12 Great Book Series to Read Together

12 Great Book Series to Read Together

Need a new series for winter readaloud season? We have a few ideas.

Summer Reading: M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series

Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! This year we’re taking advantage of the long summer days to read our way through some of our favorite series for children and young people.

For me it all started with The Secret in the Old Clock. My dad was good about bringing home presents for my brother and I whenever he traveled for work, and after one trip (perhaps wildly overestimating the current reading comprehension level of his 2nd grade daughter) he gave me the first book in the Nancy Drew series. I had it by my bedside for months, doggedly making my way through, reading (and rereading) the pages until I could figure out what was going on, but eventually I triumphed—and immediately began working through the rest of the series. Downstairs in our homeschool room there is an entire shelf crammed with those familiar yellow hardbacks, next to a healthy sampling of Hardy Boys, half a dozen Happy Hollisters, a smattering of Bobbsey Twins, almost the entire run of Trixie Belden, not nearly enough Cherry Ames, and a selection of Tom Swift from my dad’s childhood.

I liked the way Tom Swift looked on my shelves, but I never did get around to actually reading them, so I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when my children looked at my carefully preserved and lovingly displayed collection and said (more or less), “Naah, I don’t think so.” My older daughter read a handful of Nancy Drew mysteries, more out of duty than pleasure, but no one was really interested. Mostly they just sat there, collecting dust.

That’s one reason I was so happy to discover M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. Anderson must have grown up reading the same books I did because these “Thrilling Tales!” are an affectionate tribute to the mystery and adventure series of decades past. The pals in question are Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut (who is stuck in a bit of a time-warp), Katie Mulligan (a resident of Horror Hollow, where she regularly fights off zombies, werewolves, and rogue mind-sloths), and Lily Gefelty, an ordinary girl whose life feels a bit boring next to the exploits of her daring friends. My children hadn’t read much of the source material, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying these hilarious and ridiculously over-the-top adventures, stuffed with fabulous illustrations by Kurt Cyrus, absurd footnotes, and full-page advertisements for Gargletine Brand Patented Breakfast Drink, Official Beverage of Jasper Dash! (“Say, Kids, Want to Feel Peachy Keen? Drink a Quart of Gargletine!”) This series has been one of my favorite readalouds (though mid-elementary readers and up should be fine reading it on their own) and is worth checking out by anyone who grew up with Nancy and Frank and Trixie for both its humor and the sweetness of the friendship at its core.


Whales on Stilts!

“On Career Day Lily visited her dad’s work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.” The whales cannot be trusted! Fortunately, Lily can rely on Jasper and Katie to help her save the world. The books get slightly more complicated as the series goes on, but this a great choice for young readers who are venturing beyond beginning chapter books.  (Though if parents do them as a readaloud they’ll be able to share the enjoyment of chapter openings like, “If you have ever been present at a vicious attack by elevated sea animals, you’ll know exactly what the people of Pelt felt like. I, for example, was unlucky enough to be working as a house-painter in Minneapolis that terrifying summer of the Manatee Offensive.”)

The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen

Jasper, Katie, and Lily are taking a well-deserved vacation at the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort when they run into the adorable mystery-solving Hooper Quints, the brave but not-that-bright Manley Boys, and the boy-crazy Cutesy Dell Twins. But what happened to the heiress’s priceless diamond necklace?!?


Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware

The pals encounter dinosaurs! lost cities! gangsters! and monks! while exploring the Land That Time Forgot: mysterious DELAWARE. Plus, the Delaware state song! This novel is by far the longest of the series and ends with our pals still stuck in the trackless jungles of the Blue Hen State, leading directly into:


Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger!

The tyrant known as His Terrifying Majesty, the Awful and Adorable Autarch of Dagsboro, is determined that those meddling children shall not escape his clutches, and sends his Ministry of Silence spies out to disguise themselves as furniture and lay in wait for our unsuspecting trio.


