Saturday, June 27, 2015

Interesting Series.

Summer is a time for relaxed reading.  For many people, especially younger readers, that means getting immersed in a series.  The advantage of a good series is that the reader is able to follow the adventures of familiar characters through multiple books.  Some series must be read in order as they build on past events (think of Harry Potter) and others have the same characters but are separate stories with little or no reference to events that happened in previous entries (think Nancy Drew).

There are those who will say that readers of series get in a rut and I suppose that can be true in some instances.  Please consider that reading through a series, even one that may seem somewhat cookie-cutter, helps the young reader feel secure with reading.  I remember one of my daughters reading a very popular and large series for what seemed like forever.  I tried reading along with her and got through maybe two books before deciding I had had enough.  When it seemed my daughter was never going to quit reading these books, she came to me, held up number two zillion and seven or so in the series, and said, "You probably didn't notice this, but all of the books in this series tell pretty much the same story.  I am going to find something different to read."  Most children come to this conclusion at some point.  My daughter amazes me with the breadth of her reading tastes now that she is an adult. Your child will do the same.

Here are some series, some are trilogies and others are longer, that I have enjoyed discovering (though, in all honesty, I rarely read more than one or two in a series).   I am arranging them in three groups--emergent readers, middle grades, and middle school.  As always, there is overlap.

Emergent Readers (Readers ready for chapter books, about grades 1-3)

Anna Hibiscus and The No. 1 Train Spotter by Atinuke are two series for readers who are looking for stories about kids in their natural environment with the added pleasure of visiting another culture.  The reader will find that kids everywhere worry about similar things, enjoy laughing, and love adventures and their families.  These books are set in Africa (I wish they would name a specific country to help readers be more aware of the diversity in the continent.) which means that there are enough new ideas and adventures to add some extra interest.

The Chicken Squad by Doreen Cronin offers a different view of how much childhood can be alike, if you count young chickens with the language and other human traits as childewn.  The chicks all have their own traits, many of which are clearly irritating to those around them.  There is a little bit of mystery involved.  These books lead easily to the slightly more challenging reading offered in Cronin's A. J. Tully Mystery series which offers a curmudgeonly dog who helps chickens solve mysteries.  The Tully Mystery is The Trouble With Chickens.  What is not to love when books have dogs, chickens, mystery, and humor.

Kate DiCamillo has three series that are perfect for those ready for a book with lots of illustrations, plenty of humor, and very unusual characters.  Bink & Gollie are two unique girls who find adventure in simply getting along together.  Mercy Watson is a very spoiled pig who lives with two humans who see her every act as heroic, even when  Mercy is usually a part of the problem.  Leroy Ninker wants to be a cowboy but knows little about where that career path may lead.

McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm by Sid Fleischmann is a book that still makes me laugh out loud and I can almost remember the list of his children and say them in one long breath.  The large McBroom family is looking for a new home when they meet the very unfriendly Heck Jones who offers them a space near him.  Heck thinks the land is useless but McBroom soon discovers that it is amazingly rich soil that can grow nearly anything in the blink of an eye.  The family's adventures are inventive tall tales.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett is a classic for good reason.  This trilogy has loving stories of a boy and his very friendly dragon.  Their friendship and their adventures continue to touch readers and capture their interest just as they did when I was a child.

Horrible Harry by Suzy Kline fills a gap in literature for students this age.  Most people can list books about girls and their friendships (Ramona Quimby, Clementine and Ivy & Bean are three popular examples) but few are about boys.  Harry in this series of slender books is full of fun and energy.  His escapades are believable.  Another popular series of an energetic boy is Horrid Henry  by Francesca Simon.  

Middle Grades  (Confident readers in approximately grades 3-5)

Sherlock, Lupin & Me by Irene Adler imagines a group of young detectives that includes a young Sherlock Holmes, the son of a French circus worker, and an American girl living in Paris.  They meet while the girl, who is also the narrator, is vacationing in a French seaside town.  Soon they are drawn together to understand how and why a body has come ashore.  They do some very adroit sleuthing to discover the truth before the police do.  Others in the series find them on the trail of new mysteries.

Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger is set in an interesting sixth grade class.  One of the boys in the class claims that his Yoda finger puppet can predict the future. Other boys try to decide if Dwight's puppet has actual powers.  It does not at first seem possible that this could grow into a series, but it has, and quite successfully, too.  Each book features another Star Wars character and includes instructions for making an appropriate paper model.  To say these books are quirky would be an understatement.

The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker is the adventures of a princess who reluctantly (but with hope in heart) kisses a frog and is turned into a frog.  Enjoy other fairy tale style stories in other books by E. D. Baker.

Blue Balliett's  art related mysteries come with a twist as there are often clues in the illustrations and math games to solve to help find the culprits.  As such, they require some higher level thinking which is perfect for those readers who find smug pleasure in working a little harder to find the answers.  The titles include Chasing Vermeer, The Calder Game, and The Wright Game.

Don't forget the classic series by L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz.

The Penderwicks  by Jeanne Birdsall feel like old classics in their telling but they are actually a series that is less than ten years old.  The family in the story goes to a summer place to help them recover from the death of the mother. Their the girls meet an interesting boy.  Yes, it reminds me of The Secret Garden.  That does not stop girls in the 21st century from enjoying these tender tales.

Tuesdays in the Castle by Jessica Day George will make it to Friday early in 2016.  Each entry involves a royal family living in a castle with magical powers. (For example, every Tuesday the castle grows new rooms and rearranges the old ones.  Something that Princess Celie easily takes in stride.)  These fantasy are written with a light touch that makes them especially appealing but that does not mean they don't include some tense adventures.

My Side of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George is about as far from fairy tale castles as one can get.  This much loved series begins with a boy moving alone to the Catskill Mountains and trying to survive all alone.  The stories include much information on survival but make it clear that this is not a life that can be romanticized.

Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler imagines a girl who discovers during her first school swim lesson the real reason why her mother has never let her taking swimming lessons.  Emily's father was a merman and Emily grows a mermaid's tale upon entering the pool.  This leads to many adventures in the sea as well as a journey to discover the other side of her family.  Also by Kessler is a series called Philippa Fisher who is a girl who wants to summon a fairy and meets a girl at school who claims to be a fairy godmother.

Bliss by Katherine Littlewood takes place in a family bakery that makes pastries with magic in the mix.  When the parents have to go away, Rose Bliss and her siblings try to keep the bakery going but they make many errors with the recipes with some interesting results.

The Doll People by Ann M. Martin is a much loved because it is easy to love stories of dolls who have a  life.  In this series, a 100 year old family of porcelain dolls is offended when some plastic dolls arrive in the playroom knowing very little about proper etiquette.

Charlie Bone (Children of the Red King series) by Jenny Nimmo is great for readers who are not quite ready for the intensity of some of the Harry Potter stories.  Charlie is surprised to learn that he has magical powers and is being sent to a school for young magicians.  Yes, it is a now familiar beginning, but the twists and turns that follow are all Charlie's.

Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka is a ridiculous story about extraterrestrials who are assigned to be buddies with the new kid in the class.  The kids from space learned all of their English from television advertising so they have some very astonishing ideas, but they are convinced that they need to convince millions of young people to become Space Heads or the universe is in big trouble.

Middle School/Upper Elementary (grades 5 and up)

The Misadventures of Maud March by Audrey Couloumbis is a rip-roaring story of two recently orphaned girls in the Old West who decide to run off together rather than be sent to live with strangers.  The younger girl loves dime store book of brave cowboys so she imagines her older sister Maud is fighting off outlaws at every turn while in actual fact their adventures are getting them the reputation of being gun-toting criminals.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy is a fantasy that takes place in woods at the edge of Portland, Oregon.  Included are woodland animals in fierce combat and serious negotiations with other critters and a girl who just wants to save her little brother.  I found these detailed novels to be engrossing and entertaining.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the title of the first book in this series which imagines what happens to teens when the moon is knocked out of orbit and the world seems to be coming to an end.  Each book is told in a different voice with powerfully moving effect.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood is a spoof of a variety of classic books and genres.  Sweet and innocent fifteen year old Penelope Lumley is a recent graduate from an academy for "Poor Bright Females" is hired to work in a secluded manor to care for three feral children who have recently become a part of the family.  Her first task is train them to be "civilized" enough to attend the Christmas ball.

The Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic Series) by Patricia C. Wrede is an inventive combination of semi-historical fiction and fantasy.  Eff must accept that as the thirteenth child born in her family she is branded as bad luck while everyone considers her twin brother good luck since he is the seventh son of a seventh son.  When the family moves to the Western frontier where magic battles are a way of life, Eff must use her own magical powers to best effect.

Of course, there are many more series available, but these will give you a good start if series are to your liking.

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