The Page Turner

September 2003
The Stages of Reading Development

Making the Transition

Series for Transitional Readers

Series for Transitional/ Independent Readers

More Great Series

Professional Resource

Series for Transitional
and Independent Readers

    by Pamela Little

Making the Transition

Children love popular book series such as Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann Martin, and R. L. Stine's Goosebumps. Just as many adults read every John Grisham book, children can benefit from reading many books by the same author or in the same series. Series books support young readers in making the transition from easier to more complex books by providing familiar characters, themes, settings, and story structures.

The books listed below will help children make the transition back to school with some new and old friends. There are enough adventures and antics here to keep them amused at least through Thanksgiving. All of these series can be read aloud or independently. Also, several of the authors featured here have published books for older, more independent readers, so children can continue to enjoy the work of these fine authors.

Series for Transitional Readers

What is a transitional reader?

The Cam Jansen Mysteries by David A. Adler
The Cam Jansen books (not Young Cam Jansen, a series for younger readers) make the transition from easy-to-read books to middle-grade novels. Children who are beginning to read on their own read slowly, because they read every word—but they don't think slowly. They can't speed up their reading, so, to keep their attention, the story has to keep moving. The Cam Jansen books move quickly. Characters are introduced through dialogue and plot. Scenes are set in just a few words. Mysteries like these are perfect for beginning readers. The clues Cam remembers at the end of the books—the clues that solve the mysteries—are there for the reader, too, who can try to find the clues and solve the mystery before Cam does. There are over 20 titles in the Cam Jansen series, including Cam Jansen: Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball and Cam Jansen and the First Day of School. The newest, Cam Jansen and the School Trophy Mystery, is to be released this month.

The Kids of the Polk Street School by Patricia Reilly Giff
In Next Stop, New York City, the students from the Polk Street School take a bus trip to New York. Emily Arrow was named the "New York City Expert," but she knows nothing about the city other than that her Aunt Caroline lives in the Bronx. Emily finds a "baby book" at the library to help her learn about the Big Apple and keeps it hidden between a fat book on plants and a biography of Betsy Ross. As the bus carrying the young travelers winds its way through the city, Emily alternates between impressing them with her knowledge of the city's landmarks and supplying readers with some fascinating information about Betsy Ross. Blanche Sims's occasional full-page black-and-white sketches add humor and character to the story. A 45-page guide to New York City complete with maps and phone numbers is included. Other stories about the Polk Street gang include The Beast in Ms. Rooney's Room, Fish Face, and The Candy Corn Contest.

26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola
DePaola's chapter book, which kicks off the series of the same title, recounts some memorable moments from the author's early years. Fans will recognize characters from the author's autobiographical picture books. Organized as an engaging variety of memories from 1938 to 1939, the story's primary focus is the construction of the dePaola family's "first and only house." Within this clever framework, other vignettes surface: During the hurricane of 1938, dePaola's mother sprinkles holy water on a terrified neighbor for protection. Young Tomie generously shares "chocolates" he finds hidden in the bathroom with his Nana Upstairs. (They turn out to be laxatives.) On the first day of kindergarten, when he learns that reading is not taught until first grade, Tomie announces, "Fine, I'll be back next year," and heads home. DePaola successfully evokes the voice of a precocious, inquisitive five-year-old. Charming black-and-white illustrations animate the scenes and add a period flare, including a photo-album assemblage of the characters' portraits at the book's start. Also check out the other titles this series including Here We All Are and On My Way: 26 Fairmount Avenue.

The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka
This series of chapter books is both a tribute and an offering to children who are looking for something entertaining and smart to read. Each book in the series places the main characters, Joe, Fred, and Sam, in a different time period, where they solve mysteries, battle bad guys, and have hilarious, wacky adventures. Whether they are flying through the future to meet their great-granddaughters, running from a swashbuckling pirate who wants his treasure back, or making friends with a huge (but actually pretty nice) Neanderthal named Duh, the time warp threesome always has tons of laughs—and they even manage to learn a little something along the way. Books in the series include Knights of the Kitchen Table; The Not-So-Jolly Roger; The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy; Your Mother Is a Neanderthal; See You Later, Gladiator; and Viking It and Liking It. The Time Warp Trio books are excellent read-aloud choices.

Series for Transitional/Independent Readers

What is an independent reader?

The Fudge Series by Judy Blume
Judy Blume has developed a great following among the 12-and-under set with her Fudge series, centering on the lives of preteen Peter Hatcher and his hilariously troublesome younger brother, Farley (a.k.a. Fudge). Blume is particularly adept at portraying the travails of siblings, making both sides sympathetic. Her fifth entry, Double Fudge, takes a somewhat surreal turn: While on a family trip in Honolulu, the Hatchers meet their long-lost relatives. With new cousins—Flora, Fauna, and four-year-old Farley Drexel (yes, that's right, another Farley Drexel!)—the stage is set for a wild and wacky story. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, the first book about Fudge Hatcher and his family, was originally published in 1972. Other titles include, in order of publication, Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great, Super Fudge, and Fudge-A-Mania. Though the latest book, Double Fudge (2002), was published thirty years after the first, Fudge is still five years old (well, almost six).

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Majorie Sharmat
In this dark but hilarious book series, Lemony Snicket shares with readers everything he knows about the Baudelaire family, a very wealthy bunch who seems to be the unluckiest clan in the world. In the first book, The Bad Beginning, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny Baudelaire are at the beach when they receive the terrible news of their parents' death. From there through all nine books in the series, disaster lurks at the children's heels. The Baudelaire children are magnets for misfortune. They encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, a plot to steal their inheritance, a deadly serpent, a hurricane, and hungry leeches—and that's just in the first three books. The other titles are The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, and The Carnivorous Carnival. The Slippery Slope, the tenth book in the series, is scheduled for release this month.

More Great Series

Nate the Great by Lemony Snicket
There isn't a case too great for the one and only Nate. With help from his friends and his trusty dog Sludge, Nate the Great uses his smarts to solve the most baffling mysteries.

Marvin Redpost by Louis Sachar
These stories by a Newbery medallist feature the humorous predicaments of an eight-year-old boy. Two of my son's favorites are Marvin Redpost: Is He a Girl? and Marvin Redpost for Class President. I also recommend another Sachar series, Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

Also check out classic Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) stories such as The BFG and The Twits; Puffin has made these otherwise independent books into a new series with illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Professional Resource

Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Transitional Readers in Grades 2-5 by Karen Syzmasiak and Franki Sibberson
This short book is filled with a surprising amount of solid information about transitional readers and their needs, children's books, and practical instructional methods. According to the authors, teachers should provide explicit instruction and support for their transitional readers, who have a wide variety of needs. To this end, Szymusiak and Sibberson identify the most common needs, providing practical examples, and then suggest concrete methods for meeting these needs. Adults who work with children in grades 2-5 will find this a useful book.

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