Friday, August 5, 2011

Serious About Series Reading

Thinking back to my childhood and reading, there are quite a few series of books I remember reading from about 4th-6th grade.  On the top of the list are: all the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, the Fudge books starting with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, The Boxcar Children and all their mysteries by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and Archie comics I would pick up every time we went to the grocery store.  The series that most sticks out in my mind though was definitely Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin.

This summer has been so much fun because Kellee and I and a bunch of other girls on Twitter have been rereading the Babysitter's Club series and talking about the books as we go.  In general, we've realized how Martin addresses serious issues with poise and clarity that helps readers understand such issues and gain some perspective easily.  So far, we have come across issues such as: divorce, moving, responsibility, diabetes, stroke, deafness, race, learning disabilities, healthy relationships, and bullies.  And that's just off the top of my head.

These books have recently been republished with new covers and some minor updates to account for inflation and changes in life so this generation of kids can relate to them more easily.  Four of the books have also been adapted into graphic novels, illustrated by Raina Telgemeier, who has written and illustrated the highly acclaimed graphic novel, Smile.

I love introducing students to series books or seeing them excited by a book that belongs to a series.  Series reading is great because it encourages kids to read more.  Sometimes starting a new book: meeting new characters, visualizing a new setting, developing a sense of the character's situation and conflict, is work for a reader.

I'll never forget trying to help a student get started with one of Ursula Le Guin's fantasy novels.  She was halfway through and couldn't tell me a thing about the book when I asked her.  I was helping out in her classroom and was so shocked when I found out she didn't know what she was reading about.  I started to read the first few pages to see if I could help her gain some understanding of the book so she could go from there...until I realized I didn't even get what was going on.  This is a testament to how important it is as a teacher and a parent to be talking to kids about what they are reading.  Hopefully they can tell you what they're reading about, it's a huge giveaway if they can't even articulate one sentence about the book.  It helps if you're familiar with the book, but we can't all read every book so asking questions and reading the cover or book jacket and looking at the first few pages should help you get an idea of if the student is on the right track or not.  It about broke my heart to know this student was halfway through a lengthy Le Guin novel before someone told her it was important to check comprehension while reading...and that it's okay to give up on a book that's just too hard!

The point is, getting your bearings as a reader when you start a book doesn't come easy to all kids, but series reading helps kids out! If a kiddo has read one book in a series, the next book should most likely have the same characters, if not, at least it'll have a similar plot or maybe even the same setting. I don't think I'll ever grow out of series reading. Once I'm attached to a character or a plot or setting even, I'm usually curious to know what happens next in the series. I strongly believe in letting kids read what they want to read but will always encourage them to read books in a series if they enjoy them.

Right now I'm just started listening to This World We Live In which is the third book in Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Last Survivors series after Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone. When Peanut and I were at the bookstore last week, we saw that Judy Schachner published a new Skippyjon Jones book called Skippyjon Jones, Class Action in July.  We can't get enough of our favorite characters.

What is your favorite series for young readers, middle grade readers, young adults? Did you read series books when you were growing up? Are you a still fan of series reading as an adult?


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