For older readers, grades four through seven, there are great series choices. How many books do a series make? I’m thinking three or more — I have no idea if there’s an official classification.
In July, I heard three excellent speakers on children’s literature, Anita Silvey, Judy Freeman, and Barbara Swanson Sanders. They couldn’t get their book recommendations out fast enough. There are so many good books to recommend! The message that came through loud and clear is that there’s a book for every type of reader — even kids (and adults) who “hate” to read. If you see a series listed that wouldn’t find a place on your shelves, step back for a moment and imagine the reader who would find that book unputdownable. Let’s think not so much in terms of Everyreader but about that specific reader who will grow to love books from the carefully chosen book you put into their hands.
Animal Rescue Team (1-Gator on the Loose; 2-Special Delivery!; 3-Hide and Seek; 4-Show Time) by Sue Stauffacher, illus by Priscilla Lamont (Knopf). Grades 4 and up. Meet Carters’ Urban Rescue, an entire family who rescues animals and restores them to health and their most practical habitat. That’s the premise for this series about Keisha Carter, her mom, dad, grandmother, five-year-old brother, and baby brother. Everyone pitches in to the family business. For many readers, this will be a welcome fantasy. Working this closely with animals of all kinds? In the first book, an alligator is found swimming in the city pool. Alligators are poikilothermic, which means they’re cold-blooded. They can’t live in Michigan in the winter. Many people buy baby alligators as pets, thinking they’re cute or unusual, but when they get bigger they can’t afford to feed them and they can’t handle them, so the alligators are abandoned. The Carters take the alligator to a sanctuary, where they learn a great deal about caring for these unusual reptiles. Readers will learn a great deal about alligators after reading Gator on the Loose, just as they will about skunks in Special Delivery! Filled with high-spirited action, humor, and discovery, these are sure to delight any animal-loving reader.
Crispin (1-Crispin: Cross of Lead; 2-Crispin: at the Edge of the World; 3-Crispin: the End of Time) by Avi (Hyperion, HarperCollins). From the moment we meet Crispin in the first book, we understand that this is a boy marked for adventure … and each of the books proves this to the reader. By turns funny and spine-tingling, familiar and breath-taking, the books are set in 14th-century England and France. When we meet Crispin, he is known only as Asta’s son, but a chance meeting with the roughly hewn giant-of-a-man Bear leads the duo on dangerous paths and the discovery of Crispin’s true identity. As their story continues in Crispin: at the Edge of the World, Crispin and Bear are on the run, hoping to avoid the Brotherhood, who are convinced Bear is a traitor. They add to their family by taking Troth, a young girl with herbal healing knowledge and a cleft lip, with them on their travels. They escape across the English Channel to Brittany, where they’re conscripted to fight in a senseless battle against a French church. Recently released, the eagerly anticipated third book, Crispin: the End of Time, finds Crispin traveling on alone, without Bear and Troth, and he joins up with a troupe of entertainers who are more and less than they appear to be. Crispin, on Bear’s advice, is trying to find Iceland, a place of peace. These books are filled with travels, trials, and treachery, balanced by the love shared by Crispin, Bear, and Troth. Great adventure novels for all kinds of readers and an excellent series for reading out loud.
Nissa (1-The Year of the Sawdust Man; 2-Nissa’s Place; 3-The Strength of Saints) by Alexandria LaFaye (reissued by Milkweed Editions). As in all of Alexandria’s novels, the strong voice of her main character, Nissa Bergen, creates a powerful trio of stories about a young girl growing up in uncertainty. Nissa’s mother, a free spirit who is admonished by the townspeople and well-loved by her husband and daughter on her best days, is also a person who lacks a sense of responsibility and frequently experiences dark days. When she abandons her family, chins wag and hurt feelings abound. Nissa is confused and angry, but her observations of the world around her make this book a joy to read. Did her mother take off with another man like the people are saying in town? Was it something Nissa said or did? Or are there other reasons why her mother has run away from Harper, Louisiana? In the next book, Nissa’s Place, her mother wants Nissa to accompany her to Chicago, where they’ll be part of a theatrical troupe. Knowing that Nissa is having trouble accepting her new stepmother’s need to make their house her own, Nissa’s father is reluctant to let Nissa go, but eager to let her explore the world. When it’s time for a decision, where will Nissa choose to live? Will she seek after her mother’s carefree yearnings or her father’s equally strong need for a stable environment? In the final book, one of my favorites, Nissa must have The Strength of Saints. It’s 1936 in Louisiana and 14-year-old Nissa awakens from adolescence to realize that her town is racially divided in a bruising and ugly way. She founds the East and West Libraries, separate but equal libraries for blacks and whites. Eagerly crusading for what she believes is right, the novel looks at many of the challenges faced in America’s history. This series will be enjoyed by avid readers from ages 10 and up.
Ranger’s Apprentice (1-The Ruins of Gorlan; 2-The Burning Bridge; 3-The Icebound Land; 4-The Battle for Skandia; 5-The Sorcerer of the North; 6-The Siege of Macindaw; 7-Erak’s Ransom; 8-The Kings of Clonmel; 9-Halt’s Peril; 10-The Emporer of Nihan-Ja) by John Flanagan (Penguin). Will appeal to those who enjoy fast-paced, adventurous fantasy novels. Probably most enjoyed by readers ages 10 and up. Heck, I know adults who eagerly await the next volume in this series. The appeal is unrelenting. Will is an orphan who is cared for by the Baron Arald and his staff. It is expected that when Will is old enough, he’ll be apprenticed in a field in which he would enjoy working and do his best. Everyone is surprised when Will is chosen by Halt, one of the King’s Rangers. Will’s training is both funny and dangerous, but it prepares him for the challenges ahead in the battle with Lord Morgarath, the Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night. Fearsome creatures are sent by Morgarath to do battle with the King’s fiefdoms and the Rangers are foremost players in their roles as spies, messengers, and strategists. This series stands out as one of the best fantasies in recent years. Its characters, twisting plot, fully-realized world, and overarching humanity. A sure-fire suggestion for those who enjoy fantasy.
4 for 4 (1-Top of the Order; 2-Eyes on the Goal; more to come) by John Coy (Feiwel & Friends). Grades 4 and up. Four boys with different family challenges and strengths come together for sports. In Top of the Order, they play baseball — and they have to “get over” having a girl on the team. Especially Gig. The girl is his sister, Sydney, and he has a hard enough time living up to her off the field. Diego, Quinn, Gig, and Jackson are in their last year of elementary school. They like being teammates and friends and they’re worried that they’ll be split up in different middle schools. In Eyes on the Goal, the foursome heads off to summer soccer camp, where they work harder than expected to get better at their game. Two more books are expected in this series, each one focused on a different sport. Great reading for boys and girls alike.
What a lot of series there are! Thank heavens, because it gives readers a sense of belonging and anticipation. Just ask the legions of Nancy Drew and Harry Potter fans … and series books are just right for the slower pace of summer.