In the circles I travel in, the word series is almost a dirty word, at least when it’s used along with fiction as in “series fiction”. I realized recently that currently each of my children is enjoying a different series as a read-aloud which made me start to think about series fiction in general.
There isn’t really any clear definition of what series fiction is. I think when people typically think about the negatives of the genre they are thinking of series that fill library shelves with books that seem to be cut from cookie cutters, sometimes by different authors. There are a lot of those type of series that are pure candy, I admit. But candy can be fun and tasty.
I enjoyed Trixie Belden immensely as a kid and even went through a big Sweet Valley High phase. Likewise, John has enjoyed time spent with Annie and Jack and Andrew Lost. Saturday, he rediscovered a stack of Encylopedia Brown books on his bookshelf and spent the day happily reading through them. I can remember doing the exact same thing at about the same age. Seeing him read them brought back the taste of atomic fireballs and Diet Dr. Pepper and the feel of the fake leather easy chair I used to read in upside down.
People in the homeschooling/education world seem to be of two camps when it comes to series type of juvenile fiction: either it’s anathema or they like to preach moderation. And while I do agree that kids have to come out of the series rut eventually, part of the joy of reading these kind of books is being totally absorbed into the world. They are comfortable and easy and sometimes that’s what you need. It’s nice to know that Trixie will solve the case (and so will Encyclopedia and Nancy and Frank and Joe and those A to Z kids).
Adults do this too. Look at the number of articles on “summer reading” or “beach reading” selections. We admit that there are times when reading something light and easy is just what we need and want. Sometimes we want to pick a book out of the library and know we are going to like it. For me, I tend to turn to mysteries. Lately it’s been Armand Gamache but I’ve also loved spending time in the worlds of Thomas Lynley, Amelia Peabody and Mary Russell. I’ve visited and re-visited the Peter Wimsey books so often I have parts of them almost memorized. On my shelves you can find long rows of books by Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and P.D. James (all arguably series of a sort). For non-mystery lovers there are series like Jan Karon’s Mitford books. I think a lot of times when we search for a book by our favorite author we are looking for the same familiarity that we get from a series.
All this to say, that over a lifetime kids (and adults) should certainly experience the joy of reading to discover a brand new world. Of reading authors with different worldviews. Of struggling with and finishing books that are difficult for them. But, there are also seasons when it’s nice to spend time surrounded by old familiar friends.