Wednesday, 29 May 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week "Sequels and Series" - Why are series and sequels so important to young readers?

Can you imagine if the boy wizard's adventures began and ended in "The Philosopher's Stone" ?
In our continuing examination of this week's #ReadItMD13 theme of "Series and Sequels in children's books" (which we began with some brilliant book recommendations from folk we love to bits) I thought it would be good to talk in detail a bit more about how important book series can become to a young reader.

Like sliding into a pair of comfortable slippers, a familiar set of characters and settings with the added spice of new stories and experiences provides a young fledgeling reader with something vitally important to their emerging reading experiences. In one word, continuity.

Continuity is important for a few reasons. One, it helps a young reader to gain confidence. If they could read one book in a series, they're extremely likely to feel confident enough to tackle another - without the added reading overhead of having to sit through scene-setting, character definition and other things that stand in the way between the reader, the characters and the story at hand.

Book series also become parallels to other forms of information and entertainment children are exposed to. In children, 'collecting' behaviour starts even earlier than it ever has before, as quite often children will favour specific (and sometimes fairly narrowly focused) toy or activity lines. Similarly, they'll also often favour specific film or TV series.

When a book becomes popular enough to warrant a sequel (or indeed even an entire series) authors and illustrators have to balance the pressure of making something that's "as good as, if not better than the original" with the fairly comfortable scenario of being able to have the original work (and the volume of feedback they receive on it) as the jumping off point for the new book.

Getting back to the idea of continuity for children, "what happens next" is an incredibly powerful hook for a child. With Charlotte, quite often she'll readily accept new books, original books, books that are comfortably laid out in writing and illustrative rules or books that stick a size 10 doc marten straight through those rules while thumbing their noses at the rest. But sequels and series are quite often the books she gets most excited about, because with a well established series she has the luxury and certainty of knowing that "there's more where that came from" (For instance, with our recent readings of the utterly sublime "Hilda" comics, knowing there are books out there she hasn't read yet makes her more interested in the ones she's got and also makes her clamour for more. Bad for daddy's wallet but extremely good for the book business, hooray!)

As children get older, they become more interested in character evolution, perhaps even in series where a much loved / popular character is killed off and another takes up the reins.

For early readers though, and for parents like me who read to our children, series are  - as Clara Vulliamy so eloquently put it when the topic came up this morning on Twitter - like being able to look forward to a fabulous box set of a TV series. With her own well established and hugely popular "Bunny Brothers" book series, we have the delight of knowing that we can trace Martha and her brother's adventures through several books and wait on the edge of our seats in anticipation of the next.

I'd love to hear comments from authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers and parents on what they think of book series - whether they think they're extremely useful to early readers or perhaps even one or two comments about book series that have perhaps outstayed their welcome. Drop in and join in!