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Favorite Series Titles: Jen

Posted by Jen Robinson on August 31, 2009 at 6:00 AM in RecommendationsSeries
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I enjoyed Susan's recent post about reading by number. Judging by the comments, lots of people have a strong preference for series books. Personally, I am compulsive about reading series books in order, because I hate having any surprises spoiled. When I read adult titles, I enjoy mystery series. Even though each book might wrap up an individual puzzle, I don't like the character development to be spoiled for me, so I'll rarely read those out of order. And of course for a series like the Harry Potter books, that follows a dramatic arc across all of the books, I think that it's critical to read in order. I tend to prefer the original order in which a series is published over any arbitrary changes to follow chronological order - I'm happy to take in the information in the order that the author intended.

Susan's post got me to thinking about my favorite series reads. For the sake of simplifying the discussion, I'm going to define a series as having more than three books (trilogies are a topic for another day). After mulling this over, I came up with a few simple rules for identifying a series as a favorite. I just ask myself, did I eagerly read through all of the books (either during a short time, if the series was finished when I came across it, or as the books became available, for series that were in progress)? Did I rush out to the store to get any new installments? Did I, if applicable, buy the books in hardcover, or go to the trouble to reserve them from the library? Do I ever re-read the books? If so, then this was (or is) a favorite series.

Trixie.jpgUsing this as a guideline, my favorite series as a child were:

  • The Five books by Enid Blyton
  • The Trixie Belden series by Julie Campbell/Kathryn Kenny
  • The Melendy Family books by Elizabeth Enright (see reviews of the first two books here and here
  • The Maida books by Inez Haynes Irwin
  • The Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
  • The Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery
  • The Borrowers books by Mary Norton
  • The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

gregor.jpgOf more recently published series for children and young adults, I've enjoyed and eagerly read all of the books of:

  • The Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins (reviews here, here, and here)
  • The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane (review here)
  • The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The Tomorrow series by John Marsden (series review here)
  • The Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer (reviews here, here, here, here)
  • The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan (see reviews here and here)
  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

I may not consider all of these books great literature, though many are. A few of the childhood favorites, in particular, haven't held up for me as an adult. But all of these books met my stated criteria above for favorite series at the time that I read them. I distinctly remember grabbing up multiple Trixie Belden books from the bookstore as a kid. I still have all of my copies of the Maida books. And I'm certain that 40 years from now, I'll still have all of my Harry Potters. Other series are on target for inclusion in future favorites lists, but don't yet have more than three books published (The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins comes to mind, for example). See also the books in my series books featuring adventurous girls post. I'm expecting great things from Theodosia Throckmorton.

In case any of you are interested, I've posted a list of some of my favorite adult mystery series on my personal blog. I can think of several other series (for both adults and children) for which I went through three or five or ten books, but have let the last few books sit, unread. I'm not listing those here.

But that made me wonder: what is it that keeps a series from losing my interest? Obviously, I have to care about the characters. No matter how good the plotting is, no matter how interesting the setting, I'm not going to follow characters that I don't care about through more than 2 or 3 books. And the books have to keep surprising me in some way. Humor helps, too, though it's not 100% necessary. But I think that what it really boils down to is that the author has to have captured a world that I want to visit. This world can be anything from an old-fashioned house in the country to a camp for half-blood Olympians. But if it feels authentic, and feels like a place where I want to spend time, and is populated with people I care about, then I'll come back. There's a whole other discussion to be had about series books that have a dramatic arc, and are planned to end after five or seven books, vs. ongoing series that have no particular end in site. That, too, is a topic for another day.

What about you all? What are your favorite series titles? What makes you come back to a particular series time and time again?


Melissa (Book Nut) writes...

The Casson family series, by Hilary McKay.
The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper.
(for older kids) The Bayern books, by Shannon Hale

Yeah, and all the ones you said.

