R.A. Montgomery, the publisher of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, passed away earlier this month at age 78. That series debuted in 1976 and went on to terrific success. It also figured prominently in my youth, when its many installments were borrowed heavily from my school library and traded amongst my friends and classmates avidly. Just the sight of those early paperback versions, with their distinctive use of ITC Benguiat, their elliptical archway frames, and their way-out post-Pushpin Graphic-style illustrations, and I’m instantly transported back.
I never really knew the story behind the series, but this obituary at Chooseco, Montgomery’s company, sums it up nicely:
In 1977, an author named Ed Packard approached Montgomery about publishing his interactive children’s book ‘Sugarcane Island.’ The young publisher saw it for what it was: a role-playing game in book form and eagerly agreed to put it in print. He felt so confident about it that he announced it as the first in a series entitled The Adventures of You. When Packard left Vermont Crosroads Press to write his next book for Lippincott, Montgomery wrote the subsequent book—‘Journey Under the Sea’—and published it under the pen name Robert Mountain. When his marriage ended in divorce a short while later, Montgomery sold his interest in the press to his ex-wife, and brought ‘The Adventures of You’ to Bantam Books, which was looking for something ‘different’ with which to inaugurate a new children’s book division. Bantam offered Montgomery a contract for ‘Journey Under the Sea’ along with five more untitled books and renamed the series Choose Your Own Adventure. Little did Bantam or Montgomery realize that a publishing legend was about to be born. Choose Your Own Adventure went on to sell more than 250 million copies across more than 230 titles in over 40 languages, making it the fourth bestselling series of children’s books in the world.
For those who want to revisit the series, I just did a quick search on eBay and saw that a bundle of ten or so books will cost you in the ballpark of US$20. Or, for free, you can enjoy the Tumblr blog You Chose Wrong, which has collected scores of the surprisingly terrifying endings that readers encounter as they wind their way through these books. Good times.