Over the weekend, Kim’s family went to Barnes and Noble. Her fifth grade son, obsessed with the music from Les Miserables, has many questions about the story and wondered if there was a version of the story written for kids. He quickly discovered that if a children’s abridged version exists, Barnes and Noble didn’t carry it, so he began to browse the other books in the children’s section. As he walked past the Diary of a Wimpy Kid kiosk he paused, picked up Hard Luck, the recently-released, eighth book of Jeff Kinney’s beloved series, and said, “I used to love these books. I don’t anymore. They got boring.”
If you look back over Nathan’s reading history, you will see that he is a serial series reader. His reading life can be charted according to the series that he’s read: first grade–Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, and Nate the Great; second grade–Junie B. Jones and The Magic Tree House; third grade–Diary of a Wimpy Kid, anything by Roald Dahl, and Harry Potter (not surprisingly, he only made it through the first two books before stopping); fourth grade–Percy Jackson and Hunger Games; fifth grade–Heroes of Olympus.
When you look at this progression of books, it is not surprising that Diary of a Wimpy Kid doesn’t hold the thrill that it once did. The progression from singular, one-dimensional characters with simple problems to multiple multi-dimensional characters with intricately woven plots is evident in this list of books. Diary of a Wimpy Kid sits somewhere in the middle of this continuum, which explains why these books now strike Nathan as boring. When books lack the complexity to which he has grown accustomed, he feels it. His reading palate has matured. He craves richer books.
As teachers, we often worry about serial series readers. On the one hand, we are happy that they have found something that ignites their passion for reading. On the other, we worry that reading the same type of books will limit their vocabulary development and exposure to structure, not to mention fail to meet requirements that fifty percent of their diet be literary and the other informational. However, we must step back and consider the bigger picture.
Serial series reading is not unique to Kim’s son, many readers’ histories can be charted according to the series they passed through. And these readers share an important commonality. While some series may may linger longer than others, they are all eventually overshadowed by other series and titles. The series that students move on to generally tend to become more sophisticated. Without any intervention from us, serial series reading prompts children to build and climb their own staircase of text complexity. These readers aren’t still reading Magic Tree House in fifth grade because those books now bore them. This natural progression reminds us that, as we continue our discussions about text complexity and ponder how we are going to up the ante for younger readers, we cannot neglect that independent reading of serial texts can fill an important piece of this puzzle.