What Series Can Do
The TLA preconference that Betty Carter and I organized gave us a chance to see books from a great many publishers, including some — such as Capstone and Kids Can — who focus on series. The interesting bit in the series books is that the ones we liked best turned on a clever question which got kids into the book through a hook, an idea, an smart pairing or juxtaposition. Capstone had one in which you looked at photos of animal tracks and had to guess the animal. Kids Can had one that paired homes made by animals with different kinds of homes people create (wasp nest as a paper home as parallel to paper homes in Japan).
The books were lively, had a neat hook, and would never have made it as sole author single trade titles. While I didn’t think any of the books entirely delivered on their promise, they were fun, and contributed to a feeling of vitality in non-fiction, a sense that people are trying things, experimenting with clever questions, formats, visual approaches. The key is that these books aim to ask the question that stimulates a reader, gets him or her thinking — that is their goal, as opposed to books whose goal is to pass on a body of knowledge. These books are meant to be fun — perhaps a bit like a those chocolate after dinner mints — a bit of zing in your mouth. That’s what these books aim to deliver, a bit of zing in your brain. The series format seems to allow publishers to do more of these after-dinner-mint books, since their profit does not rely one any one book — a freedom that comes from pattern.