Children’s Fiction of 2008: Series and Sequels Succeed in Succession

This year’s list of nominees for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award is packed with sequels and books that form part of a series. A few I’ve already read and reviewed: The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes by Peggy Gifford, First Daughter: White Rules by Mitali Perkins, The Calder Game by Blue Balliett, and Clementine’s Letter by Sara Pennypacker.

Two books, each one supposed to be the last in a quite satisfying and beloved series, I just finished reading: Jessie’s Mountain by Kerry Madden and Forever Rose by Hilary McKay. Both books fulfilled the promise of earlier volumes in the series and delivered a gratifying ending to the story while still leaving me wanting just a little more.

Jessie’s Mountain features Livy Two, the fourth of ten children in the poverty-stricken Weems family, making a serious error in judgement and paying the consequences. The first two books in this Smoky Mountain series, Gentle’s Holler and Louisiana’s Song, each starred one of Livy’s sisters, but Livy Two was the narrator. In this third book, Livy Two comes into her own, takes center stage, and gets into a lot of trouble. In my review of Gentle’s Holler and Louisiana’s Song, I said, “Each child does have his/her own personality. The family isn’t perfect, but they are a big, loving family. The difficulties of raising such a family in poverty with a devoted, but financially irresponsible, father and a worried and always pregnant mother are not minimized.” That’s what I like about these books, and especially this last one. Life in a big family is messy. Sometimes people don’t get along, don’t speak to each other, keep secrets they shouldn’t keep, annoy one another. Each family member has his faults, sometimes major faults. Our family is like that, and the Weems family is, too. And yet, there’s a happy ending, not one that assures me that every one of the Weems kids is going to be fat, rich, and happy forever, but a reassuring conclusion nevertheless. If you read all three books, you sort of fall in love with the Weems family, and it’s good to see them in the end settled in, working hard, and pulling together.

And then there are the Cassons in Hilary McKay’s series of books of whom I wrote: “I feel a bit responsible after three books to see that they all come out all right.” I read and reviewed the first three books in the Casson family series last July, and then I picked up the fourth book, Caddy Ever After, and reviewed it. The setting for the latest in theCasson family series, Forever Rose, is completely different from that of Ms. Madden’s Smoky Mountain family series, a village in the north of England as opposed to Maggie Valley, North Carolina. But the families and the plots of the two novels share some similarities. Rose in this final installment does something unwise and dangerous (don’t want to spoil either story) similar to what Livy Two does in Jessie’s Mountain. However, Rose’s mistake somehow leads to resolution and reconciliation. Go figure. Maybe the difference is that the Casson family is so dysfunctional that it functions in a crazy, backwards way. And there’s always lots of love to go around. The Cassons also survive and thrive in the end despite a book full of chapter titles such as “The Trouble with Molly” and “Anything for a Bit of Peace” and the climactic “Oh Bloody Bloody Hell!”

In addition to those series sequels, there are some others on the Cybils list that I’m looking forward to reading:
The Island of Mad Scientists by Howard Whitehouse. See Melissa’s Book Nut review.
Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich.
Just Grace Walks the Dog by Charise Mericle Harper.
Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing BY Allison McGhee
The Diamond of Drury Lane: A Cat Royal Adventure by Julia Golding.
Daisy Dawson is on Her Way by Steve Voake.
The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer.
Brand New School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes.
Andrea Carter and the San Francisco Smugglers by Susan Marlow.
10 Lucky Things That Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning by Mary Hershey.
Step Fourth Mallory! by Laurie Friedman.
Thirteen by Lauren Myracle
Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt.
Zibby Payne and the Red Carpet Revolt by Allison Bell.
Aloha Crossing by Pamela Bauer Mueller.
Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School by Ruth Barshaw.
These are the sequels for which I haven’t read the first book(s) in the series. The ones I have already been introduced to are:

My New Best Friend by Julie Bowe. Sequel to last year’s My Last Best Friend.
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall. Sequel to The Penderwicks.
And last but certainly not least: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Stewart, sequel to last year’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.

My only problem with all these sequels and series, especially the ones I’ve already grown to love and enjoy, is that it’s hard to evaluate them objectively and alone, each volume on its own merits. I find myself thinking that of course everybody, including me, is going to love The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. I haven’t even read it, but it’s already imbued with my warm appreciation for the first book in the series.

Of course, if it’s a dud, it’ll be that much more of a disappointment. So I guess the expectations and pre-judgments can work both ways.

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominees: 129
Nominees that are part of a series: 26 by my count.

That’s 19%. Publishers must like sequels and series. I guess it gives the book a head-start in the marketing department. Did I miss any?

6 thoughts on “Children’s Fiction of 2008: Series and Sequels Succeed in Succession

  1. I’m glad to know that the rest of the Casson family books are as good as Forever Rose. Actually, the one thing that I’m finding both fun and frustrating is all the series books in on the nomination list. I like these books (like Island of Mad Scientists or Mysterious Benedict Society), but I wonder if they can hold up to a whole series reading. How do they compare to the ones that came before? I have no idea.

    I guess the best I can do is just “judge” them on their own merit, right?

    (BTW, you totally ROCK on the reading. How do you manage to get so much done so fast??)

  2. We have a ton of sequels in Sci fi/fantasy too, and it’s frustrating, because there are quite a few earlier books that I haven’t read, but with over 160 on our list, there isn’t really time for another 40 or so more….On the other hand, not having read the first 1 to 4 books in a series means more objectivitiy in judging the book on hand….

    I’m a Casson family fan too!

  3. I’m on the same panel as Charlotte, and I’m feeling the same way. I’ve almost given up on reading the sequels since many of them don’t make sense without the first ones. If the other panelists have read the book, then I’m perfectly happy to take their word for it.

  4. I read Saffy’s Angel after reading your review and loved it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

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