It’s what every book lover dreams about: finding a book with wonderful characters and a gripping plot, only to discover that the story doesn’t end with this book. You do get to find out what happens next, and if the characters you’ve grown to care about get their happy ever afters. Young readers coming of age in the last decade have discovered the delight of reading books in a series with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Inkheart, The Hunger Games, and many more. Before Harry and Hogwarts there was Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in Narnia, Taran in Prydain . . . and so many more wonderful friends just waiting to entice young readers!
Some teachers — and parents — worry about a compulsion to read through one series, without sampling a range of genres, authors, and levels of difficulty. But classrooms that are creating an environment that fosters a love of reading can learn to celebrate the many benefits of reading a series of books with the same characters. It can help to craft a rationale for stocking your shelves with them and encouraging young adolescents to enter these rich worlds, and stay a while.
Reading books in a series grows readers. Here’s a beginning list of reasons why. Reading books in a series:
1. Builds perseverance.
In end-of the-year interviews with sixth graders last year, I asked Tabitha what she was proud of as a reader. “I read all of Twilight,” she beamed. “It’s so thick!” She was justifiably proud. What an accomplishment to read all those pages—and have the perseverance to keep going. Of course it helps to be intrigued by the characters and want to know what happens next. But that’s the beauty of a series. The books help create the habit of always reading — and knowing the next book you’re going to read.
2. Acts as a bridge for reading longer and more complex novels.
Just as early reader chapter books are an important developmental step for beginning readers, reading books in a series helps early adolescents hold information from early chapters (and earlier books in the series) as they progress through the stories. They discover that incidents from book 1 will have an impact on what occurs in book 4. This is a crucial skill to develop as young readers read more complex novels that require referring back to incidents, characters, and motivations that occurred earlier in a story.
3. Teaches story structure.
Readers come to know what to expect from book to book in a series. Most series have an internal structure, and as readers become accustomed to the way the authors frame their plots, they note the similarities from book to book — and also the differences within the structure of other texts and authors.
4. Fosters immersion in a complex literary world.
When readers dig into the next book in a series, they already know something of the characters — they aren’t “starting from scratch.” This kind of immersion gives readers the time and space to mentally create the worlds they are reading about. Once readers are “hooked” on this world, they have motivation to keep going. An understanding of the power of literary elements such as character development comes naturally. Over the course of several books, for example, readers see Harry Potter grow from a young boy to a young man, with a somewhat surly adolescence along the way. Each novel tells an installment, wrapping up a plot entirely, while leaving the reader wondering what will happen next — and how Harry will cope with it.
At every age level, there are high quality book series that deserve space on our classroom book shelves. It’s fun to bring in different genres, too. If you’re looking for a few series for your mystery-loving tween readers, check out these titles to begin your list of recommendations.
Mysteries for Tweens
Does the notion of a detective conjure the image of a man in a coat, with a hat and a pipe? If so, you’ve probably missed a lot of great tween lit. Today’s best detectives are in middle or high school, and are battling popularity and homework as furiously as Holmes ever fought Moriarty, all while tracking down a killer one step ahead of the grownups and police. Seriously, for tweens through adults who are mystery fans, if you haven’t read any of these mystery series featuring younger sleuths, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams
Detective: Ingrid Levin-Hill
Hometown: Echo Falls
Sidekick: Joey Strade, Police Chief’s son, and former face in the crowd who is starting to grow up, look good, and invite Ingrid to dances and monster truck rallies.
Hero: Sherlock Holmes
Case Notes: Actress, soccer player, Sherlock Holmes worshiper, eighth grader — Ingrid has plenty on her plate before a local eccentric woman is found dead. Ingrid was not only the last person (aside from the killer) to see her alive, but has left her bright red Puma cleats at the murder scene, making her a prime person of interest. She needs to solve the crime before Chief Strade arrests her or the killer learns she’s on to them (or her distraction loses her the lead role of Alice in the local production of Alice in Wonderland). Highlights of the book include the fully realized supporting characters — Grampy and the Chief in particular — and Ingrid’s constantly reasoning, “What would Sherlock do?”
Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison
Detective: Lulu Dark
Hometown: Halo City
Hero: definitely NOT Nancy Drew
Case Notes: “Girl detectives are prissy busybodies” believes Lulu who doth a bit too much protesting about her disdain for Nancy Drew as she sets about trying to find the thief of her favorite purse. The chase uncovers a Lulu doppelganger who hates her and steals her identity (including her chance to hook up with a rock star) and now it’s personal. While a bit too Nancy Drew meets Gossip Girl, it is a light and fun read.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Ballit
Detective: Calder Pillay
Sidekick: Petra Andalee (and Tommy, in the next two books)
Hero: Ms. Hussey
Case Notes: A missing Vermeer. Pentominos. Blue M&M’s. A funny, beloved, and suddenly nervous teacher. A mysterious old lady. Coincidences? Calder and Petra come to believe not, and set out to solve the mystery that has adults baffled, and unable to even see the clues that seem so clear to the kids. Fans of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will appreciate the art in this mystery — or the mystery of this art. Any adults who remember the Hawkeye and Amy books will appreciate the drawings with clues. Caution: this mystery will make you suddenly obsessed with getting your own set of pentominos and learning more about Vermeer.
The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
Detective: Enola Holmes
Hometown: Now residing in London
Sidekick: no one- in fact, her name backwards is “Alone”
Hero: Sherlock Holmes, elder brother
Case Notes: Perhaps you are familiar with Sherlock’s older (fatter) brother, Mycroft? But did you know they had a much younger sister, Enola? After their father passes away, Enola is raised by her eccentric mother, Lady Eudoria, who mostly leaves Enola to her own devices. When her mother disappears, and Sherlock and Mycroft arrive to pack their younger sister off to finishing school, she decides she must take matters into her own (capable) hands. She sets off on her own to find her mother. On the way, she stumbles into another mysterious disappearance (the missing marquess of the title), and discovers she has deductive powers to rival her famous older brother (whom she also happens to resemble). The mystery is interesting, but not nearly so hard to deduce as the problem of how she will stay out of reach of a brother with superior abilities of reasoning, who retains his less than enthusiastic opinion of women (family included).
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers
Detective: Theodosia Throckmorton
Sidekick: often pesky, sometimes helpful younger brother, Henry and Sticky Will
Hero: if she were aware of her, it would be Amelia Peabody
Case Notes: Part Indiana Jones, part Amelia Peabody, part Nancy Drew and part Harry Potter, Theo is an amazing girl. Left primarily to her own devices by an absentminded father who is curator of an Egyptology Museum and an adventuress archaeologist Mother, Theo has the run of the museum. That means that she has ample time to detect the ancient curses embedded in some of the artifacts. She spends her time trying to teach herself enough of the old magic to un-do these curses before they can do any damage. She has her work more than cut out for her when one of the new artifacts that her mother brings back could unleash the Serpents of Chaos, and if used by the Nazi’s it could destroy the British Empire. Theo has to find a way to get to Egypt and stop them, all while navigating the dangerous world of international secret societies. Can she do it? The publication of two subsequent adventures indicates that yes, she can.
The Law of Three: A Sarah Martin Mystery by Caroline Rennie Pattison
Detective: Sarah Martin
Hometown: Muskoka, Ontario
Sidekick: Byron Hopper
Hero: No heroes for this sensible detective
Case Notes: Sarah is a bit of an outsider when she moves to a small town (Muskoka). When she is assigned long-time resident Byron Hopper as a partner for a project in school, she discovers you don’t have to be new to town to be an outsider. Byron’s sister Garnet is rumored to have committed a murder, and Sarah takes on the investigation to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding this murder. Is Byron’s family part of a witness protection program? Are they devil worshipers? What do their Wiccan beliefs have to do with the murder mystery? Sarah is very much a modern Canadian Nancy Drew!