A few weeks ago I wrote that I was a little jealous of a young patron who was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Truth be told, it wasn't just that he was reading it for the first time... it was that he was able to read it at all. He had started the series only a month earlier and had already worked his way through nearly all seven books. It was such a contrast from all the years I waited for the entire series to be published.
Would the series have been so successful if the books had been published closer together or farther apart? I don't think it would have mattered. Series books are episodic by their very nature. At one point in time, nearly every series ever published is unfinished... but we tend to forget that when we have the whole series in front of us. For example, I remember mentioning the torturous wait for Harry Potter 6 to my boss at the time. She responded by telling me how difficult it had been for her to wait for the whole Lord of the Rings series to be published.
I think that the long agonizing wait actually made me appreciate the Harry Potter series more. I analyzed, thought about and puzzled over each book for years while waiting for the next one. Each book was a treat to savor, because I knew it would be years before I would get the next installment. (All of this is in retrospect, of course. At the time, the waiting made me crazy.)
On the other hand, there's also the sheer joy of being able to pick up the next book in a series (any series) right away. It lets you continue living in the author's magical world for just a bit longer and it helps with continuity. My mom read the first few Harry Potter books as they came out, but they didn't do much for her at the time. She kept forgetting the characters and plot lines... and reached the fourth book without being quite sure she knew who You-Know-Who was. After all the books were published, she read the whole series together and found it a far more enjoyable experience. The intricacies of the story were much easier for her to follow.
Sometimes, we may not even realize we're reading a series. A teenage patron recently showed me her summer reading log, and I noticed she had given a very low rating to Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville. I asked if she had enjoyed the other two books in the Unicorn Chronicles. She replied by saying she had no idea Dark Whispers was the third in a series... but that it would explain an awful lot.
I've also talked to people who claim not to mind reading out of sequence. There are kids who will read whichever book happens to be on the shelf at the library. For some series, it really doesn't matter which order you read them in. Usually, I just recommend reading the first book published before reading the rest. But I always wonder about kids who read, for example, Harry Potter #6, then #2, then #7. Are they getting anything out of the books? Does it make any sense?
On the other end of the spectrum, I frequently see kids who love to read in order. No matter the series, whether it's the Magic Tree House or Geronimo Stilton, they want to read every book according to its number. For these kids, there's nothing more valuable than a good series database.
Sometimes, the numbers themselves aren't entirely straight forward. Let's take the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder as an example. When I was reading the books, they were numbered in this order: #1 Little House in the Big Woods, #2 Little House on the Prairie, #3 Farmer Boy... etc. That has since changed, and the current numbers on the sides of the books are: #1 Little House in the Big Woods, #2 Farmer Boy, #3 Little House on the Prairie.
I had a young patron tell me recently how much she had enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods, but #2 (Farmer Boy) made her stop reading the series. Sometimes, I think in the quest to be chronological, publishers can sometimes leave a good story by the wayside. As for how to number the series, I think this list is the best.
How do you like to read a series? Slowly and methodically over time, or in one big gulp? In order or out of order? Has chronological numbering versus publication date ever been an issue for you in a series you've read? Have you ever waited for a series to be fully published before you started it?