I think what I really like about series is that you already know the characters, and feel familiar with the situations, which makes it easier to get into the book and enjoy what the author has to offer. Sometimes, it doesn't work as well as others, but revisiting the characters is happiness every time.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Excellent choices, Melissa. I'm saving the Bayern books to read all together someday. I love how you put "revisiting the characters is happiness every time". That's perfect!

Kate writes...

Oh, I agree with Melissa--I'm always trying to get people to try Hilary McKay's Casson family books!

But I'll confess, I tend to be impatient with a lot of series... The later books tend to have trouble living up to the promise of the earlier ones. Thank heavens for exceptions like Harry Potter.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for commenting, Kate. I actually read the first Casson family book, and enjoyed it, but for whatever reason I haven't been motivated to continue to read the others. I can think of quite a few series that didn't make it onto my list, because I stopped reading mid-way through. I agree, though. The great ones are a treat!

Susan writes...

Great choices Jen! There are some of my family's favorites on your list, and I'm going to check out a few we haven't encountered yet. My kids and/or I would add:

Clan of the Cave Bear series(Jean Auel)
Ranger's Apprentice (John Flanagan)
The Moffat books (Eleanor Estes)

I'm heading to the book store first thing tomorrow for Catching Fire!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Susan, I hope that you enjoy Catching Fire (I'm not too worried about that - it's wonderful). I have dim memories of reading the Moffat books as a kid, but have never gone back to read them for some reason. I'll keep an eye out for them, and for your family's other suggestions. I've seen both series around, of course, but have never read either the Clan of the Cave Bear of the Ranger's Apprentice books. Sometimes I like to stay away from a series for a while, until it's finished, knowing that I can read it all in one fell swoop one day. Thanks for the suggestions!

Charlotte writes...

The first fantasy series I remember reading was Lloyd Alexander's Prydain...I started on book 2 (The Black Cauldron), and didn't get a hold of book 3 till after I'd read the others (which is fine, because book 3 can be skipped entirely, in my opinion). I so vividly remember exactly where it was in the store, when my Dad bought if for me, and how I spent that afternoon lying in bed, reading, totally lost to the world...and then the joy of finding out that there were more!

My favorite series that's still being written is (are?) Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I really enjoyed the first Thief book, Charlotte, but have been waiting on the others. Sometimes I like to hold a series in reserve, to read when all of the books are out, or just to know that there's a whole series that I'm pretty sure to like in which I can completely immerse myself. That's what I'm doing with those. I've been meaning to go back and re-read the Prydain chronicles one of these years, but there are so many new books ...

Karen writes...

Students certainly love series; I think for the familiarity and predictability, which are notably lacking in the middle school experience. If I had to save just one series, it would be Lenora Mattingly Weber's Beany Malone. I read them when the world is too much with me, and they always make me feel better!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I have to admit I'm not familiar with the Beany Malone books, Karen. But I do know what you mean about having books that you read to make you feel better. I've written before about "comfort reading". My comfort reads include novels by D. E. Stevenson and Georgette Heyer - stories that I practically know by heart, and can count on having a happy ending. And some series, like the Maida books and the Melendy books, too. Thanks for sharing your comfort reads.

Sarah N. writes...

I had many of the same favorites as a kid along with, Betsy-Tacy, Sweet Valley High, The Girls of Canby Hall by Emily Chase (I loved anything set at a boarding school), and the Meg Mysteries by Holly Beth Walker.

Some series my daugther and I have enjoyed together: American Girls, Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (40something books and she still asks for more), Pony-Crazed Princess by Diana Kimpton, Ramona Quimby, and The Moffats.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I liked boarding schools, too, Sarah. I enjoyed the Mallory Towers books by Enid Blyton. Never read Betsy-Tacy, for some reason... (Liz Burns has been reviewing them recently at Tea Cozy, however, and she has piqued my interest). Of course I love Ramona, too. And Ivy and Bean. Glad to hear that you and your daughter have found so many great series to read together.

Jana writes...

