Author R.A. Montgomery, co-founder of the company that first published the popular Choose Your Own Adventure interactive book series in the 1970s, died at his home in Warren, Vt., on November 9 following a brief illness. He was 78.
Montgomery was born in Connecticut in 1936. Growing up in New England, he attended Williston Academy before matriculating at Williams College, from which he graduated in 1958. Throughout his early life and education he developed a passion for finding and developing innovative teaching methods that inspired children to learn. Among his achievements in this area were his role as assistant dean of faculty at Columbia University from 1963–65 and the 1966 founding of the Waitsfield Summer School in Vermont, which featured an experiential curriculum and used gaming to teach math. Montgomery went on to develop role-playing games for the Edison Electric Institute and for training programs used in the Peace Corps.
In 1975 he co-founded Vermont Crossroads Press with his then-wife Constance Cappel. The company had successes with titles for adults that included The Woodburner’s Encyclopedia, which provided tips on using wood as an alternative energy source. But in 1977, Vermont Crossroads published its first children’s title, an interactive novel called Sugarcane Island by Ed Packard that was the inaugural title in a series called The Adventures of You. Montgomery wrote a follow-up, Journey Under the Sea, using the pen name Robert Mountain. Soon after, when his marriage ended in divorce, Montgomery sold his stake in Vermont Crossroads to his ex-wife and took the Adventures of You to Bantam Books, which contracted five additional books to be published under the new series name, Choose Your Own Adventure. The series became a bestselling franchise that eventually included 230 titles in more than 40 languages and sold more than 250 million copies.
Recalling that time, and his work with Montgomery, former vice-president and editorial director at Bantam Books for Young Readers Ron Buehl offered this remembrance: “You know someone is larger than life when he creates something larger than life. Ray Montgomery made a huge contribution to the world of children’s books. Choose Your Own Adventure was the precursor of today’s interactive video games and Ray Montgomery will be remembered for decades to come. I am grateful to have played a part.”
The Bantam titles went out of print between 1999 and 2004. But that ending was only temporary. Montgomery and his wife, fellow author and game designer Shannon Gilligan, launched Chooseco LLC in 2004, as the new home for the Choose Your Own Adventure print books and other extensions of the brand. In 2006, on the occasion of releasing new, updated editions of the first eight titles in the series, Montgomery wrote in educational review journal Kliatt about the books’ lasting appeal: “Kids read these Choose books because they are the hero of the story, the pilot in command, the surgeon at the operating table, the famous mountain climber, detective, scientist. They count! Their individual choices lead to different endings – as many as 120 permutations in each book. Imagination is unleashed, ego becomes involved, participation is unavoidable.” Montgomery’s most recent book for the company was Gus vs. the Robot King, published in September. “He wrote until the end,” says Gilligan.