Yesterday, we were saddened to learn Donald J. Sobol, that the author the Encyclopedia Brown series, has passed away at the age of 87. We loved the Encyclopedia Brown books as kids, and the sad news sent us on a little trip down memory lane — but not just for Encyclopedia and Sally, for all the YA series that brought us joy as, well, young adults (and, we admit, since then). Just for fun, we’re going to look beyond the obvious choices, but rest assured that we consider The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter books, and The Hunger Games series to be among the best as well (even at the tippy top). It’s just that we think they’re so well established already that you really don’t need to see them on a list like this — you can probably just look over at your shelf. Click through to see a few of our most beloved YA (and older children’s book) series of all time, and if we’ve missed the books that made your younger self spin, please share the wealth and add to our list in the comments.
Encyclopedia Brown , Donald J. Sobol
Good, good Leroy Brown, aka “Encyclopedia” due to his extensive brain power and working knowledge of pretty much everything, was one of our favorite characters as young readers — though Sally Kimball, Brown’s bodyguard, best friend, and trusted purveyor of female perspective, gives him a run for his money. As wonderful as the characters are, though, the setup of the books were even better — each installation was chock-full of mysteries that the reader was invited to solve along with Encyclopedia and Sally (answers in the back), so they encouraged us to work our logical skills as well as our imaginations. “25 cents per day, plus expenses – No case too small.”
The Time Quintet , Madeleine L’Engle
L’Engle’s classic sci-fi series follows the adventures of math genius Meg Murry, her telepathic little brother Charles Wallace Murry, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe (and later, other members of their family) as they endeavor to save the world from various baddies — the Echthroi, the forces of Unnaming, nuclear war, and of course, IT. Turns out, quantum physics, megaparsecs and complicated math equations are important, but not as important as the power of love.
The Redwall series, Brian Jacques
We don’t know about you, but we spent a good portion of our young lives chronicling the lore of Brian Jacques world of Redwall. After all, the books cover many different time periods and many different conflicts, so that the young, bumbling hero of one book may be a slightly mythic historical figure in another. Filled with complicated battles of good versus evil, a satisfying menagerie of anthropomorphized animals, and more delicious-sounding food than one would ever expect to be in one series, the history of Redwall is rich enough to suck anyone in.
The Earthsea Cycle , Ursula K. LeGuin
The world of Earthsea first appeared in LeGuin’s 1964 story “The Word of Unbinding,” but so captivated her (and us) that it expanded into six books and six more short stories. Though the books are satisfying in themselves as simple magical adventure stories, LeGuin’s vision has always been a little more complicated than that: as the books go on, she delves into the meaning of magic, the idea of balance in the universe, the importance of women, and the power of someone’s true nature.
Dangerous Angels: the Weetzie Bat Books , Francesca Lia Block
One of the all-time most beloved YA series for girls (as far as anyone we know is concerned), Weetzie Bat’s adventures in “Shangri-L.A.” are captivating and hilarious — even before her best friend’s grandmother presents them with a magic lamp and the whole thing becomes an absurdist romp to rival anything you might have cooked up in your wildest teen dreams.
A Series of Unfortunate Events , Lemony Snicket
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings,” the first installation of this oddball series begins, “you would be better off reading some other book.” We’d probably amend that to say that if you are only interested in normal, cookie-cutter YA books, you should read something else — Lemony Snicket (aka Magnetic Fields accordionist and writer Daniel Handler) makes good on his promise of doom and destruction, but we guarantee you’ll love watching the Baudelaires make their way through their slightly absurd universe on nothing but their brains and sharp teeth.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles , Patricia C. Wrede
Princess Cimorene is by far our favorite princess in literature. Fed up with the kingdom of Linderwall and her boring princess lessons (embroidery, the right moments to scream during a giant attack), she heads off to the hills, where she becomes the live-in assistant to Kazul, a no-nonsense dragon who needs her library organized. And that is only the beginning of this cracked fairy tale — evil wizards, fire witches, giants, one stone prince and many, many cats abound as Cimorene explores her new world.
His Dark Materials , Philip Pullman
One of the most wonderful series we’ve ever had the pleasure to read, Lyra’s adventures through worlds are pulse-quickening, heartbreaking, and absolutely fascinating. We don’t hate the intellectually deep, rough and tumble female hero or the philosophical undertones either.
The Artemis Fowl books, Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl is one of our favorite figures in YA — a teenage criminal mastermind with a ruthless streak. Whether he’s capturing fairies or joining forces with them against the goblin rebellion, he’s one Irish child prodigy we wouldn’t want to mess with, but we’re always happy to see in action.
The Ender Saga , Orson Scott Card
We talk about Ender’s Game quite a lot here, but it’s for good reason — the books, which are ultimately about the importance of life and humanity, ultimately people trying to figure out best how to live, are incredibly captivating, universal and strange to their bones: perfect for young adults and old adults alike.