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Beyond Captain Underpants and Wimpy Kids: Why Read Books in Series

by Miriam Downey 31. October 2011 15:50



 Think back to your childhood reading. What were your favorite books? My guess is that for many of you, they were books that were part of a series. You most likely remember reading about Laura, Mary, and the other members of the Ingalls family in the Little House books as well as Nate the Great or the girls fromThe Babysitter's Club. Most of us also remember reading comic book series like Archie or Superman. Our parents were bemused and would shake their heads and say, "Well, at least they're reading!"

Research shows that the most important key to creating confident readers is for children to take pleasure in the experience of reading. As anyone who has taught a child knows, it takes practice to become a good reader. Children who read a lot by choice and enjoy it are far more likely to succeed at their schoolwork than those who dislike reading (1).

Catherine Sheldrick Ross notes: "Series books minimize the risks of reading, which is probably particularly important for novice readers who have not yet developed confidence in their ability to make book choices." She suggests that series books teach beginning readers about the process of reading itself--strategies for making sense out of extended text. She concludes that series book reading might be for some readers an essential stage in "their development as powerful literates" (2).

I watched my 12-year-old grandson plow through the Hunger Games series this summer just as another grandson was devouring the Percy Jackson series. He excitedly said to me, "Grandma, you have got to read these books. They will teach you all about mythology." I had to find an online list of Greek Gods in order to read through the first book, Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief. I had forgotten all my mythology and had to find a cheat sheet.

My twin granddaughters, who are 10, have been busily reading the Anne of Green Gables series. Even my son-in-law got hooked on the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, and I couldn't wait to read the next Stephanie Plum book, Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich. (I've read them all.)

In my career as a librarian, I have noticed that the children who read books in series read the most. Those children actually devour books in the same way they devour hamburgers and fries. There is comfort in a set of characters with whom the child is familiar. For the youngest reader, there are fewer words to learn; they already know the words Amelia Bedelia or Frog and Toad. The middle reader wants to know what is going to happen next to characters they have grown to love. The older reader becomes hooked on the philosophy of the book--the consequences and the cause and effect.

A parent-educator might ask if there is literary value in books in series. Of course, like everything else, some series have more value as literature than others. Certainly the Little Women series have more literary value than the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I have posted on the Other Great Books library list some book series that I would recommend for educational or literary value (through grade 8). I have also included some websites of book lists that you might find valuable as you are helping your child choose books.

Email me if you would like some additional book sources, or if you would like titles of non-fiction books that might tie-in with the fiction series that your child is reading. For example, books on the frontier to go with the Little House books or fact books about frogs and toads to go with the Arnold Lobel books. My email is

Also, if you have a library or book store that you visit, remember to let your child browse and choose books on a variety of topics. Lifelong interests and lifelong skills grow from choosing and reading books.

So tell me...what series of books is your child devouring? What are your feelings about books in series?


(2) Ross, C.S., If they read Nancy Drew, so what? Series book readers talk back. Library & Information Science Research. Volume 17, issue 3. Summer 1995, Pages 201-239


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