Every year at this time, parents come to me with the deep concern that their child is reading and rereading a entire series. Often it is a series that was read (and maybe reread several times) last year. "Is she regressing?" they ask. "Will Susie ever read fine literature?" "Why won't Billy move on?" I don't know the research on this topic, but I do have some thoughts.
The start of the new school year can be stressful--new teacher, new classmates, new requirements, and other real and imagined changes. A series offers familiar friends in familiar settings. Even the language is familiar. All of that can be very comforting.
I have never known an adult who still reads nothing but Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys or Tin Tin, but I know of many successful adults who read those books as fast as they could get their hands on them, our newest Supreme Court Justice being a case in point.
Everybody needs some relaxing reading. Adults are encouraged to read for relaxation. Kids have that same right and that same need. For many adults and children, series offer than relaxation.
There is currently one of may library patrons who is rereading all of the Babysitters' Club as fast as she can, often at the rate of four a day. She says they are just fun. Then she turns around and asks for something that will challenge her outstanding fourth grade reading skills. I am always impressed by her versatile and voracious reading habits. She is getting new things from those babysitters and she is branching out in many directions. Some day she will realize how similar all of the Babysitters' stories are. She may even did what my daughter did.
One of my daughters joined her friends at a certain age in reading every Babysitters' Club book she could find. She wanted to change her name to Stacy. She wanted to have a club. She wanted to discuss whether it was Jesse or Mallory who was the most interesting. Then one fine day, she said, "I figured out what would happen in this book by about page 10. I am not going to read any more of these." To the best of my knowledge she has never read another one. Now she suggests some pretty tough reading material for me as well as some good relaxing stuff.
Not only are there now a lot more Babysitters' Club by Ann M. Martin books available than there were when my daughter was young, there are a lot more series in general. Here are few old favorites as well as some that are newer. They just scratch the surface of the series books out there, with more coming out every day.
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene and Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon (you all know of course that those are pseudonyms for the many authors who contributed to the creation of these series) are detective stories that will live on for generations. The older ones are still more popular with most kids than the newer ones. None of my students seem to care for the graphic format ones.
Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol have also been around for a long while and have kept many a young reader happily entertained.
Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat is loved for getting beginning readers hooked on mysteries, series, and reading in general.
Today's Wall Street Journal had an article on the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. I confess that I don't remember whether I ever read these or not, but Meg Cabot gives a good argument in this article for why these books are still popular nearly 70 years after they first appeared.
You know many other well-loved series that are considered fine literature as well--The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling and Winne-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne to name just a few.
There are some new series that should not be missed.
I have mentioned Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm before but must mention it again because it offers very funny stories with interesting twists and turns in a graphic format.
Also in the graphic format are the Bone books by Jeff Smith. More than one young man credits a new found joy of reading to these wild and wacky tales.
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan are set to become classics because of their timely twist on mythology, their humor, and their adventures.
Nicola's Bookstore brought Story Pirate performers to introduce The Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan to Emerson School a week ago. Those kids who were not interested in this adventure-filled series before are now reading it at a rapid clip. The children's book buyer at Nicola's has seen the pre-publication copy of the next in the series and says it is even better than the last two, which she also thought were great. That is high praise.
American Chillers and Michigan Chillers by Jonathan Rand are almost impossible to keep on the library shelves. These stories of monsters devouring cities in Michigan and entire states are devoured by boys in grades three and up. They have a generous dose of humor plus lots of adventure. We also like them because Rand lives in Michigan.
For those who like animal adventures--as in animals with human characteristics who fight major battles--there are the owls of The Guardians of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky and the cats of Warriors by Erin Hunter.
Finally, let me comment on the new 39 Clues series. The kids tell me that some of them are great and others are not so good. This is not surprising because each one is by a different author. I am put off by the number of commercial tie-ins. You can collect the cards, enter the contest, and make repeated visits to the web-site for more tie-ins. Groan.