What is it about serial books that keep kids coming back for more? The Harry Potter Series, the Rick Riordan – Lighting Thief series, and Nancy Drew among others have entranced young readers for generations and made books disappear off shelves.
So, what is it then? Readers young and old get invested in the characters in the book. Harry, Nancy and Percy Jackson become known to us and become like old friends. Just like our favorite soaps or shows on TV, we become a part of their family and their lives.
Additionally, with kids, they look upon their paper characters as figures to copy and emulate. For instance, I always loved Nancy’s shoes and convertible. Wow! I wanted one. I also wanted to be just like Nancy when I grew up. That’s some role model!
Additionally, the books are usually grouped together on shelves, their covers look very much the same and are easily recognizable. For a ten-year-old who is overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the ordinary library, this is an important selling point. It is not important to remember the exact title or author. Just, that wizard kid with the glasses will do.
Serials have actually been around for much longer than I had realized. I did a little research on Millie Wirt Benson, who started writing the Nancy Drew series in 1930. Edward Stratemeyer, the editor, created the Hardy Boys books earlier. The series was such a hit, he decided to create a female version for his girl readers. He hired Benson as his ghostwriter.
Stratemeyer was preceded in the genre by Horatio Algers whose kid books were popular before the turn of the twentieth century. So, serial readers have been around for some time. They are excellent ways for kids to get ‘hooked’ on reading. After reading as many of the Drew books as possible, I graduated to Jane Eyre and English romances.
The Good and the Bad
While series are undoubtably a wonderful source of enticing literature for kids, there have been some disturbing trends in the modern genre and fiction books in general. In doing my bit of research into the creation of the Drew series, I was interested to note that Stratemeyer had guidelines for all his juvenile fiction writers. Those were no extreme violence, death or sexuality beyond a little cheek peck. Later, some of these books were deemed to be hopelessly old-fashioned and had to be ‘modernized’. Geeze, save us from old-fashionedness!
Book sales have always been important, even in Stratemeyer’s day. However, there seems to be a growing trend in all fiction markets to keep pushing the limits of ‘acceptable’ particularly in the uses of graphic violence and graphic sexuality. I love a good mystery and have read a lot of them. However, mystery/thriller writers like Steven Berry and Patricia Cornwall have pushed the limits so far with their scenes of violence and sick brutality, that I won’t read their books anymore. In my list of popular series for Young Adults, The City of Bones series which I read, has some scenes of sick violence so great that I wish I had never read them. One scene with a baby keeps playing in my head. Uck!
Now it is difficult to draw a straight line from violent films, literature and games to violence in the streets. All parents wish they had a sure-fire litmus test they could use on these medias to tell which ones are harmful. Unfortunately, there is no such test. As parents and teachers, we will be forced to use the old noggin and common sense to help direct kids to quality reading.
For example, Harry Potter, who I have mentioned several times, is not used as a literature book in school, although it is in most school and public libraries. The reason: Harry is a wizard and his world is filled up with magic, violence and death. These themes are unacceptable to many parents, so schools just avoid the fight and don’t teach with those books. However, The Giver, which is commonly used, is also about birth and death, just in not such a theatrical fashion.
I will list the most popular series books sold and list them by millions of copies sold. I will also list which ones feature violence and death and let you make your own decisions about them.
The Book Series Millions of Books sold
Harry Potter – Rowling 450 Million (magic, violence and death)
Percy Jackson – Riordan 400 (some violence)
Sweet Valley High- Pascal 250
Babysitters Club – Martin 172
The New Girl – Puckett 80
The Hardy Boys – Dixon 70
Nancy Drew – Keene 70
Hunger Games – Collins 65 (violence, death.)
City of Bones – Clare 36 (graphic violence, death)
Eragon – Paolini 33 (graphic violence )
Artemis Fowl – Colfer 21- (some violence)
Redwall – Jacques 20 – (violence)
Divergent – Roth 20 (some violence)
Golden Compass – Pullman 15 million