Recommending summer reading for adults isn’t too complicated. For many, a martini glass or a trenchcoated silhouette on a book cover is enough to satisfy. I’ve found, though, that it’s not so easy to keep the younger set interested while they’re on vacation. At least the ones I know best.
I have two kids who love books, one of whom can actually read them. He’s an avid reader, and when school ended I was looking forward to watching him work his way through a shelf or two of the titles I’d been saving for when he was old enough. It hasn’t worked out quite as I’d imagined. He’s been reading a lot, but hardly touching all his great new books. Instead he’s been turning to old favorites from one, two, or even three years ago.
I try not to create a syllabus for him at home, but he was spending so much time with books that are well below his reading level that at last I raised the issue and told him he really should be reading something a little more sophisticated. Which he did, by taking up the same few more complex books over and over again. He’d read each of them before, and ran through them again two or three times apiece in the space of a couple weeks.
I finally asked him if something was wrong with the dozens of options he was ignoring. Were the covers too shiny? The spines not bent enough? He said, “No, Dad, I just want to read something I know I’ll like.”
Hence the appeal of a series. In the past I’ve made fun of the tendency for YA authors to spin out their sagas over the course of three, seven, twelve, or more books, but they don’t do it just to make a buck. Kids haven’t developed the skills yet to understand why they like the books they do, so they flock to the familiar. Fair enough. They have all the time in the world to learn about the pleasures of uniqueness, and it won’t hurt them to read all fifty volumes about the Magic Tree House in the meanwhile.
The first series that really piqued my son’s interest was Wolves of the Beyond, which details the fantastic adventures of an outcast wolf cub, raised by a bear, who grows to become the leader of his clan. It’s a spinoff of the more famous Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, about the fantastic adventures of an owl clan. These are just the tip of the fantastic animal adventure iceberg; the most popular of such series is probably Warriors, a thirty-five-(and counting)-title strong epic about battling cats.
Interesting note about Warriors: The books are written by a team of authors under a pseudonym, Erin Hunter. The name was chosen for its androgynous sound that appealed equally to boys and girls, and also because “Hunter” suited the violent milieu inhabited by these feral cats. Further, since H is close to J in the alphabet, the publisher knew that in stores the books would be shelved close to the original series about belligerent vermin, Redwall by Brian Jacques. That’s an important marketing technique, especially where kids are concerned. As mentioned, they gravitate toward the familiar, so they tend to look first for what they already know.
One of the writers under the Warriors umbrella is Tui Sutherland, and she’s lately embarked on a new series called Wings of Fire. This is the one that currently has my son transfixed, and it’s a bit of a departure from the formula—it relates the fantastic adventures of a clan of battling dragons. Three titles are out now, and the fourth is due at the end of October. My household’s copies of the first three will probably have fallen apart before then from overuse. If they do, maybe I can get my son to fill his dragonless days with something new. I can always remind him that there was once a time when even Wings of Fire was a scary blank spot on a map, not a beloved security blanket.