Thanks to the interactive capabilities of the computer, traditional styles of linear narrative in storytelling can be altered by means of hypertext links that allow readers the ability to alter the direction of a story by making certain decisions at various points, in effect choosing their own endings. This interactive style was presaged in the 1970s when several children's publishers began offering books that invited readers to custom-design the flow of a story by offering a choice of different pages to which they could turn. Strictly speaking, "Choose-Your-Own-Ending Books" refer to several series of children's books published by Bantam Books since 1979. Originated by author Edward Packard, Bantam's "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" series numbered about 200 titles in the first 20 years of publication, with spinoffs such as "Choose Your Own Star Wars Adventure" and "Choose Your Own Nightmare."
The "Choose Your Own Adventure" series has proven to be immensely popular among its young readers, who unwittingly gave their blessing to the concept of interactive fiction even before it became commonplace on computer terminals or CD-ROMs. A 1997 profile of Packard in Contemporary Authors quoted an article he wrote for School Library Journal in which he stated that "multiple plots afford the author the opportunity to depict alternative consequences and realities. Complexity may inhere in breadth rather than in length." The technique appealed to young readers for whom active participation in the direction of a narrative was a sign of maturity and ownership of the text.
The first book Packard wrote in this style, Sugarcane Island, a story about a trip to the Galapagos Islands, did not excite interest among publishers so he put it aside for five years. It finally found a home with Vermont Crossroads Press, an innovative children's book publisher, which brought out the book in 1976. The fledgling series gained national attention when the New York Times Book Review (April 30, 1978) devoted half a page to a Pocket Books/Archway edition of Sugarcane Island and to a Lippincott edition of Packard's Deadwood City. Reviewer Rex Benedict wrote: "Dead or alive, you keep turning pages. You become addicted."
Other reviewers, especially in the school library press, felt that the books were gimmicky and that they prevented children from developing an appreciation for plot and character development. An article in the journal Voice for Youth Advocates endorsed the books for their participatory format, however, noting that "readers' choices and the resulting consequences are fertile ground for developing students' ability to predict outcomes or for group work on values clarification."
Writers who have contributed to the series and its various spinoffs have included Richard Brightfield, Christopher Golden, Laban Carrick Hill, Robert Hirschfeld, Janet Hubbard-Brown, Vince Lahey, Jay Leibold, Anson Montgomery, R. A. Montgomery, and Andrea Packard.
Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol. 59. Detroit, Gale Research, 1998.
Packard, Edward. Cyberspace Warrior. New York, Bantam, 1994.
——. Deadwood City. Philadelphia and New York, J. B. Lippincott, 1978.
——. Fire on Ice. New York, Bantam, 1998.
——. Sugarcane Island. Vermont Crossroads Press, 1976.