Discovering Fantasy Beyond Harry Potter
A number of years ago, my husband took our son, Patrick, to our local book store at 10:30 p.m. to wait in line with hundreds of other kids for a special midnight sale of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The kids’ enthusiasm was contagious. My husband found he wanted to read the book as much as they did. Driving home, Patrick insisted that the light inside the car stay on so he could start reading right away. When they arrived home, at one in the morning, Patrick ran to his room, climbed into bed, and continued reading until, he finally fell asleep. I confess that I, too, had become addicted to Harry Potter, reading the three earlier books twice through. When I heard Patrick lightly snoring, I slipped into his room and stole his book. I read the whole thing at a gallop, completing it before Patrick woke for breakfast. It was wonderful. I did feel a twinge of disappointment at the end, not because the ending was unsatisfying, but because it was over and there were no more new Harry stories to read.
After your child reads the final Harry Potter book, he or she may feel the same way. Thankfully, there are a great many magical, fantasy books inspired by myths, fables, and legends available at your local library. Quite a few are as interesting and entertaining as Harry Potter, and a number are even better. Kids love reading a series of books revolving around the same characters. Here are some wonderful books you will enjoy as much as your children.
Recommended Fantasy Books for Kids 9-14
The Borrowers series, by Mary Norton, consisting of: The Borrowers; The Borrowers Afield; The Borrowers Afloat; The Borrowers Aloft; and The Borrowers Avenged. The Borrowers are a dollhouse-sized race of little people who “borrow” all the small household items we big people assume to be missing. The Clock Family (Arrietty and her parents, Pod and Homily), are “borrowers,” and this delightful series of books deals with their adventures, living in a world of regular sized children and adults. Beth and Joe Crush’s ink illustrations add even more magic to the stories.
For children who adore animals, you will want to share the classic animal fantasy novels of E.B. White, which include: Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan.
The Bed-Knobs and Broomsticks books, by Mary Norton, consisting of: The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks. Three children discover that their neighbor, prim Miss Price, is a witch-in-training. They promise to keep her secret if she will let them in on some magical adventures.
Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers, consisting of: Mary Poppins; Mary Poppins Comes Back; Mary Poppins Opens the Door; Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane; and Mary Poppins and the House Next Door. Never underestimate the unpredictable nanny’s ability to take children on adventures that thrill and amaze them. Interesting details to surprise your kids with: in the books, Jane and Michael have a twin brother and sister: John and Barbara. The illustrator of the books, Mary Shepard, is the real-life daughter of Ernest Shepard, the famous illustrator of Winnie-the Pooh.
The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis, consisting of: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”; The Silver Chair; The Horse and His Boy; The Magician’s Nephew; and The Last Battle. The stories of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, four siblings, who discover the kingdom of Narnia and the ensuing struggles of power between the forces that wish to control the magical land.
The Devil’s Storybook and The Devil’s Other Storybook, by Natalie Babbitt. The author of Tuck Everlasting has written two collections of wickedly funny short stories featuring a cantankerous old devil who finds himself frequently outsmarted. Two other marvelous fantasy novels by Babbitt, unrelated to the Devil’s Storybooks, make for great reads: The Search for Delicious, Knee-Knock Rise, Tuck Everlasting, and Jack Plank Tells Tales.
The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, consisting of: Over Sea Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree. Depicting the struggles between powers of light and dark, the novels draw elements from Arthurian legend. The setting is contemporary England and Wales, where Merlin, known in the stories as Merriman Lyons, is helped both by ordinary and supernatural children to keep the Dark forces at bay. Great for kids and adults to read together. In addition to Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series, be sure to check out her other novels: The Boggart, Ghost Hawk, Seaward, King of Shadows, Green Boy, and Victory.
With a nod to the legends of King Arthur, fantasy writer Robin McKinley spins a riveting high fantasy tale in The Blue Sword, which stars the strong-minded hero Harry Crewe, an orphan girl who becomes bearer of the Blue Sword, a sword of power which only a woman can wield. McKinley’s other fantasy novels are sure to please. Be sure to check out The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End, Dragonhaven, and Chalice.
It is 1982. Magic is everywhere, including a boarding school for witch orphans and troubled children, but it is practiced only in secret because magic is illegal and witches—even children—are burned at the stake. A mystery unfolds as a group of divisive sixth grade children begin to accuse each other of witchcraft in this troubling but fascinating story titled Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones. Witch Week is just one of six books in Jones’ Chronicles of Chrestomanci.
Kevin Crossley-Holland has also found inspiration in Arthurian legend and penned his own Arthur trilogy: The Seeing Stone, At the Crossing-Places, and King of the Middle March. Kids and adults of all ages will adore these books that recreate the stories of a boy named Arthur and his friend Merlin, who gives Arthur a magical stone that provides glimpses of the future.
Additional titles middle grade readers will love include:
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick, 2014)
Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow, 2014)
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014)
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick, 2012)
Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012)
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury, 2011).
Recommended Fantasy Books for Kids Over 12
In His Dark Materials series Phillip Pullman weaves a high fantasy trilogy featuring an adventurous female hero—Lyra Belacqua—who embarks on a quest with best friend Will to save children from horrific experimentation as well as find her father. The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass comprise the trilogy.
Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series presents its own unique world of magic and wizardry in: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, and The Other Wind.
Christopher Paolini began writing his Inheritance series fantasy novels (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance) as a young teenager. The adventures of the young boy Eragon begin when he finds a polished blue stone in the wooded area of his homeland, an object he believes to be so precious that it might be traded for food. Precious the stone is but not for its monetary value. The stone soon reveals itself as an egg—the egg of a dragon—and Eragon quickly finds himself master and rider of the fantastical beast.
Garth Nix begins his Old Kingdom series with Sabriel, the story of a teenage girl with magical powers who finds herself on a quest to locate her powerful father who is trapped in the deadly evil of another world—a world that lies only behind a guarded gate from her own school-girl world. Necromancers, walking dead, and ghosts inhabit this world through which Sabriel must advance her own skills and journey as she constantly questions “the path she must walk.” Themes of destiny and good versus evil pervade this high fantasy novel, which will thrill teenage as well as adult readers. After reading Sabriel, be sure to complete the trilogy and read Lirael and Abhorsen.
Other great fantasy titles for young adult readers include:
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (Simon and Schuster, 2014)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion, 2014)
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (Amulet, 2014).
For even more fantasy recommendations, check out the Recommended Fantasy Books list on The Horn Book website.
© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance