So, which kind of reader are you? Are you a lover of series, stand-alone books or something in between? For those who love stand alone stories, I agree: there is something exciting about meeting new characters, exploring new worlds, and coming to know the writing style of an unfamiliar author.
From many years in a preschool-8th grade library, I found lots to love for my students who craved series, too. Just what is it that makes them so appealing?
I recall these conversations overheard from my librarian desk at school:
“Dude, I wish he hadn’t stopped at just one book. I wasted my time because now I don’t know what to read that I’ll like as well.”
“I just love this author. I hope he never stops making books.”
“These books are just right for me.”
Here’s what I learned about middle grade students and their love of series.
Familiarity is safe, and repetition is good! If I could reach a middle grade student searching for his or her reading home, it would very often be within a series. Once a student finds a book to love, why look any farther? From my many years of supporting reading in schools, I know that series books are very useful for helping young readers build reading stamina and confidence, and that this continues to be true well into middle school. Many pieces of research bear this out – more reading = better readers. Truly, level isn’t as important as volume in increasing a student’s facility with reading, though grbbing a student at a level of writing that fits certainly helps. The most important thing is that a student engaged with the content will work to grow to the level, or read more books because they are comfortable and easy. Both these things are fantastic!
Brand loyalty reigns supreme. Don’t insult a beloved series, or its characters or premise. I love series of books, but young people KNOW them, inside and out. And I’m not just talking about Harry Potter or The Percy Jackson series. A student who reads a series passionately – almost any series you can name – knows its characters and the constructs of the world told within its pages more intimately than I can even fathom. This is so much fun to observe!
Connections make enthusiastic readers. One of my main goals as a school librarian – and one I continue to fulfill now that I’m celebrating middle grade books and reading in other ways – is to find touch points with students in their reading lives. If I can share the experience of a book with a student, we have a connection. This means that I have an open door to that student in terms of recommending more, which maintains a student’s enthusiasm for reading long after they’ve left my library. I still recommend books to my students who started with me as middle graders and are now high school students! For many, those connections began when we shared our love of series. What could be better than that?
Here are a few middle grade series in a variety of genres and styles I’ve shared over the years, with students ranging from 2nd grade to 5th grade. All synopses from IndieBound unless otherwise noted.
The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall
“Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, these stories are as breezy and carefree as a clear June day.”
Theodosia Throckmorton, by R L LaFevers
“Theodosia Throckmorton has her hands full at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. Her father may be head curator, but it is Theo—and only Theo—who is able to see all the black magic and ancient curses that still cling to the artifacts in the museum.”
Capture the Flag, by Kate Messner
“Anna, José, and Henry have never met, but they have more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington, DC, airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have just announced that the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been stolen!”
Ranger in Time , also by Kate Messner
This is a very new historical series for the early middle grades – the second comes out this month.
“Meet Ranger! He’s a time-traveling golden retriever who has a nose for trouble . . . and always saves the day!” (from Goodreads)
The Jaguar Stones, by Jon and Pamela Voelkel
These books might feature a couple of teenagers, but the content and writing are all middle grade, with great action and adventure, as well as historical content that is well-researched and presented.
“An epic adventure that brings together ancient history and modern adolescent angst – as it pits a pampered, pizza-eating, 21st century Boston teenager against the Death Lords of the Maya Underworld.”
The Underland Chronicles (Gregor the Overlander), by Suzanne Collins
“This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny — and find his father — in a strange world beneath New York City.” (from Goodreads)
Guys Read, edited by Jon Scieszka
I was able to cultivate a reader over almost an entire school year by letting him take a Guys Read to study hall every day and return it each afternoon without committing to checkign it out and worrying about it. “Its here: Volume One of the official Guys Read Library. Jon Scieszkas Guys Read initiative was founded on a simple premise: that young guys enjoy reading most when they have reading they can enjoy. And out of this comes a series that aims to give them just that.” (from Goodreads)
The Imaginary Veterinary, by Suzanne Selfors
“When Ben Silverstein is sent to the rundown town of Buttonville to spend the summer with his grandfather, he’s certain it will be the most boring vacation ever. That is, until his grandfather’s cat brings home what looks like . . . a baby dragon? “
The list of great middle grade series is so long that it will surely be the topic of another post.
As for me, I think I’m a little bit in between. I love stand alone stories, but investing in a series is a great way to feed the reader in me who just wants to hang out with familiar friends between the pages of a book.
In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009. Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press and blogs at The Best of It.