One Book After the Other

There is a theory that the adults who have become lifelong readers probably began by reading series of books when they were children.

An article’s author (whose name I have sadly forgotten) felt that, with a self-set goal to “read every book in an entire series,” a child gifts himself or herself with reading practice — practice that encourages the brain’s transition from processing only at the word-word-word level to processing that flows, enabling the imagination to create scene, characters, plot, without conscious attempts to focus and find meaning.

If a child realizes that something has changed about the way they were reading, it is very exciting. One morning an eleventh grader, who had always been a word-word-word reader, hurried to my room to exclaim, “Mrs. Taylor! The strangest thing happened last night. I was reading that book you assigned and all of a sudden, I was inside the pet shop with the characters and I couldn’t put the book down!” She had crossed over the barricade that had been holding her hostage — sight words.

If that experience occurs enough times, the mind will train itself to go from print to meaning without any intermediary stops and starts; without any need to hear, or pause to decode, words in order to understand them. When decoding becomes automatic, and interest in a book is high, eyes begin to fly over print, effortlessly seeing meaning instead of letters. As the book series (i.e., practice) continues, novice readers become ever more skilled at really reading and will continue to develop skills that allow them to tackle ever more difficult and complex reading materials.

Those readers will become like those of us who love books — appetites for print will become insatiable. My cousins grew up in an old house that still had gas lighting. The family had moved in before completely remodeling, so many rooms stayed in their vintage state until all work could be completed. The cousins’ bedrooms were wallpapered with aged, yellow newspapers. Since we had very few books at our house, I was always print-hungry. Those bedrooms fascinated me and I would lie on the beds for hours, head twisting left and right, as I read news and ads from many decades before my time. I wanted my room to be decorated just as theirs were!

I have asked many adults what they recalled about their childhood reading. Most have responded that they read every book in a favorite series — then never stopped reading. With that thought in mind, I list some of the numerous series that have played an important part in my life, and/or the life of my son. Reading level: 9—12 years, but both of us reread them far past those birthdays.

1.) The “Little House Books” by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books have been a major influence in the lives of everyone in our home, whether during childhood, or adulthood. By the time that David was four years old, I had read aloud every one of the “The Little House” books, as well as several of the supplements and other fine books written about Laura’s family and life:

After I finished my oral reading of the books, our self-set goal was to visit as many of Laura’s home sites as possible. We have visited the cabin replica at the location of Little House In the Big Woods. (After seeing Laura’s home, we learned that we were but a few miles from the location of Caddie Woodlawn so went to visit there, as well.) Over the years we have also visited the following locations, and any buildings that still exist: On the Banks of Plum Creek; By the Shores of Silver Lake; the circle of trees Pa planted, Wilder’s feed store, the Surveyors’ House, and Pa & Ma’s home in DeSmit, SD, (twice!) the location of The Long Winter, Little Town in the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years. We have been to Mansfield, MO, (twice!) to visit Laura and Almanzo’s homes there. We still hope to visit the location of Little House of the Prairie in Kansas; to New York to see the home of Farmer Boy.

These vacations have been memorable and educational. As a follow-up, we have made scores of stops, and taken innumerable “day trips” to explore antique shops and museums, finding and discussing any items that we had read about or seen as we made “The Little House” books part of our lives. Should grandparents ask for gift ideas, suggest the hardback copies since your children will probably read and reread them, just as David and I have done.

2.) The “Little Britches” series by Ralph Moody

While I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, the boys were reading the Ralph Moody books about cowboys and ranches. I became so curious that I read them, and liked them so much that decades later I bought the entire series for David. He has read them several times.

3.) The Redwall series by Brian Jacques

David’s All-Time Favorites are probably the seventeen books in the REDWALL series, recommended for ages 9—12. He began with paperbacks, but was rereading them so often that the covers became tattered. We have been replacing them with hardbacks, with the last three arriving just a week ago, so he will have the full set to pass on to his children. These are wonderful fantasy stories, and Brian Jacques is still writing, so additions to the set become available. There are websites with fan clubs that even provide the recipes for the foods the little critters prepare. These are definitely important books in our home.

And the various “Tribes of Redwall” and other books by Brian Jacques….

4.) The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

This is an interesting series about a boy who “discovers a special gift — that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark.” Reading level: ages 9—12, but of interest to older children, as well.

5.) The Spirit Flyer Series/Vol 1—4 and The Spirit Flyer Series 5—8

This is a series that begins, “Once there was a magic bicycle that found a boy,” and is a continuing tale of adventure and suspense as children battle a mysterious force of evil in their small town. The entire series is a journey through life, along the lines of Narnia, but anticipates a future with a cashless society, new world order, and forces intent on destroying the world. David found these books very interesting and mentally stimulating. They gave him a foundation for better understanding his later studies of economics and history. Reading level: ages 9—12 but older children, possibly even adults, would find them worthy.

6.) Soup series by Robert Newton Peck

A group of fun books for boys (although my girls like the books, as well) that must be, at least for the most part, autobiographical. Reading Level: 9—12 years. Many of these books are out-of-print, but Amazon has used copies for most of them, and libraries should be a source for others. (For more mature children, suggest these important Peck books, A Day No Pigs Would Die and its sequel A Part of the Sky.)


7.) Maniac Magee and other books by Jerry Spinelli

This is a favorite at home and in my classroom. Maniac Magee is…”a legend…He was special all right, and this is his story, and it’s a story that is very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth.”

8.) The Chronicles of Narnia and others by C.S. Lewis

This is another fine series by an exceptional author, and some of the first books that David packed for our move, despite the fact that he has lost track of how many times he has read the entire series. Suggested for ages 4—104. That age span eases my mind, since these, unfortunately, are still on my Someday to Get Read pile.

9.) J.R.R. Tolkien’s series with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings

From the back of The Hobbit, “This stirring adventure fantasy begins the tale of the hobbits…” and continues through The Lord of the Rings books: The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Part 1), The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Book 2), and The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, Part 3).

10.) The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon

This series offers an unbelievable amount of practice — in both reading and collecting. We dug through every used bookstore and antique shop trying to put together a collection with the old covers. The stories hold the interest, are at a reading level that allows children to practice reading but stay focused on the plot, and are not so thick as to discourage reluctant readers. I have successfully used these with teens and watched as they enjoyed this great preparation before moving on to much more difficult reading.

11.) Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Caroline Keene

Very similar to the Hardy Boys books, but will appeal more to girls.

12.) Louisa May Alcott

These books were among my favorites as I grew up, and David has enjoyed them, as well. He and I have repeatedly reread the three-book series and own hardback copies for the house; paperbacks for stuffing in backpacks, purses, pockets: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. I also enjoyed Alcott’s other books and own a matching set with about seven books, including the above three, plus: Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Under the Lilacs. In our home, we cherish the past and are surrounded by antique furniture as well as prints and other items, many from my grandparents. Books such as these met our emotional needs as we longed for the good ole days.

There are so many worthwhile series that it is difficult to stop recommending authors and their works. I glance through the shelves and realize that I have not mentioned The Indian In the Cupboard series; or the Saddle Club books for the horse crazy girls (didn’t most of us go through that stage?); or The Boxcar Children Mysteries, or…

I lack the space to do justice to the toddler set with series like the Amelia Bedelia and Steven Kellogg’s Tall Tales and Fairy Tales.

The lists for other age levels must wait for another time, but at least here are many suggestions for getting those 9—12 year olds reading, and developing higher-level skills.