What’s To Read After Harry Potter?

Books Evergreen GeekMom
gregor-and-harry1
Book covers: Scholastic Press. Mashup: Kate Miller.

Readers, I’ve got something explosive to say. OK, here goes (nervous throat-clearing sound):

I just don’t like Harry Potter.

I don’t loathe Harry Potter, I just don’t see the magnificence and originality that others do. The first book left me cold, and even my boys lost interest at around book three.

There, I’ve said it. Please don’t yell at me or arrest me. I’m just speaking out for a tiny, overwhelmed minority in America. We Potterphobes cower in our closets.

So why am I posting on our Harry Potter week? Just to be a downer? To be the critic everyone hates? No! My job here is to recommend an alternative series, good for Potterphobes as well as Potterphiles who are ready for fresh material.

And my recommendation is – drumroll, please — the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. My older son and I picked up the first book a couple of years ago when I was still reading aloud to him. We buzzed through the next four books with the urgency of addicts. Like Harry Potter, the protagonist of this series is a boy with a mysterious destiny who moves between the real world and an equally real alternate world. But the resemblance ends there.

Gregor is a smart and troubled 11-year-old New York kid who inadvertently discovers the Underland, a human civilization living in enormous caverns deep beneath the city. There, humans uneasily co-exist with species of rats, bats, spiders, mice, cockroaches, and other creatures, all grown to enormous size. These creatures are also highly intelligent, armed to the teeth, and as flawed and unpredictable as humans. It’s a blazingly original landscape. Shifting alliances and misunderstandings propagate the plots, and we watch as Gregor navigates. He’s decent. And conflicted. It’s awesome.

The books thrum with themes of war and peace. One plot closely parallels Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust. Gregor is strategically placed to answer some of those old philosophical chestnuts you toss around in college: “It’s 1939. You have a loaded gun and a clear shot at Hitler. What do you do?” Or, more to the point, what would Gregor do? (WWGD?) These questions sparked lively discussions with my son, for which I’ll always be grateful to Suzanne Collins.

So if you liked Harry Potter — or even if you didn’t – you might give Gregor a try. Oh, and when you do, let me know what you think of Ripred, a vicious and brilliant rat with traitorous tendencies. We adore him.

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22 thoughts on “What’s To Read After Harry Potter?

  1. I’m past the issue of whether Harry Potter is good children’s literature. That, I believe, is not the point. The real problem is people like the adult man who yelled at me on a first–and last–date for saying it wasn’t “great literature” and that it was “for children.” I have been saying for YEARS that Harry Potter is to literature what Wicked is to musical theater–it’s all part of the general dumbing down of adult America.

  2. I’m past the issue of whether Harry Potter is good children’s literature. That, I believe, is not the point. The real problem is people like the adult man who yelled at me on a first–and last–date for saying it wasn’t “great literature” and that it was “for children.” I have been saying for YEARS that Harry Potter is to literature what Wicked is to musical theater–it’s all part of the general dumbing down of adult America.

  3. Sorry, but I don’t follow the “dumbing-down” comment. Growing up, I read a lot of books that were worse (and better) than the Rowling books. I suppose that on either side of a nerd argument, you’ll have anger and zeal, be it Potter, LOTR, Star Wars or whatever. I suggest that you read some of those old, pseudonym-produced Hardy Boys books and then try to argue for the literary quality that used to be produced in children’s lit.

    Speaking as a high school English teacher, it’s usually a safe bet that my more successful students read the Potter series when they were younger. I use this familiarity as a gateway to analyzing The Once and Future King. 🙂

    “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” – Maya Angelou

  4. Sorry, but I don’t follow the “dumbing-down” comment. Growing up, I read a lot of books that were worse (and better) than the Rowling books. I suppose that on either side of a nerd argument, you’ll have anger and zeal, be it Potter, LOTR, Star Wars or whatever. I suggest that you read some of those old, pseudonym-produced Hardy Boys books and then try to argue for the literary quality that used to be produced in children’s lit.

    Speaking as a high school English teacher, it’s usually a safe bet that my more successful students read the Potter series when they were younger. I use this familiarity as a gateway to analyzing The Once and Future King. 🙂

    “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” – Maya Angelou

  5. So funny how books “take” or don’t. We are Harry Potter fans here. We read voraciously – from The Odyssey to Sherlock Holmes to To Kill a Mockingbird to Merlin: The Lost Years to InkWorld to Lord of the Flies to Eragon to Crispin to Wrinkle in Time and on and on.

    And the Underland Chronicles totally underwhelmed us — so much so that we did something we rarely do with fiction — we did not finish the book. The library due date rolled around, so I turned it in. Several times I’ve asked Nick if we should get it again. “Nah – not really interested in that book.”

    I still think it must have just been a “wrong time” thing for us or something. I’ve heard so many people recommend this series, and it’s weird to me that we didn’t love it.

    So glad to read your post recommending the series; we really do need to try again.

