“Take one and pass the rest back.” In elementary school in the 1990s, those seven words were the key to every bookworm’s dream world. It was a Friday afternoon, your teacher didn’t care anymore, and you had 15 minutes to leaf through four very filmy pages of the Scholastic Book Order — which was like the Sears Wish Book for a very specific type of kid.
When I think back on it, the whole thing was so 90s, and not in that cute fake way of tumblr fashion blogs. We had to mark the books we wanted in pen, copy the order numbers onto the form on the back, and then ask for a check from our parents. An honest-to-goodness CHECK, like they probably have in history museums now.
In hindsight, the whole system seems fraught with error and it almost feels like a miracle that any of us got the books we asked for. But one day a few weeks later you’d spot those Scholastic boxes in the front of the classroom, and sure enough there was the 3-pack of Ella Enchanted, Catherine Called Birdy, and The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, just like you ordered. I imagine this trio was called The Future NPR Listeners Sampler, or the Someday You’ll Own Cats Club Pack.
The real Cadillac of the Scholastic order was the club subscription (usually located on the back page, lower right, if memory serves). You’d get a new book every month and a pointless academic accessory like a pencil topper. Pencil toppers were cool then, okay? They were like the iPhone covers of 1996. Plus there were special bonuses, like a cassette tape featuring an interview with Ann M. Martin if you joined the Baby-Sitters Club Club (I assume it had a better name, but honestly maybe not). Let that sink in for a while. Before internet,if you wanted to learn about an author who wasn’t in the encyclopedia, you had to fill out a paper order, send a check, and then listen to an audio cassette.
Ann M. Martin had cats too, by the way.
The Scholastic order was also the number-one source for hot celebrity gossip, full of Unauthorized Biographies With 8 Pages Of Full-Color Photos. Sure, children these days have celebs’ actual Twitter and Instagram accounts at their fingertips, but back then it was enough to read that JTT’s favorite dessert was apple pie a la mode, or that Tay, Zac and Ike share a bedroom.
Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday that you were reading those factoids? Well, Tay, Zac, and Ike now have a cumulative nine children. That’s 3 Hansons. Or an Mmm Mmm Mmm Bop.
You would think that now, when I could find any book on Amazon in seconds, the Scholastic orders wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. But I found a few Troll and Arrow Book Club catalogs online, and I can almost smell the new book smell … and feel the papercuts. That thin-ply book order paper was for some reason notorious for paper cuts.
This has everything I remember about 90s book orders. There are pencils that, even 20 years ago, you could have bought for far less at a grocery store. Athlete bios. An inside look at the cast of 90210 with a RAP ROUNDUP (not sure what that is). I especially like how they call it “book club news,” as though they aren’t trying to sell us stuff, just keeping us informed that Midnight In The Dollhouse is only $.95.
Friends, we truly lived in a magical time. On the same page, you have Hook and Addams Family novelizations, Laura Ingalls, American Girl, and Babysitters Club. This is calling up more childhood memories than looking at family photos (because when the photos were taken, I was probably somewhere reading a book).
Ah, yes. 1991. When all the kids were clamoring for a paperback about Nelson Mandela. The Room Upstairs, an Anne Frank-y tale of World War II peril, contains a surprising number of exclamation marks in the blurb. And that pig eraser… just me, or did those gummy jumbo erasers never actually erase anything?
Lincoln, MLK, Edgar Allan Poe, medical mysteries … just some chill light reading for 9-year-olds. Boomers can knock millennials all they want, but don’t they see that we spent our childhoods heavy-burdened by their hopes, dreams, and expectations? As well as by a complete set of Boxcar Children books? That series was dope. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and the other one, right?
It’s so weird to think that most of us got these orders regularly as kids, and then one day – and you didn’t even know it was the day – you read your last one. You started buying your books at stores, and eventually the internet. You recorded over the Ann M. Martin tape doing fake commercials in Austin Powers voices at a slumber party. I haven’t seen a pencil topper in decades. But the memories live on … as do the large stack of unauthorized biographies sitting somewhere in your parents’ attic.