Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘series for young people

As part of celebrating classics this month, I wanted to highlight some beloved book collections that are on my shelves. I’ve broken them down in two different ways. One are those titles which comprise a set by being about the same character. Two are those which make up a collection, even if only in my mind, by virtue of their being a group of books by the same author. Another rule I adhered to is that there must be at least ten titles for me to include the collection in my round-up. Also, the books can’t be simply on my wish list, but rather must be ones I have myself repeatedly read. Here goes!


OZ: Fantasy has always been on my reading list, although nowadays it seems as if I mostly enjoy the classic kind. The first title in the OZ series chronicles the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the Land of Oz, after being swept away from her Kansas farm home in a cyclone. Thirteen additional titles follow, all featuring Dorothy and/or other notable characters from OZ. For as long as I can remember, this series has been part of my life. I’ve seen the movie spin-offs including one about the author Frank Baum and an exhibit on OZ that featured the red shoes, as well as bought a book entitled The Hundred Years of Oz. My favorite, which I discovered in my dad’s fifth-grade classroom decades ago, remains Ozma of Oz.

Paddington Bear: Animal books have also always been on my list, whether realistic or fantastical. The friendly bear from deepest, darkest Peru—with his old hat, battered suitcase, duffle coat and love of marmalade—has become a classic character who recently starred in his own movie. He was discovered in Paddington Station, London, by the Brown family who adopted him, and possesses an endless capacity for innocently getting into trouble. Decades ago, my dad bought me my very own Paddington Bear plush doll. On my wish list is the autobiography of the author, Michael Bond.

Black Stallion: The first book in the series, published in 1941, chronicles the story of an Arab sheikh’s prized stallion after it comes into Alec Ramsey’s possession. The subsequent novels are about the stallion’s three main offspring, as well as about the Black himself. The series introduces a second stallion that is considered the Black’s only equal – The Island Stallion, Flame. As with other beloved series, I have seen the movie spin-offs. Moreover, the series certainly helped to spawn by childhood love of horses. As an adult, however, I found that riding on them takes getting used to, and so now I prefer to simply enjoy reading about these magnificent beasts. Other than the original title, during my earliest encounter with the series, my favorite title was Black Stallion and the Girl. Is that because I prefer to read books with a female character? Or is it when I reached this title, I had begun to develop an interest in romance novels? One day I’ll have to reread the series and see my favorite title changes.

Doctor Doolittle: This famous doctor shuns human patients in favor of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages. He later becomes a naturalist, using his abilities to speak with animals to better understand nature and the history of the world. Along with Chronicles of Narnia, this series encouraged a childhood fantasy that animals could talk to humans. Apparently, Doctor Dolittle first appeared in the author’s illustrated letters to children, written from the trenches during World War I when actual news was either too horrible or too dull. Sounds like an author whom I would like to know more about!

Little House: Growing up, I wasn’t a huge fan of historical fiction. One exception, perhaps partly due to the television series, were the Little House books. With the assistance of her daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote eight books about her childhood in the northern Midwest during the 1870s and 1880s. The first draft of a ninth novel, The First Four Years, was published posthumously in 1971 and is commonly included in the series. As an adult, I have better come to appreciate historical fiction. In addition, my own move to the Midwest renewed my interest in Wilder’s books. Not only have I visited tourist sites relevant to the author, but I have purchased several books written about Wilder and her series. My favorite has long been Little Town on the Prairie, due to it being about the trials of the Ingalls girls at school.


Judy Blume: From the moment my dad gave me a copy of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, I’ve been hooked on Judy Blume. Thanks to Blume, I understand what it meant to have periods and to experience doubts in my faith. Blume’s novels have also tackled bullying, divorce, friendship, masturbation, and teen sex. Growing up, I wanted to become a Christian Judy Blume. As an adult, when I sold books to afford to move out on my own for the first time, I couldn’t bear to part with any titles by Blume. When I teach writing to my school students, I often use examples from her books to illustrate how to tell a story and develop character. Recently, my husband graced me with a signed-copy of her current adult book, In the Unlikely Event. Judy Blume will always remain one of my favorite authors.

Beverly Cleary: Perhaps because she wrote about everyday events, I didn’t appreciate Clearly until much later in life. When I sold books to move out on my own, I did sadly part with many titles by her. To my credit, I only made the mistake because I believed that I could easily replace those titles when I had my own place. The reality is that hardcover copies do not always stay readily available. I have spent the past few years, tracking down Henry Huggins and Ramona titles at used-book venues. A side benefit I suppose is that this search spurred my interest in collecting titles by Clearly that I hadn’t encountered during my childhood. I also now own her two autobiographical titles. No collection of children’s literature should be without all of Cleary’s books.