  6. So funny how books “take” or don’t. We are Harry Potter fans here. We read voraciously – from The Odyssey to Sherlock Holmes to To Kill a Mockingbird to Merlin: The Lost Years to InkWorld to Lord of the Flies to Eragon to Crispin to Wrinkle in Time and on and on.

    And the Underland Chronicles totally underwhelmed us — so much so that we did something we rarely do with fiction — we did not finish the book. The library due date rolled around, so I turned it in. Several times I’ve asked Nick if we should get it again. “Nah – not really interested in that book.”

    I still think it must have just been a “wrong time” thing for us or something. I’ve heard so many people recommend this series, and it’s weird to me that we didn’t love it.

    So glad to read your post recommending the series; we really do need to try again.

  7. I was considering giving the Underland Chronicles a whirl. I have a very long to-read list right now, so it will probably be a while before I get to it.

    But for those with teens, I highly HIGHLY recommend Suzanne Collins’ most recent series, The Hunger Games. I blew through all three books in 5 days. They rank right up there with Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia on my list, and that’s saying a lot.

  8. I was considering giving the Underland Chronicles a whirl. I have a very long to-read list right now, so it will probably be a while before I get to it.

    But for those with teens, I highly HIGHLY recommend Suzanne Collins’ most recent series, The Hunger Games. I blew through all three books in 5 days. They rank right up there with Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia on my list, and that’s saying a lot.

  9. When my husband and I first married (in our mid-30’s) we found ourselves finding excuses to drive around just so we could listen to tales of Harry Potter, told by a captivating Jim Dale. Some stories should be read. Others should be listened to.

    Fast forward a few years…10 to be exact. We have a little boy…a boy who has truly owned more books than toys…a child who has been read to and who has grown to love stories…but, a child who is gifted but has been riddled with vision problems. So much so, that reading had become torturous. An example of how he struggles with vision and has trouble focusing on any words on paper more than 15-20 minutes at one setting.

    We tried so hard to coax him into reading. He loved the stories…but kept resorting back to “safe” books, far below his reading level. We tried several irreverent “boy” books. There were laughs, but no compelling drive to finish the books. Meh.

    We were reluctant to introduce him to Harry Potter yet, because we didn’t want him to run away from the huge chapter books that he really isn’t ready to read yet.

    Enter a wonderful librarian who suggested The Underland Chronicles. Again, we got the audiobooks to start (also told by a fabulous narrator!) but imagine our surprise when the school book fair time came and what is top of the list — Gregor books.

    You have to understand, up until now, we’ve only seen books about Star Wars, Legos…comic/comedy books…Nothing resembling a thick, meaty, treat of a book that says “I’m reading now!”

    Hmmm…”are you sure?” we asked. “Yes! That’s what I want!”

    And for the first time ever, we don’t have to coax, cajole…beg…for the 20 minutes of reading time per day (his second grade requirement). The timer beeps and he keeps going…and going…and going…and even on Saturday morning when he is usually curled up with a blanket watching Tom & Jerry, we found him curled up instead with his Gregor book.

    And we know he’s hooked when he has come to the end of the series and asks “Is she going to write any more Gregor books?” “No one knows, sweetie…” “Well, I think she should. There are more stories to tell.”

  10. When my husband and I first married (in our mid-30’s) we found ourselves finding excuses to drive around just so we could listen to tales of Harry Potter, told by a captivating Jim Dale. Some stories should be read. Others should be listened to.

    Fast forward a few years…10 to be exact. We have a little boy…a boy who has truly owned more books than toys…a child who has been read to and who has grown to love stories…but, a child who is gifted but has been riddled with vision problems. So much so, that reading had become torturous. An example of how he struggles with vision and has trouble focusing on any words on paper more than 15-20 minutes at one setting.

    We tried so hard to coax him into reading. He loved the stories…but kept resorting back to “safe” books, far below his reading level. We tried several irreverent “boy” books. There were laughs, but no compelling drive to finish the books. Meh.

    We were reluctant to introduce him to Harry Potter yet, because we didn’t want him to run away from the huge chapter books that he really isn’t ready to read yet.

    Enter a wonderful librarian who suggested The Underland Chronicles. Again, we got the audiobooks to start (also told by a fabulous narrator!) but imagine our surprise when the school book fair time came and what is top of the list — Gregor books.

    You have to understand, up until now, we’ve only seen books about Star Wars, Legos…comic/comedy books…Nothing resembling a thick, meaty, treat of a book that says “I’m reading now!”

    Hmmm…”are you sure?” we asked. “Yes! That’s what I want!”

    And for the first time ever, we don’t have to coax, cajole…beg…for the 20 minutes of reading time per day (his second grade requirement). The timer beeps and he keeps going…and going…and going…and even on Saturday morning when he is usually curled up with a blanket watching Tom & Jerry, we found him curled up instead with his Gregor book.

    And we know he’s hooked when he has come to the end of the series and asks “Is she going to write any more Gregor books?” “No one knows, sweetie…” “Well, I think she should. There are more stories to tell.”

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