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.