In the late-1960’s, Edward Packard was telling his two daughters bedtime stories. Packard was a lawyer by trade, but had always had an interest in writing, so he enjoyed coming up with fun stories off the top of his head to keep his girls entertained. When he would run out of ideas, he would ask the girls what should happen next and they would often provide different answers, which would change the direction the story was headed.

Based upon these nighttime story sessions, Packard developed an idea for a book series where the reader took an active part in how the story proceeded. Most pages would have a scenario that would end with two choices and the reader would decide which direction they wanted the story to go. Based on their decision, the book would direct them to turn to a certain page to see how their choice effected the story.

Packard pitched his idea to a bunch of publishers in 1970, but the world simply wasn’t ready for this type of interactive fiction just yet. That would change as the years went by, though. Between text-based computer games like The Oregon Trail (1971), Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), and Zork (1977) being played on college campus mainframes, and the introduction of Dungeons & Dragons in 1974, it was becoming more common for participants to take an active role in the story.

So, in 1975, Packard pitched his idea to a new publishing house called Vermont Crossroads Press that was looking for innovative kids’ books. The publisher released Packard’s first two stories – Sugarcane Island and Journey Under the Sea – as part of a series called “The Adventure of You”. They sold around 8,000 copies, which was pretty good for a small press company, but the publisher, R.A. Montgomery, thought the concept deserved to reach a wider audience. Montgomery was such a believer that he wound up writing a few Adventure of You books of his own. Eventually, Montgomery was able to find a larger publisher who was interested in the idea, Bantam Books.

In 1979, Bantam began publishing interactive stories under the “Choose Your Own Adventure” banner, running until 1998 for a total of 185 titles. CYOA is often considered one of the most successful series of kids’ books ever, with over 250 million copies in print. The books have been translated into about 40 languages and been reprinted many times over the last 45 years. The series has even spawned it’s own sub-genre, commonly known as “gamebooks” because of their similarity to video games and role-playing games.

Growing up, I only had about four or five Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I read them quite a bit. That was kind of the nice thing about COYA, is that you could read and re-read them, making different choices along the way and wind up with a different story most of the time. However, I have to admit that sometimes, when faced with a decision, I was the kind of kid that kept his finger on that page and would check out both pathway pages to see which one gave me the better outcome. I never was one to throw caution to the wind…

Once I had outgrown the series, my books were passed down to my niece when she was old enough to read, so I don’t have those classic books anymore. Some years ago though, before the book series was revived in 2003, I had an idea to write my own CYOA website adventure. So, at a thrift store, I bought one, Journey to the Year 3000, for research purposes. Unfortunately, like a lot of projects in my life, my CYOA website never came to fruition. Naturally, because I’m me, I’ve held onto the book for unknown reasons.

Journey to the Year 3000 was one of two “Super Adventure” CYOA books published in 1987, the other being Danger Zones. These books were geared towards a slightly older audience, with more complex decisions to be made, as well as being longer by about 50 pages. Apparently Journey to the Year 3000 only has one story path that leads to a happy ending, making it one of the most densely-designed gamebooks in the CYOA series.

Thanks to the popularity of Choose Your Own Adventure books, a lot of publishers wanted to get in on the gamebook craze. Perhaps the second-best-known of the gamebooks were the “Find Your Fate” series from Ballantine Books.

Find Your Fate books were published between 1984 and 1987 using (mostly) popular characters from the 1980s. In all, there were 66 FYF books published across the various lines covering Indiana Jones, James Bond, Jem and the Holograms, Doctor Who, Golden Girl, Transformers, Thundercats, The Three Investigators, and, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

As you’re perusing those covers, you’ll probably notice a familiar surname – Stine. Many of the Find Your Fate books were written by R.L. Stine, he of Goosebumps fame, but some were also written by Stine’s brother, William “Bill” Stine and Bill’s wife, Megan.