Zombie Mommy

Back at home, Lily has to deal with her mom, who’s been acting strangely ever since her visit to Todburg, the most haunted town in America, while Katie is menaced by a visit from her cousin, bratty (and ever-so-bored) Snott Academy student Madigan Westlake-Duvet. Can Jasper help his friends survive the onslaught of the undead? Will the author successfully describe Madigan’s outfit every time she is mentioned in the narrative, as he is contractually obligated to do?

He Laughed With His Other Mouths

In the final Pals in Peril adventure, Jasper goes on a dangerous quest to find his father, who he has known only as a concentrated beam of energy from the region of the Horsehead Nebula. Fortunately, Lily and Katie refuse to let him go alone. And while the Pals are busy saving Earth from invading aliens, a second story—of Busby Spence, reading Jasper Dash novels while waiting for his father to return from the war—unfolds in a series of footnotes. (Warning: parents reading this book aloud should be prepared for unexplained allergy attacks—I did NOT cry, the room just got dusty!—and may want to lay in a store of tissues.)

Summer Reading: John Connolly’s Samuel Johnson Series

Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! This year we’re taking advantage of the long summer days to read our way through some of our favorite series for children and young people. 

Books written by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett rank high in various lists of mine, including Comfort Reads, Series to Recommend to Just About Everyone, and Books That In General Make Me Feel Better About Being a Human. Humor is subjective, however, and I’ve found that when I run across a book blurbed as “the next Douglas Adams!” or “in the spirit of Terry Pratchett!” it usually ends up in the “meh” category, provoking maybe the occasional smirk but that’s about it. John Connolly’s Samuel Johnson series is the exception.

I knew things were looking good on the very first page where we have both (1) footnotes (I ADORE FOOTNOTES IN FICTION IT’S A SICKNESS HELP ME) and (2) entertaining chapter titles (e.g., In Which We Delve Deeper into the Bowels of Hell, Which Is One of Those Chapter Headings That Make Parents Worry About the Kind of Books Their Children Are Reading). We soon meet 11-year-old Samuel and his very important dachshund, Boswell, and Samuel soon learns that his neighbors (with an accidental assist from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider) have opened The Gates of Hell. After that it’s up to Samuel, Boswell, Samuel’s friends Tom and Maria, and unlikely ally Nurd the Demonic Scourge of Five Deities (including Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation) to save the world.

For me, Connolly’s Samuel Johnson series hits the sweet spot, reminding me (in the best ways) of Hitchhiker’s Guide and Discworld without feeling derivative, while at the same time telling a story about friendships, unexpected and otherwise. I know humor is subjective, but this one is definitely worth trying—and if you aren’t immediately sucked in by the footnotes and chapter headings, you can at least use it as an excuse to revisit the masters and spend some time with Arthur Dent and Rincewind. (Bonus recommendation: John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, a “fairy tale for adults” about a boy who finds himself in a fantasy world and must search for the way home, is also excellent and I highly recommend it for YA readers and up. Please be aware, however, that it contains some very dark elements, and I would not hand it to a middle-grade reader, even though the publisher is trying to market it to that age group by putting a preview chapter in with The Gates.)


In Which We Learn That Even If You’re Super-Bored You’re Better Off Not Messing Around With Old Books Written In Languages You Don’t Recognize But Still Understand Somehow, Especially If You Happen To Live At 666 Crowley Road. 


In Which We Learn That Even After You’ve Defeated A Demon Wearing The Appearance Of Your Ex-Neighbor Mrs. Abernathy It May Still Return to Seek Revenge By Plunging You Down Into The Dark Realm Of Hades


In Which We Learn That Even After It Seems Like The Bad Guys Have Been Defeated And Everything Is Going Well You Should Still Avoid Demonic Toy-Shops That Open Just In Time For Christmas

Summer Reading: Catherynne M. Valente’s ​Fairyland Series

Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! I’ve written before about the glorious summers of my childhood, when I could devote long uninterrupted hours to burning through enormous Lord of the Ring-type sagas. I’ve also shared the cautionary tale of a dear friend whose parents made her put down her book and play outside, but I’m sure none of our readers could behave in so dastardly a fashion. (NOTE: I am not entirely against the outdoors and exercise and whatnot, but they made her put down her book. Things like that take years of therapy to get over.) With all that in mind, when Amy asked me to do some Summer Reading posts, I decided I wanted to focus on some of my favorite series for children and young people—but only series that have already come to a satisfactory end, as there’s nothing worse than being stuck with a cliffhanger while you wait for an author to hurry up and write, all the while worrying that before they finish they might die in some sort of freak word-processing accident.

