I often get parents coming in, looking for recommendations for the young readers in their lives. No matter if the child has just started school, or has been reading for a few years, or if they are teenagers, I always get asked the same question: should they be reading standalones instead of a series?
Reading a series of books is a real comfort to younger readers. They have found something they like and will stick to it like glue. Some re-read the same series over, and over again (I was guilty of this as a kid) and can outright refuse to move on from it. When this happens, I hear parents’ concerns that they should be “moving on” from this set of books. But there is a reason kids return to their favourite series time and time again. They love the characters and get to watch them develop and grow, not dissimilar to the way the reader is developing and growing up; as well as getting to see these characters react in different scenarios. When re-reading a series, they can return to it with the satisfying knowledge of how the stories end: something in the first book can have a very different meaning when they understand it with the context they get from the last book (case in point: Harry Potter, of course).
But what if they start reading a standalone book? There is certainly more of a risk in buying standalones, in that if the reader doesn’t like it, they may have less incentive to finish it, because they don’t have the attachment they would form with a series. But in this risk comes greater reward when they do enjoy a standalone. These books can introduce a reader to more diverse writing styles, characters, genres, and narratives. Standalones are not limited to the rules set by the worldbuilding process, in the way that series can be at times. Sometimes, as is the case with everyone and not just children, they need a certain type of book that tells a certain type of story at a certain point in their life. A standalone is perfect for this, a short but significant commitment. It’s a great way of finding out what kinds of books the reader does and doesn’t like, both of which are equally important, as determining a young reader’s taste in books is just as valid as it is for an adult reader.
So, which should it be: should my child read a standalone or a series? The answer is both. Whatever the child wants to read is what they should be reading. They will move on from a story in their own time when they are ready. The best we can do is make more stories available to them.