During the FYF heyday of the mid-1980s, I had a couple of the 20 published G.I. Joe FYF books. I was a huge fan of the G.I. Joe comic book from Marvel, so these FYF books were a nice addition to my collection. At the time, I only had #1 Operation: Star Raider and #10 Operation: Night Flight, but just recently I’ve started to add to my collection by picking up a few on the cheap from eBay or Amazon. These books are pretty sought-after by collectors, some more than others, so I’ll probably never be able to get all 20 titles unless I get really lucky. I’m willing to spend up to $10, maybe even $15 on a vintage paperback for kids, but some sellers are asking for $40, $50, even $100 for some of these books.

Here’s what I have right now:

I’d love to collect other lines of FYF books, especially Transformers and Thundercats. (Normally I’d include the Doctor Who books in that list, but from everything I’ve read online, the authors of those books didn’t really understand the gamebook concept, so they’re not very satisfying reads). The Transformers books are usually pretty affordable, coming in at $5 – $10 per book. But there were only two Thundercats FYF books and, well, here’s the latest listing on Thriftbooks for one of them…

Yeah, that’s not happening.

Aside from Choose Your Own Adventure and Find Your Fate books, I also had a couple books from a similar series with the slightly unwieldly title, “Be an Interplanetary Spy”. This 12-title series was published between 1983 and 1985 by Bantam Books, the same company behind CYOA.

I had #5 in the series, Monsters of Doorna, published in 1983, but when my basement flooded, it was one of the unfortunate casualties…

However, because it was stored in a different box, I do still have #7 in the series, Rebel Spy, published in 1984:

The Spy series was created by Byron Preiss, who also worked on the Explorer and Time Machine gamebook series for Bantam (Bantam really went all-in the gamebook craze!). Explorer and Time Machine had an educational slant to them, often relying on real historical events or at least accurate depictions of historic time periods to tell their stories. I know I had at least one Time Machine book, #2, Search for Dinosaurs, published in 1984:

Similar to other CYOA books, the Spy series featured a branching storyline that made kids choose between two different pages. But many times in order to make that choice, you had to solve puzzles. This not only upped the gamification of the books, but also integrated a lot of artwork, turning this series into what could almost be considered a graphic novel.

Here are a few puzzles from Rebel Spy to give you an idea of what these books entailed…

You need to figure out which buttons to push to make the oval symbol from the previous page
Here you need to complete the pattern by choosing A or B
Here’s another spread showing another pattern puzzle, as well as a maze
This page isn’t a puzzle, but it’s a key point in the plot, showing just how much the artwork was emphasized, making the series similar to a comic book

As you can see, the puzzles could be pretty challenging for a kid and the artwork was impressive for a children’s book.

I really liked these books and have to say I preferred them over the standard CYOA books. It would be pretty cool to be able to start collecting these again. They typically sell for about $10 on Thriftbooks and eBay, so this one would be right in my wheelhouse. I’ll keep you updated if I pick any up…

Update 03/08/2024: I have added one new Interplanetary Spy book

Update 03/19/2024: I just got in another Spy book to my collection!

As I said before, the Choose Your Own Adventure books have been reprinted many times since their heyday in the 1980s, but they’ve also made a bit of a comeback thanks to the bottomless well of Xennial nostalgia. In 2018, Z Man games came out with a CYOA board game that has become it’s own mini-franchise. And in 2023, there was a COYA tie-in book based on Netflix’s Stranger Things.

While the CYOA series will probably never see the same level of popularity that it achieved in the 1980s, it could certainly be argued that their influence on modern storytelling is strong. So many top-tier video games today have branching storylines that are affected by the decisions the player makes. Netflix has released many interactive series and specials, most notably the episode Bandersnatch, from the hit series, Black Mirror.

Side Note: The current owners of CYOA, Chooseco, sued Netflix for using the term "Choose Your Own Adventure" during the marketing of Bandersnatch,  as well as the entire concept of interactive storytelling. Netflix settled for an undisclosed sum.

In addition, the continued popularity of D&D and countless other RPGs shows that the allure of interactive fiction isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. With all that in mind, it seems much of our current – and future – pop culture owes a debt to Edward Packard and his little girls.

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