multiple realities can exist and may not necessarily contradict each other. CYOA books often contained subtle lessons about personal autonomy, as well. Although I tended to base my page-turning on the most rational choice, my decisions sometimes led to imprisonment, starvation, and even death. Other times I was undeservedly lucky. The best possible ending of Inside UFO 54-40 (COYA #12), which is a search for paradise, is unattainable if one follows page directions—the reader only stumbles upon it if he or she doggedly reads every single page of the book. This taught me that a person’s fate is not always the result of obvious alternatives. Such critical-thinking lessons definitely influenced my development as a historian and concerned citizen.

Over the course of twenty years, Bantam Books published nearly two hundred Choose Your Own Adventure books. When I began to work with Penn State Harrisburg’s children’s literature collection, I bought a few just for old time’s sake. In fact, they were among the first “juvvie” books I purchased. They circulate pretty frequently, and I am delighted to see that other people like them too.


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