The BSC and Me: Standing up for Middle Grade Series


My friend Amy had this one; we used to have reading sleepovers.

Mandy’s post at Forever Young Adult is like looking at the bookshelves of my past. Sometimes I wish that my childhood reading consisted only of Madeleine L’Engle and Frances Hodgson Burnett and Diana Wynne Jones. Although I loved those writers, too, a lot of my early reading consisted of MG series like The Baby-Sitters Club, The Sleepover Friends, and The Gymnasts. A lot of my Christmas/birthday/yard sale money went to these books. Probably not a surprise if you’re a regular reader of the Friday Fifteen.

When you decide to devote your life’s work to children’s literature, admitting you devoured these books feels a little like being a professional chef and admitting that you used to love a good ol’ bowl of Lucky Charms. But maybe there is a little nutritional value in those series. Most of them are written like standard tv shows–a plot that’s easy to follow, characters with one or two defining characteristics, and easy conflict resolution. Not great for deep writing, but it allows young readers to easily follow plots and characters. It’s a good way for young readers, especially those who have difficulty reading, to tackle book series.

Because of their familiar characters and structure, these books are also pretty easy to mimic. I remember writing lots of BSC/Sweet Valley Twin knock-off books. These stories won’t ever see the light of day, but they were a good way for me to explore writing.

Maybe these series were all written by committee. Maybe they were never going to win a Newbery medal or be taught in classrooms across the world. But they sure had a special place on my bookshelf as a kid.

(image: Goodreads)

A Series of Personality Traits

Love this list of what your favorite YA series says about you. So glad to see so many awesome series (not just ultra-famous ones like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games) included. A few of my favorites:

Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books, Francesca Lia Block
You were a pretty weird teenager, and you’ve grown up to be a pretty weird adult. But you’re pretty happy with that (as you should be).

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede
You’re a smart aleck and kind of a badass — that is, you know all the places where a young lady is supposed to scream for help, but you generally prefer to rely on your sword hand. Also you make a killer cherries jubilee.

The Time Quintet, Madeleine L’Engle
You are an epic nerd, but that’s how you’re going to save the world.

One I’d add:

The Song of the Lioness, Tamora Pierce
You’re a kicking-ass-and-taking-names kind of person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy a good make-out session.

Go find your favorite series!

Chapter by Chapter in Harry Potter

Holy cow, I’m on the WordPress Freshly Pressed list today! Thanks to WordPress for the opportunity, and to all the readers who have stopped by to check out last week’s Friday Fifteen. If you liked that post, it’s a regular feature so you should check out the Friday Fifteen archive. So many fifteen-word reviews!

Back to normal book business. One lovely feature in the Harry Potter series is the illustration featured at the beginning of each chapter. Now Redditor ajcfood has put together each chapter illustration in one giant composite:

Click through to see the larger image. Wouldn’t this make a fantastic poster? It really gives you a sense of the scope and narrative of the series.

Mary GrandPré is the artist behind it all (she also does the covers). Her work provides a glimpse into each chapter, and connects beautifully with Rowling’s magical stories. Check out this interview with GrandPré in which she talks a little about her process.

Moving on From Panem

My mom read The Hunger Games recently and afterward she told me, “I don’t even know what to do. What else can I read that’s like that?” I suggested The Handmaid’s Tale, which might have been a little too intense for her. (Sorry, Mom.) I should have directed her to the Lawrence Public Library’s flowchart for what to read after The Hunger Games. A sample:

Make sure to click through for the rest of their fantastic suggestions. I might take some of these recommendations to share with my YA Dystopian Society Book Club.

New Games, New Director

I thought Gary Ross did a good job directing The Hunger Games, but since he’s backed out of Catching Fire there’s a lot of speculation as to who will take over. This list rounds up some good choices, like Alfonso Cuarón (who directed the awesome dystopian film Children of Men as well as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Neill Blomkamp (whose District 9 is amazing).

I’d also recommend David Yates, who helmed the last four Harry Potter films. He can obviously handle children’s/YA adaptations well and work with young actors. Danny Boyle, who directed zombie film 28 Days Later and the heartfelt Millions, would also be a good choice. He handles genre extremely well and always manages to focus on his characters.

Any other directorial suggestions?

X Is Not the New Y

Recently NPR had an article about how The Hunger Games and YA dystopian novels were the new Twilight/vampire books. As someone who follows YA, this topic feels a little dated (is it 2009), but it is nice to see a major news outlet looking at what makes dystopian YA a compelling genre. Plus it has suggestions for further reading, including the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.

One part struck me in particular:

“In the beginning, The Hunger Games was not considered a sure thing….David Levithan, editorial director at Scholastic which publishes the books, says the company took a risk on The Hunger Games because they trusted the writer, Suzanne Collins. It wasn’t until Collins turned in the first manuscript that Levithan understood what he had. “It came in on a Friday,” he says, “and I and the other editors who worked on it read it over the weekend, and we came in on Monday and just looked at each other and said: ‘Wow.'”

Since Harry Potter showed the world that children’s literature can be hugely successful, there’s been a question of what will be the next big thing? You can find any number of articles about how vampires are the new wizards, or zombies are the new vampires, or mermaids are the new zombies. But the quote above indicates that there’s no real way to tell what the next trend will be. The Hunger Games might have sounded weird on paper, but the story itself is compelling. It shouldn’t be about finding the next hot thing that will be a huge explosion of book sales. It should be about finding that compelling story that will resonate with a lot of readers.

Also, it’s really unfair to claim anything is the new anything else. Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games might all be fantasy-esque and exciting series, but they all offer very different reading experiences. Do we really need to link them together like this?

A Farewell to Jan Berenstain

You’d be hard-pressed to find a someone who grew up in the last forty years or so who doesn’t know the Berenstain Bears. The anthropomorphic bear family has helped generations of readers learn about telling the truth, not talking to strangers, starting school, and scores of other topics. So it’s both sad to lose co-creator Jan Berenstain, who passed away recently at the age of 88, and touching to see the reaction of those who grew up with her work.

One of my favorite stuffed animals growing up was a Sister Bear doll. I think part of this was because I found the series so comforting–the stories were thoughtful and cozy, and the art was upbeat and fun. I hope readers in many future generations get to enjoy the series as well.

The Ghost of Tween Series Past

By this point, you’ve heard White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock. You’ve trimmed trees and lit menorahs and baked cookies. You’ve shed a tear for Bedford Falls. So what’s left to get you feeling the holiday spirit?

The Retro “Christmas Chiller” Throwdown: Baby-Sitters Club vs. Sweet Valley Twins, of course.

Both 80s/90s tween series have a Christmas/mystery book, of course. (I can see the meeting on that one. “We have the Christmas special, and we have these mystery specials. What if we combined them and ohmygodguys kids will buy the hell out of this!”) Each book competes in fashion, boys, drama, and more.

I loved the BSC back in the day, and had a few copies of Sweet Valley Twins as well, so this throwdown touches my heart. Merry Christmas, one and all!