Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Confessions of a Binge Reader (and Writer), a guest post by Marilyn Kaye

I started reading at a very young age. At home, or maybe in kindergarten, I learned the alphabet. Immediately, I started sounding out words wherever I saw them—on cereal boxes, on signs, in newspapers. Even if I didn’t understand the words, I could say them or just hear them in my head, and that gave me satisfaction.

On the first day of first grade, the teacher handed out copies of Fun with Dick and Jane. Since I was short, I was in the first row so I received my book right away. Immediately, I opened it and began to read. By the time the last student in the class got a book, I’d finished mine. When I realized that we’d be looking at this book for weeks to come, I got very depressed. Dick and Jane were not a lot of fun.

Fortunately, there were children’s books at home. I’m not sure where they came from—looking back, I think they might have been my mother’s since they were published in the 1930s. There were several volumes of ‘The Bobbsey Twins’, which I devoured. Nan, Bert, Flossie, and Freddie may not have been the most finely developed characters, but at that point in time I didn’t have high expectations or demands. At least, unlike Dick and Jane, they spoke in sentences of more than three words. And there were the ‘Honey Bunch’ books, about a little girl with curly blonde hair who got into adventures with her friend Norman. The Bobbseys and Honey Bunch were my introduction to series books.

As my reading skills developed, I moved up to ‘Nancy Drew’ and ‘The Dana Girls.’ It wasn’t until many years later, in library school, that I learned about the Stratemeyer Syndicate which had created some of the series that I loved. I learned that Laura Lee Hope and Carolyn Keene weren’t real writers, just pseudonyms, that the characters in the books and the plots were created by the syndicate who then hired free-lance writers to actually compose the stories. But even if I had known this at the time, it wouldn’t have bothered me. I was now addicted to series, and I didn’t care who wrote them.

As a child, I was taken to the public library regularly, and there I discovered more ‘upscale’ series, like the ‘Little House’ books and ‘Betsy-Tacy.’ And there was Beany Malone, Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, Rosamund du Jardin’s ‘Pam and Penny.’ I’d get very excited when I found a new series, and I was insistent on reading the books in the right order. I remember the time I was returning Heavens to Betsy to the library, and the next book in the series, Betsy in Spite of Herself, was not on the shelf. There was the title that came after that one, Betsy Was a Junior, but I couldn’t bring myself to jump ahead.

Then there were the supermarket books! I called them that because that was where I found them, on a rack next to magazines at the check-out counter. I would plead with my mother until she gave in and bought me the latest Donna Parker or Trixie Belden.

Of course, I read books that weren’t in series, and I loved the great writers of the period—Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes, Edward Eager. I suppose Estes’ ‘Moffats’ could be considered a mini-series, and Enright’s ‘Melendy’ books too. And I utterly adored books by Noel Streatfeild. Because each had the word ‘shoes’ in the title, I thought they might be a series. They weren’t—the US publisher had changed the original British titles to capitalize on the popularity of the first book available in the US, Ballet Shoes. At first I was disappointed because I wanted to read more about the Ballet Shoes characters, but I recovered because all the books were so good.

Why did I love series books?  I think it was partly because I never wanted a story to end completely.  Even if a book had a satisfying resolution, I wanted to know what the characters did next. And then there was the ease and pleasure of jumping into a new book with an awareness of its inhabitants. It was nice having a new story with familiar characters.

So it was only natural for me that when I began to write, I wrote series. I set my first series in a summer camp (“Camp Sunnyside Friends”), because I wanted an environment where a group of girls would be essentially on their own. There were 21 books in the series. In “Replica,” 24 books, I created a girl who discovers that she’s a genetically modified clone, who can do almost anything better than anyone else but has to keep this a secret since she was rescued as an infant from a nefarious plot to form a new improved race of people. In “Gifted”, there were nine characters whose gifts were not academic superiority, but extraordinary skills like mind-reading and seeing the future. This was supposed to be a limited series of nine books, one for each character, but unfortunately, despite good reviews and decent sales, the publisher cancelled it after six books. I still get email from readers demanding the last three books, and I dream of the publisher deciding to re-release them with all nine books.

There were other series: “Out of This World,” “Three of a Kind,” “Video High,” “Club Paradise.” Between these, I wrote single titles, but I always wanted to get back to a series. And now I have “The Spyglass Sisterhood.

