Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Guide to Children's Book Series

Why book series work

Book series have been around for a long time and play an important role in early reading.  I wrote about their benefits as part of a previous post 'Why Children Re-read Books'. It seems that each generation has book series that appeal to lots of children. When I was a child The Famous Five, The Bobbsey Twins, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Secret Seven, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the adventures of the British fighter pilot Biggles were devoured by lots of children. These series are still available and read by many children. When my daughters were growing up in the 1980s The Babysitters Club, Choose Your Own Adventure and the Narnia Chronicles were amongst the most popular series. It was a difficult day when the family collection of (many!) Babysitter Club books was sold at the local second hand bookshop in their late teens (they got to keep the money).

In the last ten years there have been many new series with the most remarkable being 'Harry Potter'. The attraction of reading a complete series of books is linked to the pleasure and familiarity of having read a book within the series, and the prospect of reading another similar one to see where the book might take us.  Any book series allows the reader to carry considerable background knowledge from book to book, including knowledge of the characters, familiarity with plot structure, consistency of language and vocabulary. Like an old sweater (we call them jumpers in Australia) that feels familiar and 'just right' when you put it on, the next title in the book series is 'comfortable', predictable and enjoyable.

My grandson recently commented on why he liked Emily Rodda's wonderful 'Rowan of Rin' and 'Deltora Quest' series.  Here is part of what he said in a post my daughter did on her blog 168 Hours:

"....I like the series because they make my heart beat a bit faster and scare me a bit.  I also like some of the pictures on the covers. I like the Deltora series even better so far, because of how the story flows between the books."

Surprisingly, book series are seen as suspect by some parents, teachers and librarians, who worry that the reading of series books (which are in some cases simple and repetitive) might lead to a diet of "narrow" reading (as series books are sometimes called), rather than "broad" and deep reading. If we needed anything to convince us that this is rubbish, then Harry Potter certainly put paid to the idea that series books are all easy. Interestingly, research by Stephen Krashen shows us that narrow reading can be a good way to lead children to more difficult reading.  My own work also suggests that series books help to consolidate the reading skills and interests of children and sustain their passion for reading.  This is vital if our children are going to tackle difficult books. 

It seems that there is a book series for every child, with limitless options for children of all ages. I have listed a number of popular series below, but there are many more.

2. Series for Younger readers

'Berenstain Bear' by Stan and Jan Berenstain - a family of bears and their many adventures (very young readers).
Frog and Toad’ by Arnold Lobel - the simple adventures of a frog and a toad (for very young readers).
'Flat Stanley' by Jeff Brown - the outrageous stories of Flat Stanley and the Lambchop family (very young readers). 
Paddington Bear’ by Michael Bond - a very polite bear who loves marmalade sandwiches and cocoa and is always getting into trouble (for very young readers).
'Milly Molly Mandy' by Joyce Lankester Brisley - stories of a thoughtful and resourceful little girl, her family and friends.
'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton - the adventures of a group of children, an enchanted wood and a magic tree. 
Mrs Pepperpot' by Alf Pr√łysen - the adventures of an elderly woman who can make herself small and get up to all sorts of things.
Pippi Longstocking’ by Astrid Lindgren - the adventures of a strong, independent and querky young girl.
'Dr Dolittle' by Hugh Lofting - the stories of a doctor who shuns humans in favour of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages.
'Anastasia Krupnik' by Lois Lowry - stories about a girl who deals with everyday problems.
'Rowan of Rin' by Emily Rodda - a series of five fantasy novels for younger readers that tell of the adventures of a shy village boy called Rowan.
'Encyclopedia Brown' by Donald Sobol - stories about a boy detective and his many adventures.
'Ingalls family' Laura Ingalls Wilder - the stories of a young girl growing up in the midwestern frontier of the USA in the 1870s and 1880s.
'Trixie Belden' by Julie Campbell - a series of girl detective mysteries.
'Amelia Bedelia' by Peggy Parish - the stories of a lovable and amusing maid who tends to take things rather literally.'Katie Morag' by  Mairi Hedderwick - the stories centre around the adventures of the main character, Katie, who lives on the fictional island of Struay (which is based on the Scottish island of Coll). 
'The Dragon Slayers' Academy' by Kate McMullan (illustrated by Bill Basso) - Wiglaf is the youngest brother decides to go to the Dragon Slayer Academy, kill some dragons and get money to help his family.
'The Spiderwick Chronicles' by Holly Black - a series about a young boy who moves into an old house with his mother, brother and sister after his father dies, and the amazing discovery of secret rooms, an invisible world and a war waged among the realms of Fairies.

