Children's Fantasy

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#1
Some of you may know this, most probably don't, but for this year I have made up my mind to learn a bit more about children's fantasy as this is one of important sub-genres of fantasy. I'm very curios to learn about the genre I love, it's roots and seminal works, so for me this is just one way of doing this.
Plus I'm hoping children's fantasy books will actually be fun reads, and great to go back to after some serious stuff which is generally what I like to read (fantasy masterworks, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and grimdark).

So, I did some legwork and compiled the list of all the fantasy books that are either middle grade or YA level, and that were on my Goodreads to be read list. I've listed them according to the publication year and I will be reading them in that order, because I wanna see how this sub-genre developed and what were the influences, who influenced who and so on.
I suppose I could have started with Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) but I've read them so many times before and I know the stories, so I decided to go with Narnia and the 20th century instead.


Unless it's a standalone, the years in the list refer to the first book that was published in the series.

  1. The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
    ✔ ★★★★★
  2. The Once and Future King (1938) ★★★★
  3. Narnia Chronicles (1950)
  4. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) ✔ ★★★★
  5. The Chronicles of Prydain (1964) read 2 out of 5 books
  6. The Dark is Rising (1965) read 1 out of 5 books
  7. The Last Unicorn (1968) - I loved this as a cartoon when I was a kid.
  8. Earthsea Cycle (1968)
  9. Watership Down (1972)
  10. The Borrible Trilogy (1976) - This one comes as a recommendation by China Mieville. I just have to read it now.
  11. The Neverending Story (1979)
  12. The BFG (1982)
  13. Song of the Lioness (1983)
  14. Howl's Moving Castle (1986)
  15. Abhorsen (1995) ✔ ★★★★
  16. His Dark Materials (1995)
  17. Harry Potter (1997)
  18. Abarat (2002)
  19. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (2005)
  20. Skulduggery Pleasant (2007)


As I said, I've never read any of these before. I tried to make a list of all the seminal works or interesting ones that I know of in this sub-genre, but I may have forgotten some.

Do you think I need to add something? Thanks.
 
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Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#3
I'd start with His Dark Materials... which is one of the most literate series I've ever read for any age group or in any genre!
And I don't want to blow it for you, so I won't giveaway what the story is really about... when it dawned on me, fairly far into the first book, I had a good laugh at Pullman's sheer audacity for doing such thing in a book meant for kids.:eek:
I would only suggest one book you might consider, Abarat; Days of Magic, Nights of War by Clive Barker. It's book two of the series, but there's enough references to the events in book one that you won't feel lost. The protagonist is a teenage girl, the fantasy world is bizarre (Abarat is an archipelago of 24 islands, each stuck forever at an hour of the day, and a 25th island you don't want to be on, ever) but it's totally relatable and *real*, even the secondary characters are written with depth.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#4
I've read 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11, and 12 (I didn't go through *all* of the Lioness books but I read what I think are the first two trilogies). Narnia was an entirely different experience as a kid (who had never been to church) and an adult. If you want to add something, I suppose technically A Wrinkle in Time is science fiction, but there are a lot of fantasy elements (especially if you read some of the sequels).
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#5
How about The Hobbit? Have you read that one as well?
Yes. And it's one of my favorite books in general. I had 100x better reaction to it, than to LotR. I think I've read it in 2013.

I'd start with His Dark Materials... which is one of the most literate series I've ever read for any age group or in any genre!
I'm decided on starting by publishing age. But anyway, I thought that Pullman's books were in some part response to Narnia? So reading Narnia first would make sense more?

I would only suggest one book you might consider, Abarat; Days of Magic, Nights of War by Clive Barker.
Thanks that looks interesting. I think I will start with book 1 in the series. I cant bring myself to start in the middle, I just don't work that way.

If you want to add something, I suppose technically A Wrinkle in Time is science fiction, but there are a lot of fantasy elements (especially if you read some of the sequels).
Thanks Sneaky, I added it. Well you know sometimes sci-fi and fantasy mix, especially in time travel books. The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers comes to mind, time travel book, but it has magic and egyptian gods in it. Great read by the way imo, so I don't mind when things like that mix.


One thing came to mind after writing this thread ,The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, #1). Published in 1938. Which means I should have started it before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Dammit.
 

ofer

Journeyed there and back again
#6
From memory, a few books I loved as a kid (not mentioned previously):
1. The wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame.
2. Watership Down by Richard Adams.
3. Duncton Wood by William Horwood.

There's also Peter pan and most of Jules Verne books, although I seem to remember you mentioning loving Verne as a kid as well, so you probably already read most of his books.
 

