What are the defining characteristics of series novels like Captain Underpants and Goosebumps?

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Defining characteristics of series novels are consistent characters and themes. Some series novels also share storytelling styles and settings across the books. One of the values of formulaic books is comfort and stability. Many readers enjoy returning to the same characters and dynamics in multiple books, and this is true of young readers as well.

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The real question here seems to be: What does the reader value? If that is humor, ease, and time, then formulaic books have served their purpose. There are many young children who do not have the attention span nor the desire to read a novel. While this is a striking change from decades past, the culture has changed. At present, children have a multitude of entertainment options vying for their time and attention. Teachers and parents are begging their children to put away their devices and read, yet their literature choices are debatable. Why should a classic be classified as challenging but not a graphic novel? Couldn't it be argued that reading in and of itself is a challenge for some people?

Just because a book is deemed "formulaic" doesn't mean that it's "bad." If that were true, would anyone read for pleasure? There are plenty of people who consider it a pleasure to laugh. If it's a short read, then that's even better. They can cross it off their to-do list and move on with another activity. Perhaps doing so will allow them to meet their goal of reading a different genre or gaining new vocabulary.

Either way, novels and formulaic books can both be part of a series as long as the books within the series follow the lives of a set group of characters and the reader remains invested in their growth. Otherwise, what sets them apart is obvious: length (word count or pages), depth (character and literary elements), and vocabulary.

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Book series are equivalent to TV series, an extremely popular form of entertainment.  The characters and settings are consistent, of course, and the kinds of plots are ultimately rather predictable (i.e., friend drama, crime investigation).  We know it works; the evidence is clear.  On the negative side, many actors create such memorable characters that they're typecast for the rest of their careers (think Kramer on Seinfeld).  On the positive side, popular series are often the source of spin-offs (think Law and Order or CSI, or Frasier).  In the middle is the reality shows, in which real-life characters simply live their lives (Real Housewives) or where a revolving cast of characters repeat a formulaic structure (Survivor, The Bachelor).  Book series are the same--we follow them because we generally develop relationship first with the characters, then with the action and structure.

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Series novels, especially in young adult and children's fiction, are popular because of the formula they follow. Most often these books have the same characters and setting(s), and follow the same types of plot sequences. One benefit these books provide to all readers, but especially children, is the familiarity they breed. The same thing that keeps viewers coming back to the same television series season after season keeps readers coming back to a book series. There is comfort and satisfaction in growing with a character. For young audiences, series books are great because they keep kids interested in reading. Habits that start inn youth are more likely to be maintained. Students who claim not to "like anything" when it comes to reading often find themselves hooked when they get into a series they enjoy. Series books also contain a lot of repetition from book to book. This is great for struggling readers who need more in the way of building blocks to help build understanding. As a teacher, I love series books because often when one one student gets hooked, several others follow. To me, anything that encourages more reading is always a positive thing.
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If we were looking at such works from a thematic point of view, most of these works embrace a form of the opportunity ideology.  Essentially, this means that these stories depict characters who persevere through a sense of will and commitment to a higher end.  There is not a massive questioning of existing social structures and a debate of how power is distributed in such settings.  Rather, these works show characters who have a combination of natural talent and a willingness to "go the extra mile" in order to achieve what they want.  These works feature characters who are able to summon a certain level of courage and internal strength to rise to an occasion and do great things.

To a certain extent, this makes sense to integrate this theme in children's literature.  It might not allow children the hope to believe as much if their works were littered with the idea that unless they are in the richest 1% of the world's economic powers, they lack a sense of autonomy or control over their lives.  Children usually do not immediately gravitate towards works that devalue the individual's efforts in the face of political or economic determinism.    However, I still believe that it is important to depict works that honestly show this reality and combine how individuals still have power in the face of such conditions.  Children's literature publishers might not entirely agree with this, though.

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