Right now, the Tom Gates, WeirDo and Treehouse books are dominating the children’s bestseller charts. And this month we can expect new instalments in a number of hit series including Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus and James Patterson’s Middle School, as well as the launch of some brand-new series, including the charming Trickstars, which features triplets, trick-riding and horses.
Some children’s fiction series are structured as separate episodes in an ongoing story. In the best of these, kids are drawn into complex imaginative worlds and engage with characters they care about, while the clever plotting reveals just enough story in each episode to leave us satisfied and still keen to discover more.
Like book series for adults – and our favourite episodic TV shows – these series appeal to our craving for ‘what happens next’.
Others series incorporate standalone, separate-but-linked stories that are set in the same world or feature the same characters. The best of these are based on themes that excite kids (fairies and spies are two that spring to mind), and while the stories can be read alone, there will be small rewards for those who read on through the series, such as little ‘reveals’ about the world or characters’ backgrounds.
Whatever their structure, book series can be great for supporting kids’ reading development.
If you’re feeling a bit bemused (or even frustrated) by your little one’s insistence on reading yet another book about fairies or wimpy kids, consider these positives:
1. Familiarity and ease of choice: We’ve probably all felt overwhelmed at some point trying to choose our ‘next read’ from all the books on offer in a bookshop. This is all the tougher for kids, for whom reading itself is still unfamiliar and can carry a huge weight of expectation. Reading ‘the next book’ in a series reduces the angst of choosing and the anxiety of trying something new – it’s reassuring for them to know what to expect in a book and feel confident they’ll like it.
2. Accomplishment and reinforcement: Kids feel a real sense of achievement when they finish one book, and then two, and then three in a series. And each time they finish another, they have more confidence that they can read and are readers. Studies show that reading more books and reading regularly boosts literacy skills and promotes academic achievement and emotional development. That’s partly why school programs and projects like the state Premiers’ Reading Challenges focus on the quantity of books read.
3. Reading momentum: While it’s not unusual for kids’ enthusiasm for reading to wane at various times, it’s great to be able to keep them reading by offering ‘more’ of what they’ve loved. It’s much trickier to have to rekindle their enthusiasm than to maintain it. And regular, ongoing reading helps kids retain the literacy skills they’ve built.
4. Collectability: A lot of kids like collecting stuff. Just look at the recent popularity of the Woolworths animal cards (or, if you’re a child of the seventies, think back to all those plastic Smurfs). Kids who collect can find it very motivating to acquire and read the whole set of something.
5. Gift Giving: This point is all about you and the other adults in your child’s life. Sometimes it just makes life easier when your kids are passionate about something and you can tell the grandparents or friends ‘he’d love any book (or the new book) in the … series’ for his birthday!