Sometimes you don’t just want a book — you want a whole series. Discover a whole world of series to obsess over together when you’ve finished Harry Potter and Narnia.
The Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle
Start with: A Wrinkle in Time
When Meg Murry comes downstairs on a dark and stormy night, she sets off a chain of events that will take her from the farthest reaches of the galaxy to the microscopic universe inside a single human cell, from the birth a star to the wasteland of a nuclear winter. L’Engle’s fascination with science is well-matched to her philosophical musings about good and evil, and this series manages to be as readable as it is thought-provoking.
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
Start with: Shards of Honor
You may be tempted to dismiss this science-fiction series, especially if you get hold of one of the 1980s editions with laser beams and spaceships on the cover. But you’ll be missing out. Bujold’s politically and technologically complex space opera, set in a future world where humans have colonized space, is a delight — smart, funny, and utterly absorbing.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Start with: The Golden Compass
The original sin of curiosity becomes a triumph rather than a fall in Pullman’s fantasy-world retelling of Paradise Lost. Stubborn, wild Lyra Belacqua comes from an alternate Oxford, where humans’ spirits live beside them in animal form. Independent, untrusting Will Parry comes from our world. Together, they’ll travel through other worlds, meeting witches, cliff ghasts, armored bears, and long-missing parents, on a quest that will save or destroy every world in the cosmos.
The Pendragon Adventures by D.J. MacHale
Start with: The Merchant of Death
Time travel is just the beginning for Bobby Pendragon, who takes on the Quantum Leap-esque burden of influencing civilizations across time and space to make the right decisions at pivotal moments in their development. Lots of action keeps things interesting, and the worlds — distinct but connected in space-time — are delightfully imagined, from the watery ocean world Cloral to the virtual reality wastelands of Veelox.
Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries by Dorothy Sayers
Start with: Strong Poison
You have my permission to skip Five Red Herrings, which gets a bogged down with time tables and bus routes, but no Sherlock fan should miss Lord Peter. High-strung, over-educated, aristocratic Lord Peter assists in solving tricky mysteries with the help of his gentleman’s gentleman Bunter and (eventually) his Oxford-educated, detective novelist wife, whom he meets when she is on trial for murder (in Strong Poison).
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Start with: The Adventures of Captain Underpants
This series, about two boys who inadvertently turn their principal into a crime-fighting, underpants-flashing superhero, is unapologetically silly, but that’s part of what makes it so fun. George and Harold find themselves caught up in an increasingly ludicrous series of adventures, including battling lunchroom zombie nerds and bionic booger boys.
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
Start with: Emily of New Moon
If Anne of Green Gables is a domestic fairy tale, Montgomery’s Emily trilogy is its original-Grimm-version cousin. Like Anne, Emily Starr is an orphan in love with the beauty of the natural world and passionate about the power of words. But Emily lacks Anne’s charm, her easy friendships, her ability to make the best of things. Oh, there’s plenty of Montgomery’s gentle fireside humor, but Emily must fight much harder and sacrifice much more for her ambition.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Start with: Gregor the Overlander
Though her Hunger Games trilogy is more popular, Collins’ underworld epic is arguably a better work. Gregor falls through a grate in his New York City laundry room and finds himself in an underground civilization, where enormous spiders, cockroaches, bats, and rats, coexist with deep-dwelling humans. A series of Underland prophecies may point Gregor toward his destiny, if he can survive the perils of the underground kingdom.
The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright
Start with: The Saturdays
When you find yourself wishing life were simpler, blame the Melendys. Enright’s family — including actress Mona, pianist Rush, dancer Randy, and little brother Oliver — inhabit a golden 1940s New York, where children can safely roam the streets of Manhattan solo and go swimming in dammed-up brooks. Nostalgic but never treacly, the Melendy stories are a pleasantly absorbing trip to the past.
The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan
Start with: The Ruins of Gorlan
Orphaned Will’s not so sure he wants to become an apprentice to the Rangers, the spy network for the country Araluen, but the alternative is working in the fields. So Will sets off with his new mentor Halt to protect the kingdom from traitors and invaders.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Start with: Leviathan
Set in an alternate World War I, this steampunk trilogy pits the Clankers and their mechanized war machines against the Entente Powers and their genetically fabricated living creatures. It’s up to the on-the-run heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a girl who’s disguised herself as a boy so she can join the British Air Service to bring the world back to peace.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Start with: Swallows and Amazons
Homeschoolers have helped rediscover this old- fashioned British series about two groups of families who bond over a shared love of sailing in an idyllic countryside where kids are perfectly safe setting up camp on an island for the summer.
This is excerpted from the winter 2015 issue of HSL.