Eleanor Estes: Another writer whom I came to appreciate later in life, Estes is noted for having a rare gift for depicting everyday experiences from the fresh perspective of childhood. She’s also recognized as a writer of family stories, and as one who shaped and broadened that subgenre’s tradition. The Moffats is the first in a series of four books that tells about four young children and their mother who live in a small town in Connecticut. Their adventures are based on Estes’ memories of her childhood and focus on a working-class, single-parent American family during World War I. Each chapter in the book tells of one simple adventure the children had. The author’s influence on me can be seen on the names I bestowed on my plush toys, Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye, which are also the titles of two of her animal books.

Jean and John Craighead George: Common themes in George’s works are the environment and the natural world. Although she wrote over 100 books, I own only her earliest works. Due to my attraction to wolves, my favorite of her titles is the Julie and the Wolves trilogy. Inspiration for Julie of the Wolves apparently evolved from two specific events during a summer she spent studying wolves and tundra at the Arctic Research Laboratory of Barrow, Alaska. Wikipedia provides this quote: “One was a small girl walking the vast and lonesome tundra outside of Barrow; the other was a magnificent alpha male wolf, leader of a pack in Denali National Park. They haunted me for a year or more as did the words of one of the scientists at the lab: ‘If there ever was any doubt in my mind that a man could live with the wolves, it is gone now. The wolves are truly gentlemen, highly social and affectionate.’ “ Apparently, she wrote an autobiography, and so I must add that title to my wish list. 🙂

Marguerite Henry: Stricken with rheumatic fever at the age of six, which kept her bedridden until the age of twelve, Marguerite Henry discovered the joy of reading while she was confined indoors,. Soon afterwards, Henry also discovered a love for writing when her parents presented her with a writing desk for Christmas. All of her fans I’m sure are eternally grateful that her sickness led to a fruitful writing career. Her fifty-nine books based on true stories of horses and other animals captivated entire generations. She won the annual Newbery Medal for one of her books about horses and she was a runner-up for two others. One of the latter, Misty of Chincoteague, was the basis for several sequels and for the 1961 movie Misty. My personal favorite, perhaps just because it stood out among her multiple of titles about horses, is Cinnabar the One O’Clock Fox. When my husband and I took a trip to Arizona, Brighty of Grand Canyon also took on special significance. On my wish list is a trip to Chincoteague itself!

Apparently, an unintentional rule of mine was also to feature only those authors whose books are on my regular shelves. As such, I neglected to mention authors whose books I have separately displayed in our family library: Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis. Of course, as a reader, one never stops discovering authors. Not mentioned in this round-up are authors whose books I began collecting seriously only as an adult: Lloyd Alexander, Bill and Vera Cleaver, Gary Paulsen, E.L. Konisburg, and Katherine Paterson. I sense a part-two in the works! In the meantime, what are your favorite book collections?

Sometimes finding a book that a student has recommended can be an adventure. For example, I recently searched the library of the school where I teach for a Perfectly Princess book. Did you know there are six books, each has a different color and is about a different character?

Unless a student recommends a specific title in a series, I prefer to read the first book in the set. The first in the Perfectly Princess series by Alyssa Crowne was checked out, which seemed too bad because it was about school. I opted for the second. Turns out it was the right choice. When I informed my student that I had borrowed a Perfectly Princess book, she eagerly asked, “Did you get the purple one?”

Purple Princess Wins The Prize has an adorable appearance. All its pages are purple. Its cover is decorated with white stars. The illustrations are simple line drawings. One is easily drawn to this cute and colorful series.

What about the content? Purple Princess Wins The Prize has a predictable plot: the main character Isobal has a problem and faces a few obstacles in trying to resolve the problem. Isobal’s dilemma is that her twin brothers both have tons of trophies, while she has none. In reading a book about a princess who goes on a journey, Isabal is inspired to go on her own to win a prize. She tries to win a cupcake contest and later a fifty-meter dash. With this type of book, it should not spoil the ending if I tell you that eventually Isabel wins her prize and everyone is happy for her.