What I love about this series is that I have four girls who have no exceptional talents or mysterious gifts. I wanted to explore the unique personalities and feelings of these girls who neither stand out or fit in, the kind of girls we all knew in middle school (or maybe we were those girls). I wanted characters who weren’t obviously fascinating, like a genetically enhanced clone or a mind-reader, but characters who were amazingly interesting once you got to know them.

And while there’s nothing supernatural about these girls, there’s a little magic in the stories. It’s in a telescope, a spyglass that sits in the turret of one girl’s home, and it shows more than any telescope can normally show. What the girls must figure out is what the visions really mean, and what—if anything—they should do about what they see.

All four girls are in every book, but each has her own book from her exclusive point of view. Each girl has the opportunity to reveal herself more deeply, and also provide the reader with her own perception of the others, so we get to know all of them better.

As a writer, I think I’m feeling closer to these characters than I’ve ever felt to other characters in my books. They’re very real to me, and I find them almost developing on their own. I don’t know if this series will continue as long as some of my other series have, but I certainly hope so. Mainly, because I’ll have a very hard time saying goodbye to them.

Meet the author

Marilyn Kaye was born in New Britain, Connecticut and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She has a B.A. and Master’s in Library Science from Emory University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where she studied children’s and young adult literature with Zena Sutherland. She was an associate professor in library science at St. John’s University for 23 years, and has written over 120 books for children and young adults. The Spyglass Sisterhood is Marylin’s first series with Holiday Holiday. She can be found on Facebook and as ‘MarilynKayeParis’ on Instagram.

Perfectly Imperfect, a guest post by Corey Ann Haydu

The Case for Imperfect Characters with Imperfect Feelings for Our Youngest Readers

I have always written imperfect characters with imperfect feelings in my young adult and middle grade novels. It came naturally, mostly because I kept journals in my own middle grade and young adult years, and was able to see first-hand just how complicated and tricky and not-so-nice so many of my feelings were. How not-so-nice, I was, at times. It was easy, to understand imperfection from that angle. Knowing myself rather well, I know I am not a terrible person. But I had evidence of some very hard-to-understand feelings I had about my friends and family and, perhaps most of all, myself. Imperfection is about those dueling truths: we are kind and good people, existing in the world, but the world is messy, so we also have messy feelings to go along with our kindness and goodness. Kindness and goodness are not the same as perfection. 

Still, somehow, when I started writing chapter books for a slightly younger audience, younger than my journals went, I balked at the idea that I could write similarly imperfect characters for those younger ages. Weren’t books meant to show young readers how to live in the world? Weren’t characters in books meant to be examples? Didn’t my books for younger readers have to be perfectly nice and perfectly good and perfectly kind?

What I forgot, of course, is that even if these books were meant to show something about what it is to live in the world as a kid, it wouldn’t be much help to show a perfect existence filled with nice and easy feelings. That wouldn’t tell a kid much about how to be. Or rather, it might tell them how to be, but it would set them up for failure. I speak from experience when I say that aiming for perfection is a great way to feel awful about yourself. And I do not want my books to make kids feel awful. I want my books to make kids feel seen. I also want my books to make them laugh. And cringe. And scream at the characters NO DON’T DO THAT. And wonder. And relate. And not relate, but try to understand anyway. 

In my HAND ME DOWN MAGIC series, my characters, best-friend-cousins Alma and Del feel feelings that we have been told over and over are bad. Jealousy. Fear. Loneliness. Anger. And in illustrator Luisa Uribe’s emotionally vibrant illustrations, these emotions are right there on the surface, unhidden, fraught, earnest, plaintive. Undeniably, deeply there. On the front of the cover of book three in the series, PERFECT PATCHWORK PURSE, three girls are featured. In the middle, Cassie hugs a unique patchwork purse to her chest. On one side of her, exuberant Del celebrates Cassie’s acquisition. And on the other side there is Alma. She is bereft. She is clasping her hands and frowning and leaning towards the bag with a heartbreaking longing. 

