It Doesn’t Stop at The Hunger Games

gregor series

While writing my young readers historical fiction book about a dachshund in Nazi Germany, I’ve been reading two types of books: historical books surrounding the Nazi era and young readers books.

While it’s pretty easy to find really enthralling historical books, young readers books that aren’t dumbed down are kind of hard to come by, outside of Harry Potter and a few classical works.

My wife and I are big fans of The Hungers Games books, so I asked her, “Would you be interested in reading Suzanne Collins children’s book series?”

“What are they about?”

“This kid who goes underground and meets giant bugs and rats and spiders and stuff.”

“No way,” she said. “That sounds gross.”

So, I got her the set for Christmas.

You may be reading this and thinking, I’ve heard of Collins’s young readers books, and giant insects and stuff just don’t appeal to me.

Let me tell you that Sarabeth and I have both read the series since Christmas and are in love with Gregor the Overlander.

Don’t judge a book before you read it. Suzanne Collins is at the top of her game with her Gregor series. There are very similar themes as in The Hunger Games, and even though they’re directed at young readers instead of teens, I’m not quite sure the subject matter is any less impactful and thought-provoking.

Gregor is a twelve-year-old boy who accidentally falls down the laundry chute with his two-year-old sister, Boots. Together, they fall down, down, down to the Underland, an entire underground world that exists underneath New York City.

There, they befriend humans and giant cockroaches and spiders and bats – who are the main mode of transportation. Like The Hunger Games, hardly anything in these books is at all predictable.

The first book, Gregor the Overlander, was a wonderful introduction to this dark world, and introduced probably one of my favorite literary characters of all time (he’s a giant rodent) who remains a key player throughout the series. Books 2-3 weren’t as captivating, but there’s enough action that young kids – boys or girls – would enjoy them. Book 4, The Marks of Secret, was a good prelude to the final book of the series – The Code of Claw – which was one of the coolest, and heartbreaking, conclusions to a series I can remember.

Collins is a master at causing you to feel sympathy for her characters, be they people, cockroaches, bats, or rats. Her plots are very deep and interwoven, but not so complicated that an eight-year-old wouldn’t get it.

Sarabeth and I will both be returning to these books very soon, and will most definitely pass them down to our kids (though because there are some very gruesome and gory scenes, we would suggest no younger than eight, depending on the child’s maturity level).

But even if you don’t have kids and you’re just looking for a great series to get immersed in, I can’t recommend Gregor enough. Another treat by Collins, is her children’s picture book, Year of the Jungle, which serves as sort of her mini-autobiography and explains a lot about the inspiration behind her books.


Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

20 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Stop at The Hunger Games

  1. I wanted to thank you for the follow and let you know what a joy it is to read such an uplifting blog! I will definitely be checking out this series and was going to suggest Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. It is a good young-adult series that is different and not ‘dumb down.’ It is one of my favorite re-telling of classic fairytales. I will be picking up The Man in the Box in the future and best of luck with your new novel!

    P.S. Its my dream to be a book editor and a published author so its inspiring to see that the dream can be achieved.

    1. Yes, it can be achieved. But it still has its challenges and a never-ending struggle to get to the top.

  2. I agree with your assertion that there are a lot of young reader series out there that are significantly “dumbed down”, but I would say that there are more accessible books and series out there for young readers than most people think. I would definitely recommend the Series of Unfortunate Events books, especially for the smart way that the author uses higher vocabulary than these readers may be familiar with, and additionally explains the terms using simple to follow contextual clues.

    But I don’t think anyone should discount the classics. As “old” as A Wrinkle in Time, Where the Red Fern Grows, and everything by Roald Dahl, or as “new” as Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing, How to Eat Fried Worms, or anything by Judy Blume, there are plenty of great books out there that are suitable for young readers both in content and vocabulary – and lucky for the kids, they are just excellent stories! They were good enough for us, right? And they weren’t all cozy stories in which every thing was settled with a “happy ending”. Some had very serious, dark, and complicated themes. Yes, there are plenty of new authors that are writing excellent middle grade and young reader fiction, but there are so many wonderful books out there that it’s really hard to know how to build your child’s library. You should definitely screen what you put on their shelves (READ: relive these great stories, or discover them for the first time!)

    (As you may have noticed, I’m a bit of a children’s lit aficionado. Feel free to disregard any information that is just me going overboard. 🙂

    1. I help out in the library of the school where I used to teach (I’m retired). I’m often amazed at the varying interests of children in books. I agree with Jennifer — the richness of literature for children has only increased, and I suspect it was the popularity of the Harry Potter series that gave more authors license to challenge children more, rather than less. I’m not into supernatural or fantasy personally, but kids sure are. Perhaps they still have the unencumbered imaginations to read them without reality casting its shadow of disbelief. I find, too, that some kids still like the oldies. One girl last year was determined to get through Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series. Another was pursuing completion of the Boxcar Children series. So, interest and reading levels vary, but there seem to be enough books out there to satisfy most reading tastes.

  3. I agree with Jennifer…I think the books I grew up reading (70’s to early 80’s) were among the best books for children. My thoughts in general: The thing about those classics vs. today’s offerings, specifically teen and young adult, is that a parent really needs to try to keep an eye of the “school approved” lists and double-check the content of those books. I am no prude, however, I was shocked at the materials being suggested in California’s public education system book report list. I feel that children are barraged with the foul language and graphic violence / mature adult themes on radio, t.v. and in theatres — there really is no need to include foul language throughout a well-constructed story book, especially. I often wonder why print and media feel the need to allow so much of this to pervade good story lines — is it any wonder that so many kids can’t communicate without dropping multiple “f-bombs” and other street slang? I refuse to believe this is of any value in kids’ books. It certainly wasn’t a problem in any classics or on television until the last decade or two.
    I really found your post insightful and helpful, so thank you. I am sorry if I got ranty, but I felt I should point out the warning about so-called school system approved lists. I feel that education boards have more responsibility to choose appropriate materials but are instead opting to go with the trending, which is wrong.

  4. I enjoy reading young adult lit from time to time and, yes, decent young-adult books are hard to find. I devoured the Hunger Games series so I bet I would love the Gregor series. I’m adding it to my reading list.

  5. I had wondered just Why You got Your Wife those books, particularly when she did not show an interest in them. But the further descriptions make all this into a happy ending. As You say, not to judge before going through the whole thing!

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