Does a Book Series Have to be Read in Order?


I would argue “no.” Case in point: prequels. Or one better–-is there ever really a beginning? (Or an ending for that matter?)

What about those books that are told out of order (I’m thinking of Jodi Picoult’s first book, Songs of the Humpback Whale)? Or a series written out of order such as the Chronicles of Narnia? Maybe it just depends on the series.

I’ve been pondering this recently in relation to my own book series. When I book toured with the first three books in my five book series (Seed Savers), some people thought it necessary to begin with the first book. Others asked if the books “needed” to be read in order, and still others asked my opinion on which book to begin.

Here’s the thing with the first three Seed Savers books: book one–Treasure— is written for a slightly younger audience so I suggest the younger kids start there. Book two–Lily— is slightly older, and book three–Heirloom–even more so since there’s more politics. Adult readers can easily start with book 3 (Star Wars reference inserted here).

When I have the chance to talk with people personally I also explain that as a writer I like to try out different techniques. Book one is told in third person point of view, book two in first person, book three with dual storylines, dual POV. Sometimes readers have a preference. Enough backstory is given in each book to jump right in without being lost. I firmly believe you can start reading the Seed Savers series with any of the three books. (There are two more books before the series is complete; it is not a trilogy.)

This is what Portland Book Review said about Heirloom without having read the first two books:

“While it would be helpful to read the first two books prior to this one, it’s not strictly necessary.”

Another reader who read only book three (Heirloom) told me she felt like not knowing everything was good, it was very engaging that wayand that’s what I mean in my above comment about is there ever really a beginning?

Good stories tend to start somewhere in the middle. Her summation, “I think it [Seed Savers-Heirloom] works as a stand-alone just fine.”

 Seed Savers-Heirloom is a futuristic book about reconnecting to our past. In it we have a young teen searching for a father she never knew. We have a brother and sister separated from their mother and living in Canada as gardening refugees. There is a long distance solar-powered motorcycle ride, young romance, and eccentric characters. There’s politics and fresh apple cider, the heat of summer and the cold of winter, poetry, food, and gardening. Check it out for yourself!

Seed Savers-Heirloom by Flying Books House is available here.

Let me know what you think–do you ever read a series out of order?



S. Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade series, Seed SaversVisit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter

2 comments on “Does a Book Series Have to be Read in Order?

  1. I have a personal anecdote. The first time I tried to read The Lord of the Rings was in the early ’90s. I picked up a sad-looking copy (dog-eared, cover missing) of The Two Towers. I started to read it, and I couldn’t understand what was going on – there were no character introductions and I had no idea what the characters’ motivations were. So I abandoned the book at the end of the first chapter. Years later I watched Peter Jackson’s movie and loved it. I eventually realized that the book I abandoned years back was part of a series – the Lord of the Rings series – and it was in fact the second book in the series, and that’s why I hadn’t understood it. I went back and read the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the movie. I went on to read the entire series (“series” in this case is a misnomer: Tolkien originally intended The Lord of the Rings to be one book, but the publishers felt it was too long and split it up into three books). Lord of the Rings went on to become one of my favourite book series of all-time and it opened-up the fantasy genre for me, a genre which as given me countless enjoyable hours as a reader. So yes, sometimes reading order really does matter. I wonder how many other people have abandoned a book because they read it out of series order when it mattered?

    • Hi Paul,
      Tolkien is quite dense reading! I think I remember giving up on book 1 the first time I read it, maybe in the prologue or the Note on Shire Records. That being said, I think it depends on the series. So you can take my word for it on Seed Savers that you can easily start on book two, and book three is not out of the question. Definitely don’t start with number four or five unless you really have to. 🙂 And, yes, I have successfully read a book 2 in a series without book 1. Can’t remember the name of it, but book one wasn’t available at the library and I was interested in checking out the author. Thanks for your comment.

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