I guess it would be quite evolved for Alma to simply celebrate her friend having a cool new accessory. But it wouldn’t be authentic. At least not of the life I know, where sometimes we feel something imperfect that we wish we weren’t feeling. And I want my characters to be authentic. Not just because it’s easier to write. And certainly more fun to write. But also because if I want kids to “learn” anything from my books, I want them to learn that it’s okay to feel those feelings. I want them to learn they don’t have to hide them away or beat themselves up for having them, or try to convince the world they don’t ever get them. I want them to know that I feel those feelings too. That Alma is not alone, and neither are they. 

Sometimes, we are Del, celebrating our friends’ victories. That’s wonderful. But sometimes we are Alma, wishing those victories were our own.  And that’s okay too. Maybe even a little bit wonderful. Because it means we are alive, we are feeling, we are vulnerable and open and letting the world matter to us. Being imperfect, actually, is code for being engaged in the world around us. Being imperfect means we care. It means being full-hearted. Being imperfect means being whole. 

When I look at that illustration of Alma, I don’t feel bad for her. I feel seen. I say to myself—oh, yep, that’s how it feels sometimes. I hope my books provide that for young readers (and readers of all ages!) I hope they take what feels messy and bad and uncomfortable and wrong and make it look okay. Expected. Part of the whole being human thing. Recognizable and relatable and not so scary after all. 

I’m still working, on not needing to be perfect. It’s hard, to give up on that impossible dream. But writing Alma and Del and their messy, imperfect, big, tricky feelings helps show me the way. If I can love Alma and her sulking or Del and her fear or both girls when they have a messy fight, maybe I can love myself through sulking and fear and fighting too. And hopefully, hopefully, so can young readers. 

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Corey Ann Haydu is the author of the Hand-Me-Down Magic series, EventownThe Someday Suitcase, and Rules for Stealing Stars and four acclaimed books for teens. She grew up in the Boston area, earned her MFA at the New School, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her dog Oscar. Find out more at www.coreyannhaydu.com

Crash Course: Series books for beginning readers

Earlier this month I wrote about picture books and graphic novels for elementary students. Today I’m tackling popular series books for beginning readers. You may call the readers or this group of books something different—maybe books for emergent readers or maybe early readers. Whatever the terminology, these books with great stories and lots of illustrations are perfect for kids who are growing in their reading fluency and ready to sit down and read a book on their own.

As with my other posts in this series, these are books that are popular at the elementary school where I work. Have suggestions for other titles to look into? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Summaries here of book one in each series are from WorldCat.

Unicorn and Yeti series by Heather Ayris Burnell, Hazel Quintanilla

Book one: Sparkly New Friends

“Unicorn and Yeti run into each other (literally) while looking for sparkly things, and despite some differences, (for instance Unicorn is magic, Yeti is not, Yeti likes snowball fights, Unicorn can not throw snowballs)–the two become friends over a shared love of hot chocolate with rainbow sprinkles.”

This new series is VERY popular at my school. Are we in the golden age of Unicorns? I think so. Practically every day I’m complimenting some kiddo on their unicorn-themed clothing or accessories.

Tales of Sasha series by Alexa Pearl, Paco Sordo

Book one: The Big Secret

“In the Tales of Sasha series debut, Sasha discovers that she really isn’t like the other horses in her valley when wings sprout from her back and she soars through the air!”

Dragon Masters series by Tracey West, Graham Howells

Book one: Rise of the Earth Dragon

“Drake never thought dragons were real. But he soon learns that dragons are real – and that he is a Dragon Master! The magic Dragon Stone has chosen Drake and three others – Ana, Rori, and Bo – to train dragons. Will Drake be able to connect with his dragon? Does he have what it takes to become a true Dragon Master?”

This is one of our most popular series. Often when readers have moved on from this section at our school, I will see them check out a harder book aimed at older readers but also grab one of these for their second choice.


Zapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules, Miguel Benitez

Book one: Freddie Ramos Takes Off

“Freddie finds a mysterious package outside his apartment containing sneakers that allow him to run faster than a train, and inspire him to perform heroic deeds.”

Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi, Hatem Aly

Book one: Meet Yasmin!

“In this compilation of four separately published books, Pakistani American second grader Yasmin learns to cope with the small problems of school and home, while gaining confidence in her own skills and creative abilities.”

I was thrilled when we got a bunch more of this in recently. Curious and bold Yasmin brings great energy to her every adventure. The illustrations are GREAT—I want to dress like Yasmin!

