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Playing Matchmaker With Super Series for Middle-Grade Readers

By Alycia Zimmerman on April 11, 2012
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

As a middle-grade teacher, I often feel like I am starring in a reality show: "Billion-Book Matchmaker, the Reluctant Reader Season"! Many of my students still need some prodding to commit to challenging chapter books. Blind dates rarely work — “Read the blurb!” is my constant reminder. A carefully considered setup is often the path to true book-love, and with a well-matched series, the sparks really fly. With this post, take a look inside my little black book of excellent series. You might find a perfect match for one of your students!



“Going Steady” With a Series Makes Sense!

Our middle-grade “transitional” readers have moved past their earlier struggles with decoding new words and stringing together sentences. They are now tackling chapter books, and their challenges often relate to comprehension. Series books provide a comforting support that allows these readers to rack up their book count without having to “meet” brand new characters or adjust to a different writing style for every book.

For more about why series books are a great fit for transitional readers, check out my blog post "Using Series to Support Middle-Grade Readers." In that post, I explain the rationale for encouraging middle-grade students to read series books and provide tips for teaching with series books.

Students build their confidence as they read through a series.


My “Little Black Book” of Totally Eligible Series

Below are some of the series that I regularly turn to when I need something for a “stuck” reader. Of course, there are so many great series for kids, and this is just a tiny sampling. Please share your favorite series recommendations with us in the comments section below!


Andrew Lost by J. C. Greenberg  

This series is perfect for the nonfiction addicts in your class who need a push to try a fiction chapter book. Young inventor Andrew Dubble is always inventing things — and when his inventions go haywire, he’s off on another scientific adventure. Whether he's travelling through an ant colony or exploring the Great Barrier Reef, the 18 books in this series are full of interesting science facts sandwiched between action-packed narrative. Andrew’s pocket-sized robot assistant provides comic relief, and the gross-cool factor is high enough to tempt most boys. This is a good series for Magic School Bus fans or Magic Tree House readers who are ready to take a break from history.



Araminta Spookie by Angie Sage  

Once your students have outgrown the slightly supernatural world of the Bailey School Kids, but are not yet ready for longer fantasy series like Harry Potter, Araminta Spookie is a great “in between” series. Araminta lives in a haunted house, but the books are more quirky than scary. In the first book of the series, witchy Aunt Tabby is determined to sell the family’s home in favor of a less macabre abode. Araminta desperately searches for a ghost to prove that her home is indeed haunted so she can ward off potential buyers. Author Angie Sage is British, and the vocabulary and writing style provide an easy introduction to British English for American children. (Sage also writes the popular Septimus Heap fantasy series for late-elementary/middle school readers.)


Clementine by Sara Pennypacker  

There are many topnotch series featuring unique, creative girls, but Clementine is definitely one of my favorites for reading aloud. Clementine whirls from one bizarre predicament to the next while trying her best to help others, stay out of trouble, and be true to herself. Clementine’s stream of consciousness narration makes me laugh, and my students love her illustrated antics. This series works for lessons about point of view and voice, and it is my recommendation for students who need something to read after the Ramona books or Junie B. Alvin Ho by Lenore Look is my rec for kids who want a similar book but with a boy character.



Shredderman by Wendelin Van Draanen  

Nolan "Nerd" Byrd is inspired by a 5th grade class assignment to assume a secret identity to put class bully, Bubba Bixby, in his place. Thus cyber-super hero Shredderman is born, and Nolan is dragged far outside his comfort zone while staging his creative campaign against Bubba. This smart, fast-paced series grabs hold of floundering readers who are going through Wimpy Kid withdrawal. With its messages of empowerment, empathy, and intellectualism, I’m more than happy to overlook the toilet humor. The author also writes the Sammy Keyes series and the Gecko and Sticky series.



The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins  

Before Collins wrote The Hunger Games, she created her fantastical world below Manhattan, Underland, which is the better pick for a middle-grade reader, in my opinion. I was initially surprised when many of my graphic novel-loving, video-game-twitchy boys fell in love with this series. Of course, it has an action-driven plot and frequent violence that falls just shy of a PG-13 reading, so the appeal does make sense. I like this creative series because it is a moderately challenging introduction to a complete fantasy world where a forgotten human kingdom struggles to live with giant rats, cockroaches, bats, and more. Scholastic has the coolest Flashlight Readers Underland Chronicles student activity for fans of the series.



Chet Gecko by Bruce Hale  

These hilarious mysteries star a school-aged detective gecko and his best friend/sidekick, Natalie Attired. Each book has Chet solving another bizarre, tangled mystery with the help of his friends. Hale’s writing really makes this book stand out from other middle-grade mysteries. The series is stuffed with puns and double entendres — much of which goes over my students’ heads, but that makes this a perfect share-with-a-parent series. Chet narrates with the hard-boiled prose of an old-time gumshoe, which also helps introduce students to the classic language of the genre.





The “Getting to Know” Series by Mike Venezia  

My students get hooked on biographies with this approachable picture book, nonfiction series that covers a wide range of famous artists, musicians, scientists, inventors, and American presidents. Venezia’s text is full of lighthearted “juicy” tidbits, while still presenting thoughtful analysis and must-know facts. The cartoony illustrations and captions are what really get my students excited about these books, though.





Other Matchmakers at Work

Still have some lonely-hearts readers? Last year blogger Brent Vasicek posted a selection of series recommended by his students. Peer recommendations are a great way to entice a student to try a new series!

Scholastic’s Instructor magazine published an extensive list of suggested series with matching profiles for every student. With suggestions tailored to dragon enthusiasts, gumshoe detectives, and doomsday theorists, "A Series for Every Reader" is a great resource!

Make sure to sign up for Scholastic’s upcoming live Webcast Series Favorites, hosted by authors Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. Several favorite series authors will be speaking about their books, including R. L. Stine and Dav Pilkey. Along with the Webcast, see Scholastic’s downloadable guide about motivating kids to read with series books. 

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