I thought I’d start with my very favorite fantasy series. For decades, if you’d asked me what my favorite series was—the books I’d read over and over, the books I’d have to make sure my own kids read, my desert island books—I would have said the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I was (and still am) a hardcore Narnia-head. As a child, I reread the series every summer. I wrote Narnia fanfiction (before ‘fanfiction’ was even a word). I love these books. (NOTE: I know that not everyone loves Narnia because of the Christian allegorical aspects. I completely understand that, but it’s not hampered my own love of the series because I was raised ‘unchurched’ and didn’t even notice that it was a Christian allegory until I was in my late teens or 20’s. I was <ahem> perhaps not the most observant of readers.) But now, if I had to pick one series to keep me company on a desert island, one series to pass along to my kids, I think I’d pick Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books.

The Fairyland books, with one exception, are about September, a 12-year-old girl living in WWII-era Nebraska, with a mechanic mother who works in the aircraft factory and a father missing overseas, until—in the tradition of children who get lost in wardrobes and swept up by passing tornadoes—she catches a ride with the Green Wind and his Leopard. They drop her off in Fairyland, ruled by the evil Marquess, where September soon finds herself on a quest to defeat the Marquess and free her friends. These books are for all ages, beautifully written, with a heroine who relies on her bravery, her intelligence, and her friends to save the day. There is little that is black and white in Fairyland: even the villains have complicated histories of good intentions gone bad, and even the heroes can make poor choices under difficult circumstances. I’ve read these books both for my own enjoyment and as readalouds (which is particularly wonderful, as Valente has a gift with language and original phrasing) and I think they belong on every family’s bookshelf.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea which borders Fairyland?”

In book one, September visits Fairyland for the first time and meets her soon-to-be-best friends: A-Through-L, a Wyverary, and Saturday, a Marid. (A marid is a type of ifrit or djinn, and a “Wyverary” is the offspring of a wyvern and a library. And honestly, if that isn’t enough to send you out to find this book immediately, I don’t even know what you’re doing hanging around these parts.) Both of her friends are held captive (one way or another) by the evil Marquess, ruler of Fairyland, and September must defeat her to save them.


The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

In book two, September returns to Fairyland to find that its magic is being sucked away by Fairyland Below, ruled by Halloween, the Hollow Queen. September soon discovers that Halloween is her own shadow, left in Fairyland after her previous adventure, and when she reunites with her friends, A-Through-L and Saturday, she finds that they have shadows also.


The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

In book three, September returns to Fairyland with her new sidekick, a 1925 Model A Ford, and discovers that she’s been named a criminal, specifically a “royal scofflaw, professional revolutionary, and criminal of the realm.” On a mission to the Fairyland’s Moon, she must defeat a mysterious moon-Yeti and figure out what actually happened to all of Fairyland’s missing fairies. Unlike the first two books, this one ends with something of a cliffhanger, but that’s okay because you can go straight to book four...


The Boy Who Lost Fairyland

...which begins not with September, but with Hawthorn, a changeling who was born a troll in Fairyland before being spirited away to the human world. I was all set to be annoyed with Valente for swapping out September for another protagonist, but I immediately fell for Hawthorn, who, in an effort to act like a Normal child starts writing a rulebook of Normal behavior (e.g., “Knives and scissors are sharp, but different than swords, and you can only use them to fight cucumbers and onions and packages from the postman, not Ancient Enemies from Beyond Time,” followed by “There are no such things as Ancient Enemies from Beyond Time”). Plus he hangs out with the best wombat ever in the history of wombats. We catch up with September eventually and another cliffhanger leads us straight into the fifth and final book...


The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

...where different teams, including September and her best friends (and Hawthorn with his friends) must compete in a Royal Race for the throne of Fairyland. And really, I don’t want to tell you anything more because you should go out and read these fabulous books for yourself. Happy Reading!



HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.29.17: His Dark Materials Trilogy

Today's a triple deal: All three books of the books in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy are $1.99 (each) today. Dark, subversive, and feminist, Pullman's world-hopping reimagining of Paradise Lost is (in my humble opinion) pure storytelling genius. 

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.

HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.10.17: The Trials of Apollo Book One: The Hidden Oracle

Need a new series to sink your teeth into this summer? Here you go: Rick Riordan heads back to Greek mythology with this series, which sets a turned-into-a-human-teen Apollo (he made Zeus mad once too often) in modern-day New York City. To survive—Apollo's made a lot of enemies who are ready to take advantage of his vulnerable human form—he's going to need some help from the Camp Half-Blood gang. This series kickoff is exactly what you'd expect from Riordan: non-stop action, lots of wit and pop culture references, and plenty of mythological mayhem. And who can resist a book for less than a buck?

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.

Not-So-New Books: Grave Mercy

In an alternate medieval Brittany, Ismae finally finds a home where she belongs — in a convent of Mortain, the god of death, where she studies the delicate art of assassination. But her first assignment calls on all her will and wiles as she's forced to team up with Gavriel Duval, half-brother to the Duchess of Brittany and potential enemy, to take down a plot to overthrow the young Duchess.

If you've ever read a book, it won't be a spoiler to learn that Ismae finds herself increasingly drawn to Duval, even as she suspects him of complicity in the plot against his half-sister. Ismae's convent upbringing has prepared her well for the intrigues and treachery of court but not for her feelings for Duval or for her growing sense that the convent's orders may not be as unequivocally right as she's always believed. As the political tension at court comes to a head, Ismae must choose between her training and her heart.

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Grave Mercy. The plot is nothing special, and Ismae is very much a character in the Katniss vein — she remains stubbornly oblivious to her own emotions and manages to navigate every perilous situation she finds herself in (and there are plenty) through a combination of good luck and natural skill. But the idea of a convent where young women who have no place in medieval society learn to help Death in his duties is engaging, and LaFevers gives it enough detail and nuance to make it believable. Some characters, such as the villainous Count d'Albret and the kind-hearted but determined Duchess Anne, border on caricatures, but they play their part in the story well enough. And Ismae's evolving understanding of what it really means to be "a daughter of death" is pretty fascinating. This one's a good addition to your young adult library.

New Books: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium

Alistair Grim's Odditorium
By Gregory Funaro

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to escape a miserable life as a Victorian chimney sweep? Grubb, an orphan who spends his days squeezing and shimmying through soot-coated passageways for his less-than-beneficient benefactor Mr. Smears, stows away in a trunk on an out-of-town coach at the local inn and finds himself in the curious-and-curiouser world of the Odditorium. Grubb finagles a job with the Odditorium’s owner, Alistair Grim, on the condition that Grubb will never reveal any of the magical secrets he learns working in the Odditorium.

And what secrets there are! Talking watches, wailing banshees, fractious fairies, self-propelled samurai armor, and more mysterious entities hide inside the walls of Grim’s London fortress, and just as Grubb’s starting to think he’s getting the hang of the place, the Odditorium gang finds itself in a battle against the nefarious Prince Nightshade and his evil denizens. Grubb has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s going to have to figure it out fast — because he may just be the only thing standing between his friends at the Odditorium and certain doom.

Honestly, sometimes there’s a little too much going on in this book, and the long lists of magical beings can start to feel a little unwieldy. (Alistair Grim's Odditorium is the first in a series of books, and it feels like it.) At the same time, solutions to some of the book’s big mysteries seem obvious far earlier than the characters in the book realize, though with all the running from doom dogs and battling fire-breathing fairies going on, I’ll buy that the main characters just don’t have the mental space for an “aha!” moment. The fast pace and playful tone (part Dickens, part Steampunk, part fantasy) make up for these bumps along the way. This is a good choice for advanced younger readers who want a story with magic and adventure or for middle readers who enjoyed the Percy Jackson series. You may want to do a quick introduction to Victorian London, particularly the life of chimney sweeps and orphans, before reading, but it’s not essential.