Series Keep Readers Engaged and Growing | Donalyn Miller

Reading a series can increase students' understanding of storytelling, text structures, and the author’s craft, as well as offering a connection with peers.

Reading or re-reading a series has been a common strategy for sustaining reading motivation and interest during the pandemic. An editor friend spent the summer re-reading his "Star Trek" paperbacks from high school. A friend who teaches middle school reads her favorite romance series on her phone. Series—a sequence or collection that shares common characteristics such as literary elements, text structure, or format—provide readers with abundant opportunities to connect with books and reading. While I was chatting recently with a class of sixth graders about their reading preferences, their love for series drove the conversation. Some kids compared reading a series to binge-watching a show. Others mentioned how reading a series helped them find books to read. They could follow a series for several months without searching for something new, discover other books written by series authors, or explore several topics covered in one nonfiction series.

Talking with adult readers, many identify the series they read in childhood as significant influences on their reading identities. Series often mark turning points when a reader’s enthusiasm for reading began and they may continue reading series throughout their lives. Nostalgia and the ongoing popularity of series such as "The Baby-Sitters Club," Phillip Pullman’s "His Dark Materials," and Jenny Han’s "To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before" inspire television and movie adaptations and become generational favorites.

Not long ago, most popular series for children featured white characters and European archetypes (think "The Bobbsey Twins" or "Narnia"). As more #ownvoices series are published, young readers will have richer opportunities to connect with characters and subjects reflecting their families and experiences, and the stories of many different people. The popularity and acclaim for fantasy series such as Sayantani DasGupta’s "Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond" and Kwame Mbalia's "Tristan Strong" show that young readers, families, and educators value books featuring a wide range of voices and cultural influences.

Savvy librarians and teachers have long known that series can invite young people into reading and sustain their interest. We support young readers when we increase our knowledge of the series available for students to read and understand how reading series can influence young people’s reading development.

The connections readers forge with characters, authors, or illustrators from beloved series provide comfort and support their growing comprehension skills, too. Readers are more likely to stick with an entire series run when they become invested, which naturally increases their reading volume—a predictor of reading proficiency. The background knowledge readers build while reading several titles in a series increases their understanding of storytelling, text structures, and the author’s craft. Want to get to know an author? Read six of their books in a row! The familiarity found in a series provides readers with consistent elements they recognize. This foundation makes each subsequent book easier to comprehend.

[READ: Reader-to-Reader: Sharing Book Recommendations Builds Community]

When advising students who struggle with self-selecting books or choosing a new book when they finish one, offering series is a go-to strategy. When readers lack a reading plan for future reading, a series provides an easy-to-follow plan that shortens the lag time between one book and the next. Observe students’ preferences, book browsing behaviors, and their interests. How might a series match their needs? What series are popular this year? Work with colleagues and students to create a list of high-interest series. Share this list a few times a year with families as a resource for finding books.

Read the first book or two in as many series as you reasonably can. You will have a better understanding of a series’s potential for your students. You do not need to read every "Wings of Fire" book to promote them with kids, though! In a reading community that values all readers, invite the students with more expertise to promote their favorite series to one another. These peer-to-peer suggestions carry more influence than yours. No one can drive the reading lives of hundreds of students in a school. Much better to build a community that feeds itself.

When series become popular with a group of students, their shared interest can foster social relationships between kids who might not interact otherwise. I remember Rachel, a new student to our sixth grade class, who found the other "Warriors" fans by the end of her first day. Her knowledge and appreciation for Erin Hunter’s series helped her discover classmates with common interests and a list of ready topics to discuss.

While continuously seeking new ways to engage young people with reading, it is useful to consider how some tried-and-true methods like offering series still work. While we encourage students to read widely, we recognize the value of reading deeply on occasion. Connecting readers with a series supports them today and tomorrow.

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Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) is an award-winning teacher, author, and staff development leader.

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