OK - I have been reading the hot kids' series along with my kids, and I realized I could help other parents at Christmas time by providing an easy-to-use reading list covering the biggest book series that everyone is talking about, and answering questions such as what are their strengths and weaknesses? will it be good for you? and what about the movie? Plus, you will be able to "Talk About Books You Haven't Read" in an appropriate way. (See my post on Pierre Bayard's fantastic How-To book by that name here.)
In more-or-less chronological order of the first book published in the series:
Harry Potter by JK Rowling (1998)
Read: 4/7 (so far) We began reading these because we had started watching the movies, and after reading some of the books, and seeing all of the movies, I find that although the books are naturally more complete, the movies don't miss much that is essential. We periodically reviewed the movies, when it was time to watch a new one, and we always enjoyed noticing something new, which is a good sign.
The Harry Potter books are excellently plotted, strong on character, but not so literary, although I can proudly say my 10-year old pointed out a Macbeth-like feeling to Voldemort. I am still reading thru the series with my younger kid. My older one read about half the books, but in reverse order, to the annoyance (or fury, apparently) of enthusiast-friends. I am an admirer of Snape, so I can't wait to get to book six, The Half-Blood Prince, to catch up on his back-story.We have also bought a couple of the books about Harry Potter which we all rummage around in. The books in this series are worth the time they take. Good enough for anyone to enjoy reading. (Duh!)
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett (1999)
Read: 2/13 Loved the movie - it really allowed Jim Carrey to maximize his abilities. I wish there had been more outtakes, as he riffed on the uncle, Count Olaf, a character he was born to play.
The books were fun at first, the language and voice are very interesting, and this was one of the first of the huge hit series, but it got old fast. Neither of my kids took them up. The series is now old and weak, but it helped establish the category, and I felt it ought to be here.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (2006)
Read: 1/5 LOVED the movie, which we saw before trying the books, and it is one of my kids' all-time favourites. It's charming, and the actors are cute.
I wanted to like the books a lot, as I love the idea of extending Greek mythology into our era, (grown-ups: you must read American Gods by Neil Gaiman if you like this idea) but I couldn't be roused to read past the first one. Somehow, I FOUND THE BOOKS BORING! Older kid also liked, no loved, reading PJ,and read them all. My 10-year old would like to, but isn't quite there yet.
Read: 3/3 The movie is being made now. I believe the trailer for this movie to be the most anticipated and most watched trailer of all time. I thought it was pretty much kids, but many of my adult friends SENT ME A LINK to the trailer to make sure I saw it, too. And it looks pretty good, I must say.
In my opinion, this is the best of all the series, not only for plot and character, but it is literate and literary, too. It had been MANY years since I finished a book one night and HAD TO GET the next book the next morning to find out what happened. That was fun. They are such a perfect read for any adult as well that I never hesitate to recommend them. My then-12-year old was obsessed, for half a year, and I think they qualify as a first book-love.
Read: 1/4 The first book was at least 50% too long, repetitive and unnecessarily wordy. Get to the point already. The movie helped by cutting the action down to 1-1/2 hours of real time. I have managed to see the second movie, but I haven't bothered since, but I guess if I turned on the TV and one was on, I would watch. My then-12-year old felt the same in all respects.
On the other hand, and thanks Christabel, I recently read a review of Bella's character, Our Bella, Ourselves, written by Sarah Blackwell on a blog called The Hairpin which got me re-thinking my response.
Read: 1/4 published, fifth to be released soon, a sixth in the works. Surprisingly, no movie talk, but I imagine it is just a question of time.
I wasn't too crazy about this when I read it, but it is my 13-year old's current obsession, so I promised to re-read Gone, then read the rest of the series. In fact, I also promised I would update my opinion on this list once I get going with them. So...Whip Hand, Fearless Leader, Little Pete, special powers, a place with no adults. Conclusion: must try Lord of the Flies (Golding) again.
Read: 4/4 and 1/2 (second book to be released in a couple of days!)
I really powered thru the first series, and then read the first one of the prequel series, too. Lots of fun. The characters are cute, and the New York City setting of our day is pretty cool and relates to our trips there. My now-13-year old was enthusiastic, and we will be trying to be in the store on Dec 6 for the release of the second book of the second series.
Twilight for boys, oddly high emotional pitch, except the action is the manly withstanding of danger rather than crushing on vampire boys. Like Twilight, the book is way too repetitive and much longer than it ought to be. Movie is being shopped, natch. My kid was put off by my review.
Matched by Ally Condie (2011)
Read 1/3, but only the first two are currently available.
I liked it because instead of a brutal, deadly, dystopian future, Matched cleverly shows our current social trends projected into an extremely benevolent future. Central planning is working perfectly, beautifully minding the health and happiness of all citizens, but individuals are left with virtually no choice at all. Even their healthful meals are delivered in perfectly controlled portions. The result is still dystopia. My kid didn't want to read yet another book in the category at this point, but I was convincing enough that it was worth it, that it got read, and we agreed.
Only first book is available so far, with the second in the pipeline for pre-orders, and the third as yet un-named. I liked this book, even though I was at first expecting to be bored by another entry in the future dystopia category. The writer is notably young. The heroine is a Katniss*-style power-house, and the boys are quite interesting. My kid and I both grew to like it as we read on thru it.
These two are both graphic, and for younger kids:
Read: 3/4 so far
For the younger set - very beautiful, very sad and dark, much MUCH more interesting than Bone, which was the first huge graphic novel series for kids. My younger kid loved this series so much, it got me reading them, too, but the older kid read them too.
Its success with the under-10 set is inexplicable to me. The look is deliberately like Pogo, a comic of 50 years ago, the characters are mean, and their world is unfathomable. I didn't like it or get it, and I still don't understand if my kids did, how my kids did if they did and what they got or what they liked. And not just my kids read it and said they loved it. All kids read it and said they loved it, reluctant readers even. Go figure.
I do have to admit that there are a couple of big ones that my kids haven't picked up (possibly yet), but that if they do, I will want to share them, too:
There is a movie, but, strangely, I haven't seen it either.
As I prepared this list, I realized that the first two series are pretty old, but only one has held up (and made the author AND HER AGENT) reportedly richer than the queen. 2008 seems to have been a banner year, and some kind of category shift happened so that since then all books are tried as a start to a series, and 2011 seems to have been a strong year, too.
The marigold is wondering nervously if there are other series I should have mentioned...of course there are tons of other series, but are there some I should have known about, should have been reading? Just started The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - not that big, but quite good...fret...fret...
Bonus question: Is Cassandra Clare is a real person? There are some clues that make it seem as though she is actually the pen-name of a collective of writers who are pals in a writing group (including Libba Bray, Kelly Link, Holly Black...) Anyone got any ideas?
*Katniss, in case you have been in a dark cave and did not yet see the trailer, is the amazing female protagonist of The Hunger Games. Trailer is here.
OK - This just in: Knife of Never Letting Go was really terrific, a cut above, another whole category of original. Up-twinkles! Clockwork Prince is good, glad to be still following it.