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Seminar on Lit for Youth: Series & Reference

Watch the video, then read the page. 

From countries books and field guides to dictionaries and encyclopedia, the shelves are filled with interesting series and reference materials.

The Research

Daniel Kraus (2013) notes that publishers are adapting existing series to align with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and designing new series from the ground up to reflect new thinking about the role of informational texts in learning.

Read Chen, Diane R. (November 2, 2009). Making series nonfiction a must-read. School Library Journal, 68. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Read Zarnowski, Myra (Fall 2012). Nonfiction series and the Common Core State Standards. School Library Journal, 72. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Series Selection

From books about countries to series on baby animals, a wide range of series options exist for children and young adults.

For instance, the About Habitats series explores different environments around the world. While each book examines a different habitat, all the books have a consistent format making them effective for activities that involve comparing content.

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Get Youth Hooked on Reading

Use series books to get youth hooked on reading. DK Readers: Big Machines (Level 1) is designed for those beginning to read. Everyday objects like cars and trucks are exciting for young readers.


Seek out irresistible topics that will immediately engage readers. The Spies Around the World series by Michael E. Goodman is a great example. With the look of a top-secret file, even the page layout is designed to attract readers. Fingerprints, maps, and mug shots are a few of the visual features aimed at the grades 6-9 age group.


Research Starters

Series work well as a jumping off spot for research. For instance, Essential Events is a middle to high school series providing an in-depth examination of a specific event such as The Columbine Shootings, Tragedy in Tucson, Scottsboro Boys, Irish Potato Famine, and The Great Wall of China.


Unique Perspectives

When selecting series, look for new perspectives or different ways of thinking about the topic. For instance, Ethics in Sports is a new series by Heinemann for grades 7 and up. Rather than focusing on sports teams or heroes, these books pose deep questions and challenge thinking about sports. Titles include Sports and Society, Money in Sports, Getting Ahead, and Sportsmanship.


Standards Alignment

The Scholastic True Book series aligns well with the content area state standards. With over 100 titles, it's easy to find a book on any topic related to social studies or science for grades 3-5. This is an excellent series to teach about the structure of nonfiction.


Respected Works

The Scientists in the Field series from the Smithsonian Institution is an outstanding example of quality nonfiction for youth. The books are geared to fifth to eighth grade (or ages 10+) with Lexile measures of around 1200. Many of these books have won nonfiction awards.

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Read Zappy, Erica (Mar/April 2011). Sing a song of science: Scientists in the Field. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 33-38. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Browse one of the Scientists in the Field books at your library. Or, you can explore previews of some of the books at Google Books or Amazon. Think about how scientists bring alive a subject area for youth. If you could create a series focusing on the "people" involved in some area such as chefs, medical doctors, ranchers and farmers, fashion designers, sports drivers, or business men. What area would you choose? Select a group of books that would represent the features you'd be looking for in this type of series. What characteristics does each book bring that would be important in this type of series. It's fine to use example from the Scientists in the Field series too. Also explore series from Lerner, Capstone, Child's World, Heinemann, Marshall Cavendish, Bearport, and Enslow.

Besides going to the publisher websites, Barnes and Noble’s website has the ability to search by series title to find out what’s currently available or what other books are in a series. This comes in handy as a quick way to locate titles.

Across Subject Areas

You'll find series across subject areas including biography, social sciences, history, science, and math.

Biography Series

When selecting biographies think about a balance between interesting subjects and educational value. Individual titles may be used to fill in gaps in the collection.

Keep in mind that celebrities and popular sports heroes come and go quickly. When selecting biographies, think about longevity.

cleoIt may not be worth the money to purchase books that may only be popular for a few months. On the other hand, during that short time the book might get great use. Actor Jennifer Lawrence is likely to be around for a while, but other actors and musicians may come and go.

For the middle grades, The Thinking Girls Treasury of Dastardly Dames is an exciting look at women through history. Some titles are listed below:

PowerKid's Jr. Graphic American Inventors is an example of a graphic biography series. It's a great option for reluctant readers.


The Today’s Writers and Their Works is a new series for high school aged students focusing authors such as Bill Bryson, Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, and Stephen King.


Social Science and History Series

Seek out books on unusual topics and look for innovative ways of exploring traditional topics.

Patricia Lauber is known as a series author. Her Around-the House Series provide a fun way to learn about history and culture. Books include


The Ye Yucky Middle Ages series from Enslow is a new favorite. Books in this series focus on the gross aspects of history. For instance, Ye Castle Stinketh by Chana Stiefel is a fun look at the stinky Middle Ages. Other titles include Sweaty Suits of Armor, There's a Rat in My Soup, and Don't Let the Barber Pull Your Teeth.


Science, Engineering and Technology Series

Many popular publishers produce science series. National Geographic has a Jump into Science Series for young readers.

Some recent examples include:

Scholastic's Nature's Children series is popular with youth. With full-page photographs and fun facts, students are attracted to these short animal books for grades 3-5 like Tarantulas by Vicky Franchino and Elephants by Francies Brennan.


Many publishers create leveled science books for children. Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science is an example. From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman is a "stage 1" book designed for children ages 3+.


Another popular leveled series is Step into Reading. They have a number of technology-related titles including



Children will enjoy the Robots Series from Edge Books. Titles include Robot Competitions, How Robots Work, Awesome Space Robots, and Amazing Military Robots.

Sports Illustrated for Kids produces a series of High-Tech Sports books including Technology of Baseball, Technology for Football, Technology of Hockey, and Technology of Basketball.

Middle school students enjoy books about war machines. The Machines That Won the War series include books on the Cold War, Gulf War, Vietnam War, World War I, and World War II.

