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Middle-Grade Books From the '80s That Are Still Worth Reading

Share part of your own childhood with these classic books from the '80s

Tina Cha
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Published on: October 16, 2020

Middle-Grade Books From the '80s That Are Still Worth Reading

Book cover: ‘Homecoming’ by Cynthia Voight

‘Homecoming’ by Cynthia Voight

Homecoming” comes in as the longest book on this list, at 482 pages, and is divided into two parts. On their way to visit their great Aunt Cilla for the first time, Dicey Tillerman’s mother deserts her four kids at a shopping center in an unfamiliar town. In part one of the book, Dicey decides to continue down the Connecticut shoreline towards Bridgeport to find the relative she and her three siblings have never met. The second part of the book details the children’s experiences after they arrive at Bridgeport. “Homecoming” is the first in a seven-book series about the Tillermans; the second book, “Dicey’s Song,” won the Newbery Medal in 1983.

So many children have imagined how they might navigate life if their parents were not around to take care of them, and in this novel Voight explores such an experience in depth. One very obvious time warp that I marveled at was that Dicey and her siblings were able to get so far down their path with just 11 dollars and 50 cents to start. A box of doughnuts and four apples cost 88 cents!? Making money by carrying people’s groceries, Dicey proves to be incredibly resourceful and resilient. Children (and adults) could learn a thing or two about her protective instinct and courage. It is a wild adventure in which the siblings need to rely on each other, and on strangers. Reading this decades later as a parent had a much more angst-inducing effect on me than it did when I was a child.

“Homecoming” grapples with mental illness (their mother eventually is found in a “mental hospital”) in a manner that feels dated now that mental illness is treated differently today.

Note that there is an angry encounter with a racist villain who has nefarious plans for the kids (it includes a racial epithet. If your child has never seen or heard the N-word, you’ve been forewarned). There are also multiple uses of the “R-word” to incorrectly describe one of the siblings.

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