Squelch Not the Series!

imagination stationIf you recognize names such as Jack and Annie or Patrick and Beth, know that mysteries can be ordered A to Z, or believe in Rainbow Fairies, then you likely have a child in second-fourth grade/aged 6-10. Series fiction exists for nearly every reading level, but it certainly reaches its peak during these significant elementary years.

Series fiction can be subdivided, like all genres; the type of series fiction I’m interested in is not the fantasy 3-volume epic sort. Rather, I’m interested in the series that might contain upwards of 20 volumes, each of which is similar to the others. Each volume is large on plot, features the same main characters, contains a similar number of chapters, and follows a predictable path. Contemporary examples include A to Z Mysteries, the Rainbow Fairies, the I Survived books, the Magic Treehouse books, the Imagination Station books, and their ilk.

Popular Parent QuestionA to Z

The number 1 question I get from fellow parents is, “what should my child be reading?” If their child is in middle elementary, the question is often followed by, “She keeps bringing those Rainbow Fairies books home!” or “He only wants to read Lego Ninjago books.” Presumably, these are abominable reading choices that will stunt their child’s intellectual growth irreparably.

Squelch Not the Series

I say, “squelch not the series!” It is no accident that so many series beckon to students at this reading level. Teachers and librarians talk about the fourth grade slump: lots of kids suddenly hit a brick wall in their reading. There’s a shift from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn in third-fourth grade, and if a child isn’t comfortable reading yet, this shift can put the brakes on educational progress.

Series fiction like the titles mentioned above keep kids coming back precisely because the books are predictable, they’re not hard to read (to “decode”–the words themselves aren’t challenging), the plots are engaging, and readers are invested in the characters. And, at this stage of reading development, any practice is practice.

encyclopedia brownThe Reading Diet

Think of your child’s diet when he or she was a toddler or preschooler. Didn’t it seem like there were days when she existed primarily on cheese, crackers, and grapes? Or the teenager who suddenly is never full? After a while, you throw that big hulking bottomless pit whatever calories he’s craving because salad just isn’t cutting it and you can only afford so much steak.

Reading is like that: at various stages of reading development, certain reading appetites are ravenous. Embrace it and know that this too shall pass. Should your child exist only on Tin Tin graphic novels or Encyclopedia Brown mysteries? Probably not. But think longterm: your child is still developing valuable reading fluency and learning to delight in reading for the sheer pleasure of it.

The Prescription

Read aloud great books, choose good chapter book friends, and talk about what you read. Don’t sweat a summer of series fiction. After all, chances are good that you once traveled in a swell car along with super sleuth Nancy Drew, hung out with the Hardy Boys, grew up with the Babysitters Club, or chose your own adventure once or twice.

For some series suggestions for elementary ages, see our Series Fiction List.

What are your favorite contemporary series for young readers? What were your favorites when you were a kid?

cover images from amazon

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Cheryl on June 22, 2015 at 10:32 am

    All my children have enjoyed the Liza, Bill and Jed mysteries by Peggy Parish (author of the Amelia Bedelia books, also popular in my household). The Imagination Station books were a “silver bullet” for such times as I had an appointment and needed to have them sitting quietly – the books were so enthralling, that they made the time pass quickly for them. Although not “contemporary,” my daughter also devoured the Happy Hollister series. When I was a kid, I read pretty much every Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Brains Benton and The Three Investigators book available. I found a few tattered, out-of-print copies of the latter two on Amazon, and my son enjoyed them as well.

  2. Betsy Farquhar on June 23, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    I imbibed Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden, too! I love the description of the Imagination Station books as a “silver bullet.” My kids have voluntarily taken them along on errands!

  3. Izzy on June 28, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    It made me so happy to see the A-Z Mysteries here! Those were the books that got me interested in fiction at all, and it’s really nice to see they haven’t been forgotten completely. It’s a great series. I also really liked the Capital Mysteries too.

  4. Betsy Farquhar on June 29, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Hah, Izzy–I can assure you from my brief stint in an elementary school library that the A to Z mysteries (and ballpark mysteries, capital mysteries, etc.) are most surely not forgotten 🙂

  5. Julianna Mays on July 1, 2015 at 7:12 am

    I’ve listed some other series that are still popular for our beginning chapter book readers and above.. For our 3rd and 4th grades we offer a book challenge using some of these series in order to head off that ‘reading slump’. I’m always on the lookout for another series and thank you for directing my attention to Lulu and Jasper.

    Kylie Jean series
    Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith
    American Girl Historical girl series
    I Survived
    Jigsaw Jones
    Main Street
    My America and some of the Dear America series are also good for 3rd-4th graders

  6. mona on July 3, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Hank the Cowdog!

  7. Betsy Farquhar on July 7, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Juliana, my kids LOVE the I Survived books. I’ll have to check those others out!

  8. Beth on July 9, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Another shout out for The Three Investigators series!

    I love this post and think it’s spot-on. Reading does go through phases. Sometimes we all need the comfort and familiarity of characters we’ve already know. My son loves Jack and Annie and the A to Zs. He’s just found Imagination Station too. I teach 7th graders and they all love a series too. In fact, this year one of my students, who is on an IEP for reading and reading at about the 3rd grade level, discovered the I Survived series and read every single one. He had never even finished a book before and this year, thanks to a series, he was unstoppable! Thanks for this great post!

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