Bearport Publishers are known for their science series. Their categories include primary nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and high-interest nonfiction.

Well-known nonfiction author Sally Walker has written a series titled Early Bird Earth Science for Lerner featuring titles including Caves, Earthquakes, Glaciers, Reefs, and Volcanoes. You can also find other series.

try itTry It!
Preview at least four books from a single series. Notice the consistency of elements in each book in the series. Explore the Early Bird Earth Science series such as Rocks, Fossils, Soil, Minerals, Caves, Earthquakes, Glaciers, Reefs, and Volcanoes.
Or, explore the Early Bird Physics Books series such as Pulleys, Inclined Planes and Wedges, Screws, Wheels and Axles, Work, Levers
Or, explore the Early Bird Nature Books series such as Sea Horses, Fireflies, Opossums, Mosquitoes
Or, explore Early Bird Energy series such as Heat, Magnetism, Matter, Light, Electricity, Sound,
Or, explore Searchlight Books such as Investigating Sound, Investigating Matter, Investigating Heat, Investigating Electricity, Investigating Light,
Or, explore Nature Watch books such as Hippos, Jaguars, Rhinos, Dolphins


Generate and support interest in math through engaging math series. For instance, Score with Sports Math is a series from Enslow Publishers for grades 3-4. Each book begins with an introduction to the sport. Subsequent chapters include short informational texts along with problem-based activities that connect math with reading comprehension and analysis. The images below are from Score with Baseball Math.


In Let's Measure More by Desiree Bussiere, youth learn about measurement. Each book focuses on a different question such as What in the world is... a ton, a centimeter, a baker's dozen, a mile, a leap year, and an acre.



We could spend an entire course just exploring reference materials. The term "reference works" encompasses a wide range of resources. Once students find the "fun" part of the reference collection, these works will be gone!

Ripley's Believe It or Not has a whole series of popular fact and trivia books including Strange but True (2013), Incredible Feats (2013), Awesome Feats (2013), World Wonders (2013), and many more.


The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth (2013) is the latest collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and DK publisher. Designed for ages 8 and up, the book includes over 1,500 specimens and species.

At the high school level consider Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents & Underground Classics. This three-volume set contains 215 essays covering graphic novels and core comic series.


A new generation of highly illustrated reference works have emerged. These books use visualizations and infographics to display complex information. Picture This! is a new series from Kingfisher. The first book in the series is Human Body (2013) by Margaret Hynes.



A wide range of almanacs exist beyond the classic World Almanac. Classics like the Old Farmers Almanac and the Farmer's Almanac are interesting to compare. Others include Whitaker's Almanack and TIME Almanac with Information Please.

Youth versions of many of the popular almanacs are available such as the World Almanac for Kids, Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids, and Scholastic Almanac for Kids. National Geographic Kids Almanac focuses on animals, inventions, robots, dinosaurs, games, and more.

almanacBook Spotlight

ALMANAC 2017 by National Geographic Kids is a reference book chuck-full of fascinating facts and activities.
The almanac begins with a table of contents including Your World, Amazing Animals, Going Green, Culture Connection, Awesome Adventure, Fun and Games, Super Science, Wonders of Nature, History Happens, and Geography Rocks. Each section includes photographs, diagrams, games, jokes, and lots of activities.
Color-coded tabs make it easy to thumb through the book looking for sections of interest. An index also helps with access.

Almanacs are always a hit with youth. Librarians will find the 2017 edition contains about 40% new content. Readers will find expanded content at the national Geographic Kids website.

For online content, go to


You're probably familiar with the standard road atlases such as Rand McNally Atlas and countries atlases like Times Atlas of the World. Many youth versions of atlas are available from National Geographic, Rand McNally and other publishers.

Seek out other types of atlas that will enhance geography studies. Historical and environmental atlas are increasingly common. Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond by James Trefil is an excellent addition to the astronomy reference section.



Although many people now use online sources for dictionary needs, print versions are still useful. Seek out dictionaries designed for youth.

Also look for visual dictionaries. DK is known for their visual dictionaries for both adults and children including The Ultimate Visual Dictionary (2011).



Well-known encyclopedia companies are still producing a wide range of encyclopedia for youth. For instance, World Book Discovery Encyclopedia (2013) is a revised edition for 2013.


You're all familiar with general encyclopedia sets. However publishers are increasingly producing encyclopedia on specific subjects. Facts on File is known for these types of works such as Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency: A Historical Reference by Nancy Beck Young for high school level youth. This six-volume set provides a comprehensive look at each presidency.


Seek out new and unusual topics. For instance, Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues (2013) provides the depth and breadth desired by teens.


rocksBook Spotlight

ROCKS MINERALS & GEMS by Sean Callery and Miranda Smith contains over 1,000 examples of amazing geologic features to explore.

Designed for the middle grades, this photo-rich informational book features major sections on minerals, rocks, and gems. After a gallery to kickoff the section, each two-page spread explores a particular item such as copper or limestone. In some cases, the pages provide in-depth scientific information along with popular examples. Throughout the book, the author has woven in fascinating stories set in locations around the world. The book concludes with a glossary and index.

Librarians will find that young people enjoy browsing this book as well as using it as a reference work.


Chen, Diane R. (November 2, 2009). Making series nonfiction a must-read. School Library Journal, 68. Available

Kraus, Daniel (2012). Series Nonfiction Watch. Booklist. Available

Zappy, Erica (Mar/April 2011). Sing a song of science: Scientistis in the Field. The Horn Book Magazine, 87(2), 33-38. Available

Zarnowski, Myra (Fall 2012). Nonfiction series and the Common Core State Standards. School Library Journal, 72. Available

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