Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fantasy Series (and standalones) for kids/YA

I'm giving a talk later this morning to families here for Parents' Weekend, and as a takeaway I made a list of books I like to recommend. These are almost all fantasy, almost all for pre-teen and up, almost all series. They are all also books I've read and therefore can recommend with some confidence--which is why, for example, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan isn't on the list even though Nick tells me it should be. I really want to read it, but just haven't yet. Also missing from the list are my "usual suspects": Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling. That's because they're in the talk.

So here's the list:

Some Terrific (Mostly Fantasy) Books for Kids and Young Adults

A highly idiosyncratic and partial list of books you may have missed, for people who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter and Twilight series

Most of these books are appropriate for kids 10 and up; starred books might be better for 12 or 13 and up.

*Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy. Most book-loving teens have already discovered this devastating dystopian fantasy, starring a fierce teenaged hunter, Katniss Everdeen.

Sarah Beth Durst, Into the Wild and Out of the Wild: fairy tale characters enter our world with devastating, but often comic, results.

Cornelia Funke, the Inkheart series: in a world where stories can become real, readers and writers become dangerous and powerful. See also her unrelated The Thief Lord, in which a pair of orphans must make a new life for themselves in a magical Venice.

Neil Gaiman, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, *Stardust, Odd and the Frost Giants. Gaiman’s books are infused with a sense of the magical and the mythic; these standalone novels are all influenced by fairy tales and earlier literature, but bring new life to them. Coraline terrifies even my college students, but lots of younger kids adore it. The Graveyard Book has one of the scariest opening chapters I’ve ever read, but most readers are comforted by what follows

Frances Hardinge, Fly By Night: a book-loving girl teams up with a con man in a tightly controlled culture of folk deities and mysterious conspiracies. See also Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy, an unrelated tale of a magical realm where “the Lost” travel outside their bodies to keep the peace.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: six novels all set in the same multiverse; not a sequential series but a loosely linked chronicle of the rules of magic in many different worlds. See also Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Ice, and other standalone fantasies.

*Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness trilogy: math may be magic and there is a mysterious portal between Sydney, Australia and New York City; Larbalestier’s Liar and How to Ditch Your Fairy are also terrific, and quite different—Liar is darker, for older kids, while How to Ditch Your Fairy is a fairly light-hearted exploration of a high school for athletes where some kids have personal fairies.

Kenneth Oppel, Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber: adventures in the air and outer space in an alternate-history version of Victorian England.

James A. Owen, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: a five-book series about a map of imaginary places that turns out to be real; C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other literary figures are characters in this adventure series.

Terry Pratchett, The Bromeliad Trilogy, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, the Tiffany Aching books. Pratchett’s books are always funny and often very literary in their references; the Tiffany Aching books include the always-hilarious Nac Mac Feegle, a band of tiny but immensely fierce warriors, while the Bromeliad trilogy deals with a race of people who live in the spaces between floors in a large department store. The Amazing Maurice retells the Pied Piper story, with a surprising twist. See also Nation, a novel of exploration and attempted conquest in an alternate version of Victorian England and the Pacific.

Philip Reeve, Larklight series: Victorians in space.

*Michael Scott, The Alchemyst series: a twin brother & sister team up with figures from history and myth to combat mythic evil staging a return to power.

Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me: last year’s Newbery award winning book; time travel, A Wrinkle in Time, and New York City in the late 1970s.

Jonathan Stroud, The Bartimaeus Trilogy: alternate history and magic combined with a smart, snarky djinn; this series will get kids reading—and enjoying!—footnotes. A fourth book is apparently due out this fall.

Laini Taylor, Dreamdark series: so far there are only two of these novels set among fairy creatures who must reweave the fraying tapestry of the world; a third is anticipated.

*Megan Whalen Turner, Attolia series: theft, conspiracy, murder, romance, and intrigue in a Greek-inspired magical realm.