If you weren’t already aware, “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” is coming out this week. Since it’s based on the popular children’s book series, the Arts Desk is taking a look at some of the underrated and overrated books that populated its editors’ childhoods. This is Unpopular Opinions: Children’s Book Series.
“Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke
There was no world more thrilling to my younger self than the world of Inkheart. In this fantasy series, readers are whisked away to the rolling hills of the Italian countryside, enveloped in the tale of a father who can read characters out of their pages and into the real world. After a night of reading to his wife and daughter, our protagonist’s wife is locked inside a book called “Inkheart,” while the villain of the novel is trapped in the real world. It is a mind-bending work of fiction that is action-packed, thoughtful and exhilarating all the way through.
This is a book series for book lovers, featuring allusions and characters pulled from classic stories such as “One Thousand and One Nights.” Chapters are named after famous tales and novels, and our protagonists solve cases using clues from famous literature. Do yourself a favor and pick up “Inkheart,” which is as fun as it is informative. — Nicole
The “Charlie Bone” Series by Jenny Nimmo
This children’s series is about a young boy who discovers he has magical powers and is the descendant of another powerful magician, and later attends a boarding school where he discovers other students with abilities. But no, this is not “Harry Potter.” However, I would argue that Jenny Nimmo’s “Charlie Bone” series — also known as the “Children of the Red King” series — is just as imaginative and enthralling as J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. While the basic premise is a tad too similar, the overall series is vastly different. Charlie Bone’s main power is that he can hear the voices of people in paintings and photographs and can even take objects from them. He attends Bloor Academy, run by the main antagonists, Manfred and Ezekiel Bloor. The former is a ruthless telekinetic mastermind who goes so far as to manipulate the orphans in his own school to do his bidding. While the series takes its time to establish its overarching conflict, it’s ultimately revealed to be a war between two families — the Yewbeams and the Bloors. Nimmo is also unrelenting in putting her child protagonists through the psychological trials of using their powers, whether it be talking to paintings, bewitching clothing or becoming a werewolf, and doesn’t easily depict the magic in a glossy manner. The magic plays out in a darkly surreal fashion, and I still remember an especially stirring scene in “The Castle of Mirrors,” the fourth novel, in which Ezekiel accidentally resurrects the wife of the Red King instead of his son, but she is reborn as a white horse. Don’t sleep on this British magic children’s series! — Guru
“Encyclopedia Brown” by Donald J. Sobol
For preteens who were bookish and a bit entrepreneurial, Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown embodied a dream. Working for his modest 25-cent fee (plus expenses), Brown not only solved cases for peers that made him the hero of his neighborhood, but he was involved in real life crime work. At the kitchen table he helped his dad, the police chief, solve crimes in a town with an outrageous amount of convoluted criminal activity. This was my first introduction to truly clever plots; I remember being perplexed that any author could reverse engineer mysteries as intricate as those that Brown would inevitably unwind. I’m certain that if I were to read the series again today, I’d still find the mysteries inaccessible until the moment that Brown’s peerless mind lays out exactly what happened. If Brown were around today, he could find Trump’s tax returns and catch the Ocean’s 8 (and 11, 12 and 13). — Dante
“Warriors” by Erin Hunter
I was a voracious reader when I was younger, the kind of kid that would read in class instead of paying attention or power through all seven “Harry Potter” books in a week. I read all the classic series, old and new — “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Percy Jackson,” “Goosebumps,” and so on — so I was bound to get to Erin Hunter’s “Warriors” series eventually. Does anyone else remember these? They’re about rival clans of feral cats that lived in a forest, which is, weird? There are literally dozens of books in the series. I remember not particularly enjoying them as I read them, but it wasn’t until I recently thought back to them for the first time in a decade that I realized just how bizarrely terrible they are. Anyways, it just goes to show that kids will read anything. — Alex
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