The book also has flat characters: Isobal is a pleasant girl with strong morals. These morals create a dilemma for her when her dad buys her purple sneakers for her race. The sneakers were the last in the store and so Isobal isn’t about to hurt her dad’s feelings by telling him they don’t fit. At the same time, she feels bad to lie to him. Her parents and best friend support her. Although normally her best friend is not allowed to eat sweets, her parents make an exception so that she can buy a cupcake from Isobal to eat. Everyone is refreshingly but also perhaps unrealistically good. As for Isobal’s siblings and rival classmate, they taunt her but also don’t turn out to really mean.

Ironically, even in grade school, students are taught that varying one’s sentence length and using ‘wow’ words make for the most interesting writing, while authors for the younger age groups are encouraged to keep one’s sentences all about the same length and to stick to a vocabulary list suitable for their intended age group. Emergent readers might very well prefer and even need this style, but it can also result in rather bland writing such as found in Purple Princess Wins The Prize.

As a reviewer, I owe it to my audience to finish books I critique. Funny thing about sticking to a book is that one can discover merits to it. Isobal is a character I could easily like and so I rooted for her even though I knew she would a prize. Because I didn’t know how she would win, I also had an interest in the plot’s direction. Purple Princess Wins The Prize is also a safe and positive read, something that can not always be said for today’s books for young people. Besides modeling strong moral values, the book encourages reading and writing without disparaging sports. It also presents positive messages about never giving up and working hard for what one wants.

Although I suspect its intended audience will soon outgrow the Perfectly Princess series due to its simplicity, the books do make for a safe and enjoyable read. I understand why they are popular among elementary-grade students.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

They’re funny!” That’s how a student of mine described the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald. After reading a few samples, I can offer other reasons too. Judy is typically upbeat. Even when in a mood, she’s isn’t mean. Judy mostly likes her family. Even if she can count on her brother for a bad mood, she still voluntarily hangs out with him. She mostly likes school. Even when she isn’t top student, she tries to be. Judy is your average, cheerful but sometimes confused or selfish, pleasant third-grader. As such, the series is a delight to read.
My student’s favorite book in the series? Judy Moody Predicts the Future. My student describes it as, “Judy Moody gets a mood ring.” Anyone remember those? I do. And I wanted one as much as Judy, who ate seven bowls of cereal for one. MacDonald reveals that her inspiration arose from her having one herself in the sixties. When mood rings started making a comeback (the book was published in 2003), she knew Judy had to have one.

Mood ring

Image via Wikipedia

Problem is, Judy’s mood ring doesn’t work. It stays black. She throws it away in disgust. Her brother retrieves it–yes, from the trash. Ew! Suddenly, the mood ring works. Now Judy wants it back. Of course, Stink wants to keep it. Judy cons him into returning it, by convincing him that she can predict the future. By all means, someone with her powers should own a magical ring. Here, her adventures have only just begun. She explores all kinds of other superstitions such as the Magic 8 ball. Remember those? And she tries to predict love.

Sometimes the habit of the characters to say cutesy educational statements such as “S is for Saturday,” “R is for Romantic,” and “M is for Moody” felt a little forced. As did some of the alliterate phrases such as “Tasty Tuna Treat”. At times, I felt as if reading a picture book instead of a funny chapter book. Other times, I appreciated how the descriptive phrases so perfectly fit that of the third-grade world. For example, when in a good mood, Judy liked to wear a “not itchy fuzzy green sweater with a green star”. In her room, she had “troll doll trading cards, an eyeball piggy bank, and some cat erasers”. Two of my favorite descriptions are of Judy’s emotions: “only cookie left was a broken heart” and “joyful on top of the world purple”.

Cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream

Image via Wikipedia

As for the humor, it can be found in character expressions such as “eeny, meany, green zucchini,” in the pranks Judy plays such as when she put a fake hand in the toilet to play a trick on Stink, or in the jokes she makes up. When Judy and a friend went to the library, they read about how Jeane Dixon could see stuff in whipped cream. The article meant she could see the future, but Judy joked that she sees lots of stuff in whipped cream too: “like chocolate sprinkles”. The humor is also found in the situations MacDonald creates. For example, after Judy reads about a guy who could spell by sleeping with a dictionary, she tries to pass her spelling test in the same manner. And after she decides her teacher is in love, she reads a bunch of books about how to predict love and to tell a person’s lover. Some of her experiments fail; others have more positive results; all are funny.

Having read Judy Moody Predicts the Future, I want to thank my student for introducing the series to me. The books are light and pleasurable reads for adults. Ironically, I felt at times as if reading about my childhood. As for my elementary-aged students, I will definitely be recommending they check out the whole series.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate it?

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