Sadiq series by Siman Nuurali, Anjan Sarkar

Book one: Sadiq and the Desert Star

“Sadiq’s father is going on a business trip, but before he goes he tells Sadiq a story of the Desert Star, which fits in perfectly with Sadiq’s third grade class field trip to the planetarium, and inspires Sadiq to build a simple telescope to study the stars when his father returns.”

This new series, featuring a Somali American Minnesota kid, was an instant hit at my school. HUGE need for this series to exist.

Critter Club series by Callie Barkley, Marsha Riti

Book one: Amy and the Missing Puppy

“During spring break, mystery-lover Amy looks for clues to the disappearance of wealthy Ms. Sullivan’s Saint Bernard puppy.”

Friendship and animals—a great draw for young readers! Super cute illustrations with the kiddos in varied situations (not all are mysteries).

King & Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler, Nancy Meyers

Book one: King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats

“King’s human, Kayla, has baked some treats for a friend’s new puppy, Thor, but some go missing and it is up to King to find the culprit.”

The books in this series are all mysteries and feature great narration from good doggo King.

Craftily Ever After series by Martha Maker, Xindi Yan

Book one: The Un-Friendship Bracelet

“Best friends Emily and Maddie have one big thing in common: they love to craft and create! Whether it’s making art with balloons, cities of cardboard and straws, or the matching friendship bracelets they wear, they’re always coming up with fresh ideas. But when a new student named Bella shows up at school, their friendship is put to the test. Maddie immediately befriends her and discovers that Bella is just as crafty as she and Emily are! As Maddie and Bella spend more time together, Emily finds herself spending more time alone. Then, when Emily’s friendship bracelet falls off, she begins to think that maybe it was an un-friendship bracelet this whole time. Will the friends find their craftily ever after?”

Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules, Kim Smith

Book one: My Family Adventure

“Follow 7-year-old Sofia Martinez as she deals with her family and daily adventures.”

I love Sofia! Like the Zapato series, this series includes lots of Spanish words that, for the most part, can be easily deciphered by non Spanish speakers, though this series does include a glossary.

Desmond Cole, Ghost Patrol series by Andres Miedoso, Victor Rivas

Book one: The Haunted House Next Door

“When supernatural things start happening in the house timid Andres and his parents just moved into, next-door-neighbor Desmond Cole, eight, comes to the rescue.”

We are forever being asked for “scary books” or “creepy books.” While these are certainly not actually scary or creepy, they seem to fit the bill for early readers.

Eerie Elementary series by Jack Chabert, Sam Ricks

Book one: The School Is Alive!

“Sam Graves discovers that his elementary school is alive and plotting against the students, and, as hall monitor, it is his job to protect them – but he will need some help from his friends.”

This series, too, is satisfyingly “scary” for younger readers.

The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings

Book one: Rise of the Balloon Goons

“Alexander has just moved into Stermont, but the elementary school is being torn down, his new classroom is located in the hospital morgue, a notebook he finds is full of information about monsters and everywhere he turns there are spooky balloon men determined to attack him.”

Why yes, ANOTHER spooky series! Extremely popular at my school!

Owl Diaries series by Rebecca Elliott

Book one: Eva’s Treetop Festival

“This full-color, highly illustrated diary series is perfect for young readers who love friendship stories starring animal characters! Eva Wingdale gets in over her head when she offers to organize a spring festival at school. Will Eva have to ask Sue (a.k.a. Meanie McMeanerson) for help? Or will the festival have to be cancelled?”

Press Start series by Thomas Flintham

Book one: Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy!

“When King Viking and his evil robot army attack Animal Town, and kidnap Singing Dog, it is up to Super Rabbit Boy, with some help from Sunny and his video game console, to save the day.”

Do the children at your school or in your life suffer from video game mania? Probably. This gaming-based series flies off our shelves.

Molly Mac series by Marty Kelley

Book one: Tooth Fairy Trouble

“When Molly Mac loses her first tooth, talk of the Tooth Fairy makes her head spin! What does the Tooth Fairy do with all of those teeth anyway? Molly and her best friend, Kayley, decide to investigate. When Molly figures out what happens to her lost tooth, will she approve?”

Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven, Priscilla Burris

Book one: Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret

After being homeschooled her whole life, Heidi Heckelbeck enters a real school in second grade, where she encounters a mean girl named Melanie who makes her feel like an alien.