Written by: McKenzie Hohenberger
Childhood literacy, like most childhood hobbies and skills, bears an invaluable developmental responsibility. What starts as flipping through a picture book quickly transforms into the liminal body of literature called children’s series. This specific area of literature streamlines every last bit of its utility toward building a reader.
Children’s series cater to a need for stability, a short attention span, and a real desire for learning—all of which define readers, ages six to twelve years old.
The episodic structure of series such as Magic Treehouse, Amelia Bedelia, and even Captain Underpants has one intention—to create an addiction. Children’s series are a gateway drug and the dealers are our librarians, teachers, and mothers. The goal is to string children out on the hard stuff: academic literature.
In previous centuries, children’s reading material concerned itself with moral instruction and religion. Thus, reading was considered quite the dismal and stuffy activity. Most likely, children living during the early 1800s in America dreaded reading as much as modern American children dread wearing starched suits and dresses to an Easter Sunday service.
Unfortunately, early American children’s literature was just as itchy, uncomfortable and boring. The idea that children’s entertainment should consistently implement religious and moral instruction still lives on today, but the majority of its supporters have betrayed religious conservatism for a more liberal, imaginative opinion.
This shift in national identity occurred around the 19th century, and children’s series subsequently became a niche in developmental entertainment, as opposed to education.
Because of their commoditized nature, children’s series flourished in the wake of American Progressivism and consumerism. As guardians witnessed the voracity with which their children devoured The Elsie Books and The Rover Boys, they lessened their dependence on literature for educational and spiritual purposes––and increased their dependence on reading for their child’s intellectual stimulation and growth.
This is the idea that millions of American teachers, librarians, and parents had to hold on to when they realized that the bland, instructional material that had dominated children’s literature from the time of the Puritans was falling by the wayside and being replaced with imaginative tales of adventure, or even danger.
America’s youth had begun to reclaim their right to literary entertainment.
Now we are faced with the question—why series? What do these thin, often cheaply-bound sequential novels offer that can’t be discovered in Moby Dick or Jane Eyre? To the educated parent, it seems as though the literary classics would offer more to a precocious child than a series like Goosebumps or Harry Potter. After all, the classics are relevant to adult academics, they are unanimously supported as fine literature, and they aren’t unfriendly to a young, interested reader.
But the reason that children’s series continuously trump all other avenues of developmental literature is because they offer the possibility of permanence. Children who nourish their minds with series are learning to incorporate reading into their daily lives.
Children’s book series are a secret drug with which agents of academia hook an upcoming generation.
The strategy of a book series is to rely on the velocity of the storyline to create an ongoing and personal camaraderie with its characters and to capture the attention of a fidgety young reader. Every component of the physical object seeks to build that momentum of consumption.
In part, this is accomplished through a short and swift organization or format. A single middle–grade series book has an average page-count of about 100 pages. Because the child’s mind demands reward for effort, especially within educational activities, the text within a series book is typically large and bold, so that the words are dark and adequately spaced. This rhythmic style guides the child’s eyes down the page with ease.
When the little reader finds that they can turn the page every three to five minutes, they usually feel empowered, and eager to finish the book.
From the genre’s debut in the nineteenth century, children’s book series have claimed responsibility for generations of word-hungry Americans. In the same way that teenagers give smoking a try beneath the bleachers, children are encouraged—pressured, if you will—by their educators and guardians to take up a short paperback book and try it out.
Budding readers learn to open their favorite series books in study hall, after finishing their homework on a weeknight, or in the backseat on the way to Grandma’s.
Just like cigarettes become an oral fixation, even obsession, for long-time addicts, books become a mental fixation for teens and adults who began their journeys with the half-inch sliver of a book and the promise of adventures to come.