Fashions That Jar: Children’s Book Characters Stuck in the 80s
Boomers, I have a question for you. As a child of the 80s who by that very definition is neither Generation X nor Millennial, I have a very complex relationship with the fashions of my youth. When you grow up in an era where hot pink and black are a desirable color combination and ponytails sprout from the tops of heads like little hirsute fountains . . . well, it leaves a mark.
So my question for the Baby Boomer generation is this: Do you feel the same wave of nausea when you encounter fashions from the 40s, 50s, and 60s in your picture books as I do when I see 80s references? You don’t, do you? Sure, there might be gender stereotypes to face but generally speaking the occasional apron is small potatoes compared to legwarmers and turquoise zigzag earrings.
Yet for all I thought I could identify 80s fashions, it turns out I was barking up the wrong tree. Consider the case of . . .
The Berenstain Bears
Which is to say, the baby. Here she is.
When new Berenstain books come out, this is what the baby continues to look like. She started out fine, of course:
But somewhere along the way they popped a sweatband around her noggin and slapped on some stirrup pants. Seriously. Stirrup pants. And this has continued since the 80s . . .
. . . except it hasn’t. No, Honey Bear (as she is known) first appeared in 2000. And for whatever reason, in keeping with something or other she was given archaic clothing choices.
Another case where a character only looks like they’re from the era of Pocket Rockers?
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Recently my son has been obsessed with Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. It’s a great book, though you do get the impression that Mr. Scarry got a bit tired of having to come up with so many construction vehicles and just sort of made up some names willy nilly.
What I notice every time I read the book is the pig family. They are our protagonists in this tale. Now check out mom:
Yep. Rocking the purple headband, she is. Clearly circa 1983, right? Now imagine my shock when I discovered that the book was actually published in 1974. And here’s the original book jacket to prove it:
So this is ALSO not an 80s image, really. By the way, I totally love that the mom is driving on the cover. Go, mom, go!
Was anything that continues to look 80s actually written then?
One thing comes to mind. It’s not a picture book, but it has remained steadfast in its embracing of the Pogo Ball era (I can recall toys from my youth all day if called upon to do so). Voila:
That’s right. Babysitter’s Club. Because you cannot get the later books in the series with new covers. Nope. When I worked in the Central Children’s Room of NYPL I discovered the odd but true fact that kids still adore the later (and out-of-print) books in the series. It doesn’t matter that the fashions cause the corners of your eyes to bleed. There’s a weird allure to that. Some of the greatest felons in this regard:
Actually it’s Claudia who keeps being problematic. Remember, she was the fashionable one.
So fess up. My 80s examples aren’t really from the 80s, but surely you’ve seen remnants of the era in your picture book fare. Anything catch you unawares when you read it today?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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