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Friday, April 15, 2011

This April, Series Reign

by Susan Chapek

NOTE. Still finding it impossible to edit images into my post. So I'm posting at text-only version. Just so I don't have this hanging over my head.

Margaret, in the Kidlit department at my local bookstore, tells me it didn't start with Harry Potter. "That series was like a spatter of raindrops. Hopeful, but you wonder whether you'll actually need the windshield wipers," she says. "It was Rick Riordan who really opened the floodgates."

She waves at the shelves labeled "Favorite Series, Ages 9 to 12." --216 linear feet of books, not counting end caps and islands. I see the familiar medal winners, scattered single volumes. But right now, Rick Riordan's three "mythological" series—and a host of imitators—reign supreme.

With series luring them on, are kids reading more? Margaret swears they are.

I have mixed feelings about series. As I kid, they often frustrated me. Loved them--but could never get enough, literally. Family economics meant never, absolutely never, browsing bookstores. I depended entirely on occasional gifts and the Cleveland Public Library.

But it's hard to read a sequential series when you're competing for a handful of library copies. To this day, I favor series (or collections) that can be read in random order.

In theory, a sequential series compressed into fewer, longer volumes should help solve that problem. But many of the new thick-volume series (especially the fantasy/quest variety) strike me as rambling, repetitive, rushed into print, carelessly crafted. Or the first book is great, and the rest—not so much. (I won't name names.)

So which longer fantasies quench my thirst for something both juicy and well-written? Megan Whalen Turner's ATTOLIA stories and Shannon Hale's BOOKS OF BAYERN (you don't have to read the latter in order, either).

But historical series are my passion. And my newest favorites sit face out on the shelf: Laurie Halse Anderson's thrilling CHAINS and FORGE.

Now let's talk quick reads. Many series offer a multitude of short-short variations on some admittedly interesting hook. I did, and still do, gobble such "shorties" down. But some of them are so ... style-free. I'd love to see more shorter series books that are also "literary"--like Gary Blackwood's SHAKESPEARE books (SCRIBE, SPY, and STEALER) and Nancy Springer's ENOLA HOLMES mysteries. I didn't see any of those on the shelves this month. They're in libraries, of course, and it looks like you can get them in e-editions. But how do you find out about them? (While I'm thinking about terrific short historicals, here's a note to Scholastic: please publish e-versions of Ann Rinaldi's wonderful QUILT TRILOGY.)

To its credit, Scholastic hired several "literary" authors to write the short, clever books in the 39 CLUES series. But readers who can't afford to buy all the books and clue cards can't fully participate in the puzzles and competitions. (Computer code numbers make sharing the books, even among siblings, impossible. Bah, humbug.)

Nestled among the glazed, holographed, and gilded new series are a precious few of my favorite old ones—timeless, elegant, nourishing as a long spring rain. Madeleine L'Engle's TIME stories; the AVONLEA books; Lloyd Alexander's PRYDAIN saga. You can usually find multiple copies in the library, too. So you can check out two or three consecutive volumes at a time, and read straight through.

The kid in me loves that.

1 comment:

  1. I love series. Except when I'm waiting for the next installment. Then I hate them. The best situation is if you discover a series after the whole thing has been published (and you can find copies in the library).

    I LOVE the Attolia series. And the Time series, although I definitely like the first one best - A WRINKLE IN TIME.