Henry Huggins and Ramona by Beverly Cleary! My favorite growing up and now. And Little House on the Prairie. I loved those. I also loved Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew. A current that I recommend to both the boys and girls at my school is Alex Rider. I love that teenage spy!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Beverly Cleary is definitely in a class by herself, Jana. No question. The Little House books were the first series that I can remember selecting, and reading all the way through. So those books have a special place in my heart. I'm going to have to give Alex Rider another look. I tried the first book, and something annoyed me about it, and I didn't finish. But they should be right up my alley, and comments like yours make me think that I need to give them another chance. Thanks!

Lael writes...

There are two different kinds of series books - those that should be read in order and those that don't need to be. For example, with the Narnia books, I think the re-ordering is a mistake - The Magician's Nephew is my least favorite of the series - if you had to start with that one you might never go on. And you certainly don't NEED to read it to enjoy the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. Harry Potter on the other hand, you would miss a lot if you read out of order. That said, at one point when I was a kid I was REALLY into mysteries, and wanted to read the Black Stallion Mystery, but my school librarian wouldn't let me without reading the others first (small public library didn't have it). Now I don't know if that is a book that could be read out of order or not - because I've never read any of them. If she'd let me read the one I wanted, who knows, maybe I would have read them all.

Plus I just have to say the 2nd and 3rd Thief books are way better than the 1st one (IMO). I've reread the 3rd one several times even.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I actually have a follow-on post already drafted for next week, Lael, about the two different kids of series books. So, stay tuned for that. I do agree that the re-ordering of the Narnia books is a mistake - my preference is to read books in the order that the author first read them. But more on that next Monday.

Thanks for your words about the Thief books getting better. I may just have to move those up on my list.

Kate writes...

I have to say I did love the Baby-Sitters Club back in the day! I was always so excited when a new one hit the shelves!

Thanks, Jen, for yet another wonderful, informative post! I love Enola Holmes, and I think Theodosia will be right up my alley, too!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for the feedback, Kate. I think that the Babysitters Club books came out a bit late for me (when I was in college). They weren't the sort of books that immediately draw in an older readers. It seems that I missed out, though. Anyway, you should definitely check out Theodosia.

adrienne writes...

Of course, thanks to you, Jen, that John Marsden series is one of my contemporary favorites, too. I talk teens into reading it here at the library all the time.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

That is great to hear, Adrienne. Does that make me a librarian-by-proxy? I hope so. Seriously, though, I'm happy to have introduced you to a new series in one of our mutual favorite sub-genres. I'm saving the follow-on Ellie Chronicles - I know that once I start the first one, I'll compulsively want to read them all.

Deva Fagan writes...

I have two favorite types of series: the series that I love primarily for the characters and the world, and the series that I love for the unfolding and ever-enriching plots. The latter class always do have characters I love, but I don't feel the same compulsion to slow down and wallow in the world. The former are almost all on my "comfort reads" list.

The "wallow in the world" series that are my favorites include: Betsy-Tacy (Maud Hart Lovelace), the Anne books (L. M. Montgomery), the Harper Hall books (Anne McCaffrey), The All-of-a-Kind family (Sydney Taylor), The Beezus and Ramona books (Beverly Cleary), the Roo books (E. Lockhart).

The "unfolding plot" series that are my favorites include: The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper), The Young Wizards (Diane Duane), the Hunger Games (Suzanne Cooper), The Prydain books (Lloyd Alexander).

Harry Potter is both!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I have a post about two types of series coming out next Monday, Deva. I didn't break it down quite the same way you did, but I like your classification. Especially the "wallow in the world" books as comfort reading. The Anne books are definitely that for me, too. As for Harry Potter being both - is it any wonder, then, that the books have been such a success? Thanks for commenting!

Ladytink_534 writes...

Fantastic is one of the first things in my favorites folder. I can't stand reading things out of order even if they are only vaguely related. It drives me nuts lol.
Practically everything I read now is part of a series and I have WAY too many favorites to name but the Fear Street series by R.L. Stein was a particular favorite when I was younger.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I keep Books 'n Bytes in my favorites folder, Ladytink, so that I can check the order of mystery series. Same idea. I hate reading things out of order, too. Thanks for chiming in!

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