When we were kids, we couldn’t get enough of these addictive novels that put you in the driver’s seat.
Writer Edward Packard revolutionized kids’ books when he wrote the first “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, but his flagship series inspired some pretty odd titles. Here are 21 of the series’ most bizarre entries:
1. Prisoner of the Ant People
As you can probably guess from this insane cover, this books puts you in the middle of inter-planetary intrigue as you combat the Evil Power Master and his Ant People. “Evil Power Master?” Isn’t that name a little obvious? How about the “Possibly Evil Power Master,” that one adds a little intrigue to the book.
You star in this book as a bright, young computer programmer who wins a cutting-edge home computer. The shenanigans you can get into range from programming the machine to do your homework, to starting a global thermonuclear war. You know, regular kid stuff.
3. Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?
Gee, detective, do you think it’s the guy on the cover who looks just like Snidely Whiplash? I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it was probably him. Besides how obvious this mystery was, should we really let middle school kids try to solve a murder?
4. Space Vampire
A pair of star pilot graduates are chased by vampires. But of course, since we’re in outer space, that makes them Space Vampires!
One reader gave this adventure a three-star review, because while he hoped to avoid the space vampires altogether, he says “there is no such luck for those in want of a tamer adventure!” What a shame.
5. The Reality Machine
Spoiler alert: the reality machine is actually a virtual reality machine built by a shady doctor who asks you to test out his invention. Surprisingly, things don’t go so well for the main character once he puts on the headset.
6. Shadow of the Swastika
Should kids have a way to learn about the Holocaust and Nazis in a child-appropriate way? Probably. Is it a good idea to teach them using a Choose Your Own Adventure book where their adopted Jewish family is in mortal danger? Probably not!
7. You are a Shark
Well this one is pretty self-explanatory. You. Are. A. Shark. Get it? Apparently this novel was successful enough to inspire a string of “You Are A…” spin-offs.
8. Rock and Roll Mystery
Oh no! Your up-and-coming rock band’s first tour is just a day away, but someone has kidnapped two of the band members? Was it another band? Anti-rock terrorists? Or maybe aliens? As fun as it sounds, a surprising number of endings feature your band-mates biting the dust.
When a drug cartel kidnaps you and your classmates, it will take all of your wit and wile to escape before they release a biological weapon. Sorry kids, but America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists!
10. Gunfire at Gettysburg
Gamebooks like Choose Your Own Adventure novels have a reputation for being really, really hard, but this time it’s well-deserved. As many as 51,000 soldiers died during this Civil War battle, and your odds aren’t much better than theirs. Then again, having your hometown overrun by Confederate raiders is a pretty bleak ending.
11. Inside UFO 54-40
As the cover says, there are 30 possible endings to this UFO abduction story, but they’re all pretty bad. The book famously hoodwinked a generation of kids by messing with the established CYOA system.
It was obvious that you’re supposed to reach the paradise planet Ultima, but none of the story’s endings ever get you there. You would have to flip to the wrong page to find the “true” ending, and even then the book wags its finger at you for cheating!
12. Death in the Dorm
Aren’t children’s books meant to be an escape from scary real-world subjects like teen suicide? It turns out your roommate’s death is really a murder, and it’s up to you to catch his killer. Funny how that sounds fun to kids but horrifying to us adults.
13. Vampire Express
This time it’s Earth Vampires causing all the trouble, specifically a gang of Romanian bloodsuckers. Everything about this novel is downright bizarre, from the opening on a “vampire hunt” with your weirdo uncle to the final battle where you’re armed with a fire-breathing mirror.
With a midnight possession, evil spirits, an ancient curse, and a hall of severed heads, it’s amazing that this wasn’t banned from every school library in America.
15. Statue of Liberty Adventure
This isn’t exactly National Treasure. This time-traveling store sends you back to the early 20th century, and if you try to explain your situation you could be thrown into an asylum and locked up forever.
Even worse, if you make it off of Ellis Island and you might run into a slum lord who “beats you until your clothes are stained with blood.” Come on – the Worlds of Power books couldn’t even show knives on the cover!
16. The Trumpet of Terror
Sure, this is a pretty fun romp through the viking ages, with lots of magical hijinks to keep the reader entertained. But we can’t get over the fact that the magical artifact you wield is an actual instrument called “The Trumpet of Terror.”
17. Grand Canyon Adventure
We know it’s a fantasy story, but the Grand Canyon is actually a pretty boring place to visit. We didn’t see any lost horses or hidden treasure during our visit. Just a very spooky theme park.
18. Dinosaur Island
Picture this: on an uninhabited island a race of cloned dinosaurs are allowed to roam free. It could be called Jurassic Park, or maybe Billy and the Cloneasaurus. Or how about Dinosaur Island? Yeah, that sounds pretty original.
19. The Race Forever
Most CYOA books encouraged kids to play over and over to see all of the different endings and challenges, but this title actually let you play forever. The story featured two road races, and when you finished one it sent you back to the start of the book.
Play well enough and you could literally race forever. Get it?
20. The Worst Day of Your Life
After destroying your neighbor’s roof with bottle rockets (a classic ’90s prank) you’re forced to spend the summer working on your uncle’s pig farm. The bus to the farm breaks down, officially beginning the worst day of your life.
The goal, of course, is to make it safely to your uncle’s farm. But it’s hard to get excited when your prize is spending the summer shoveling pig poop.
21. The Case of the Silk King
A 15-year-old detective takes on the cold case of a businessman who went missing in Thailand in the 1960s. What’s so weird about that? The story is based on the actual disappearance of former spy and silk industry tycoon, Jim Thompson.
Give the poor man’s family some peace, Choose Your Own Adventure series!
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