3. More mature readers

'Greene Knowe' by Lucy Boston - series of six books that feature a very old house (Green Knowe) inhabited by the spirits of children from the past.
'The Black Stallion' by Walter Farley - the story of a boy and wild horse and the many adventures that flow from this first tale.
'The Stone Book' by Allan Garner - this classic series of 4 books has its beginnings in the story of how Garner's great grandfather (a stonemason) initiates his daughter into the secrets of his craft.
'Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula Le Guin - a trilogy set in the fantasy world of Earthsea and the adventures of a young wizard named Ged.  
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis - series of 7 fantasy novels about the adventures of children stumble into a world and their part in a battle between good and evil.
'Deltora Quest' by Emily Rodda - the adventures of three companions who travel across the magical land of Deltora seeking to recover magical artefacts and defeat the allies of the evil Shadow Lord.
'Harry Potter' by J.K Rowling - a series of 7 fantasy novels that tell of the adventures of the young wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger who live at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

'Song of Wirrun' by Patricia Wrightson - a fantasy trilogy that tells of a young Aboriginal boy who must save his people and battle an evil spirit.
'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien - the quest to gain the ring created by Dark Lord Sauron in another age; the secret to controlling Middle-earth.
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Coifer - series of graphic fantasy novels (check out Coifer's 'Artemis Fowl' website HERE)
'Inkheart' by Cornelia Caroline Funke - this German trilogy tells the story of a 12-year-old girl (Meggie Folchart) who discovers that her father has the ability when he reads to bring story book characters into the real world.
'The Chronicles of Prydain' by Lloyd Alexander - A five book fantasy series (Volume 2 'The Black Cauldron' won the Newberry Medal)
'The Once and Future King' by T.H. White - Arthurian Fantasy (usually purchased as one book) that takes place on the isle of Gramarye and chronicles the raising and education of King Arthur, his rule and the romance between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.
'Goosebumps' by R.L. Stine  - horror novels for kids, loved by many boys but criticised by others for their violence.
'The Belgariad' by David Eddings - a five book fantasy series about an orphaned farm boy Garion's quest to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will decide the fate of the universe (readers 13+)
'Crispin' by Edwin Irving Wortis (pen name is Avi) - just two books in this 'series', the first 'The Cross of Lead' won the Newberry Medal in 2003 and 'Crispin at the Edge of the World'.  A 13-year-old boy, living in 14th century Feudal England under the feudal system in 1377 has his world turned upside-down when his mother dies.
'The Edge Chronicles' by Paul Stewart - this is a series about 'air pirates' in which a boy shows bravery and heroism on great quests that draw him closer to the Edge of the World and beyond.
'His Dark Materials Trilogy' by Phillip Pullman - two children (Lyra and Will) come of age as they experience epic quests and pass through a series of parallel universes. Made up of three books 'The Golden Compass', 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass'.

I could list dozens more but for an even more comprehensive list that you can consult online, go to the website of one of my favourite libraries (where I used to take my children when living in Indiana), the Monroe County Library in Indiana (here).


Marita said...

Awesome post.

Thank you thank you thank you.

My 7yo has recently declared she will ONLY read books that are part of a series now as otherwise the stories are too short.

This is a little challenging for me but I'm very glad to have this list to refer to.

I recently re-read the first book in my Enid Blyton Mallory Towers collection and was surprised at how badly it had dated. Personally found all the talk of smacking children and slapping inappropriate and not something I'd want my impressionable 7yo to copy. Maybe when she is a bit older.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Marita,

Glad that the post was helpful. Also good to hear that your 7 year old daughter is obviously an avid reader.

You're right about much of the Enid Blyton stuff being a little difficult to cope with in the 21st century. Mind you, I don't think it bothers children that much. As much as (for example) 'The Faraway Tree' has stuff in it that makes me cringe, I'd still use with children. Some of the older books offer good opportunities to discuss different times and cultural practices that we find hard to condone.

Nice to hear from you.