Turning kids into serial readers

Publishing: Area pupils say series books help maintain an excitement and eagerness to read.

March 26, 2000|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ten-year-old Julie Loiland loves to turn on her bedside lamp and snuggle into her pillows, blankets and the magical world of series books -- especially Harry Potter and all of his adventures at the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"I want to go out and get the next book right away, and then I can hear more adventures of Harry," said Julie, a pupil at Emmorton Elementary School in Harford County, who is also fond of the Littles, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Magic Attic Club and Nancy Drew series books.

"If you like one of the books an author wrote in a series, you can hear more about the same characters and more of their adventures," she said.

Throughout the Baltimore area, boys and girls have been captivated by a variety of series that crowd the shelves in local schools, libraries and bookstores.

"Series books are a springboard to other books," said Selma Levi, head of the children's department at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library. "That's why we embrace them."

When children have read several books in a series, she said, they can be introduced to other books by the same author or to similar books by other authors.

The most popular series share a number of characteristics, said Jean Feiwel, publisher of Scholastic Book Group, a division of Scholastic Inc. -- the largest children's publishing and media company in the world and a leader in children's series books.

These books generally feature characters children can identify with, a rich story line that relates to something youngsters are experiencing in their lives and an interesting, unusual and sustainable premise that can be played out in many ways, she said.

"Series books create an appetite for reading," Feiwel said. "When a series is at the absolute top, children call us to ask when the new one will be coming in. They get very attached and very excited about a series, and reading begins to compete for their attention with television, computer games and VCRs. That kind of hunger for books is terrific."

With the variety of series available in libraries and bookstores, pupils don't need to look far to find something appealing.

Levi said girls tend to have eclectic tastes in reading, while it can be more difficult to find a series that appeals to boys. Often, boys look for the elements of danger and excitement and are likely to favor nonfiction, science fiction and fictional adventure, sports and mystery stories, she said.

Jason Loiland, a Bel Air Middle School sixth-grader and Julie's 11-year-old brother, is typical. He enjoys traveling through time with youngsters in the Magic Tree House books and morphing into animals to fight alien invasions in the Animorphs series.

"I like to read series books because if you really like a book you know, you'll be able to read it again and again," Jason said. "Series books don't just give you one adventure, they give you many adventures. I like to see what happens next."

Levi also notes that the Harry Potter books "are very unusual in that they cross gender lines. Both boys and girls like the excitement, the magic, the creativity of the plot and the wonderful, evil characters there are to hate."

She added that "a good series has a plot that children can identify with. It's got to be something that grabs them, either humor or tragedy. They have to feel as if they have jumped into the book, with some kind of `you are there' feeling. And it's always nice to see someone else having your problems so you don't feel alone."

An informal survey of libraries and bookstores gives a sense of the variety available to children in series books.

At the Pratt library, popular titles include "The Time Warp Trio", "Dear America" and "My Name Is America" -- the latter two historical fiction written in diary format as the reflections of girls or boys from periods of history.

At the Bibelot bookstore in Owings Mills, book associate Linda Caplan has plenty of recommendations for young customers -- once they decide what type of books they find appealing.

"You have to find a genre they like," Caplan said. "Do they like mysteries or humor? Is there a character you can get them interested in?"

Many second-grade boys like books featuring the characters Nate the Great and Captain Underpants, while third-graders often reach for Matt Christopher sports books and Dinotopia. The Redwall series has caught on with older boys.

For girls, there's Junie B. Jones, Ballet Slippers, Fairy School, Amber Brown, The New Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley, Girls to the Rescue, American Girls and Portraits of Little Women, Caplan said.

"I also usually recommend the Orphan Train series for boys and girls," Caplan said. "I like it because it's historical fiction."

The "all-time most popular series" was Goosebumps, a collection of scary stories filled with cliff-hangers and surprises for 7- to 11-year-olds and their parents, said Feiwel, from Scholastic.

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