LexieS17

Fought a battle in the name of the old gods
#8
I would add the Percy Jackson and the Olympians sequel series Heroes of Olympus as well as The Kane Chronicles which is also by Rick Riordan. Kane Chronicles is exactly like the Olympians/Heroes of Olympus series except the main characters are black and it deals with Egyptian mythology instead of Greek and Roman. Pretty much ANYTHING by Riordan is gold.

Also, I loved the Animorphs series. I read them all and own all 64 books. K.A. Applegate's Everworld series was enjoyable for me too.
 

Amaryllis

Journeyed there and back again
#9
I was going to suggest Abarat, but it seems you already have it. So with that done, I can also say that almost everything by George MacDonald could go on this list. I'm not 100% convinced it's children's fantasy, but it is at least as much so as a few of the things on the list. In particular:

At the Back of the North Wind (1871)
The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
The Wise Woman (1875)
The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1882)

Can basically pick any of them if you just want one to be representative instead of being stuck on MacDonald for who knows how long. North Wind is my favorite, but they're all worthwhile. None of them are horribly long. I think North Wind is like 200-ish pages, and all the others are shorter than that (DBNG is only something like 50).
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#10
I'm decided on starting by publishing age. But anyway, I thought that Pullman's books were in some part response to Narnia? So reading Narnia first would make sense more?
In that case you should probably His Dark Materials right after the Chronicles of Narnia. When I read His Dark Materials I thought to myself many times is this really YA? It's just so sophisticated..... a great series for people of all ages. Kids will enjoy the adventure story and adults will enjoy the very substantive themes.
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#11
2. Watership Down by Richard Adams.
Knew I forgot more. I even bought this year ago as an audiobook.
There's also Peter pan and most of Jules Verne books, although I seem to remember you mentioning loving Verne as a kid as well, so you probably already read most of his books.
Well yes to Verne, and I've read Peter Pan. But I dont consider Verne to be a fantasy writer. As far as Im concerned he wrote adventure/travel/sci-fi books.

Im not trying to read all of the sub-genre here, but concentrate on seminal works so I get a good cross-section of it's history and essence.

I would add the Percy Jackson and the Olympians sequel series Heroes of Olympus as well as The Kane Chronicles which is also by Rick Riordan. Kane Chronicles is exactly like the Olympians/Heroes of Olympus series except the main characters are black and it deals with Egyptian mythology instead of Greek and Roman. Pretty much ANYTHING by Riordan is gold.
I don't want my reading to be repetitive, I will get bored that way. One seminal work from one author is enough.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
Definity putting this on the list. I've heard many authors nowadays mentioning it here and there. Gaiman I think was one of them...Im not sure.

In that case you should probably His Dark Materials right after the Chronicles of Narnia. When I read His Dark Materials I thought to myself many times is this really YA? It's just so sophisticated..... a great series for people of all ages. Kids will enjoy the adventure story and adults will enjoy the very substantive themes.
Thanks, I'll consider this.

I had thought about doing this this year too! I'm planning to re-read a lot of old favorites and thought about trying some I never experienced as a child too. Where there's overlap, maybe we could do a sort of book-club type thing?
I definitely didn't plan on anything like this, but I might open topics on some series and anyone can participate in discussion ofc. If I don't open them first, go ahead and do it yourself.
 

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#12
From memory, a few books I loved as a kid (not mentioned previously):
1. The wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame.
2. Watership Down by Richard Adams.
3. Duncton Wood by William Horwood.

There's also Peter pan and most of Jules Verne books, although I seem to remember you mentioning loving Verne as a kid as well, so you probably already read most of his books.

I was going to mention Watership Down, but it's one of those books people tend to really like, or just can't get past that it's a story about rabbits who're behaving like humans.

I even have a Watership Down t-shirt I wear way too often... in fact I just realized I'm wearing it right now!
 

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#13
I'm decided on starting by publishing age. But anyway, I thought that Pullman's books were in some part response to Narnia? So reading Narnia first would make sense more?
I had not heard that about His Dark Materials, but it makes sense. And fair warning about the trilogy; book one is awesome... Pullman does his world building on the roll, that is he takes his time and allows the reader to deduce much of it on their own. Like so many other trilogies (LotR), book two is the best, the story goes full tilt. However, book three... gets a bit weird and metaphysical for my taste.
And yeah, it's a natural progression first reading Narnia, then on to His Dark Materials... but fitting Neil Gaiman's funky short story 'The Problem of Susan' between the two.;)

*teaser*
The lion eats all of her except her head, in her dream.
He leaves the head, and one of her hands, just as a housecat leaves the parts of a mouse it has no desire for; for later; or as a gift.
 

Andrew.J

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#14
I would suggest Bartimaeus Sequence trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. The book series has a fantastic plot and great characterisation and while it's not genre-influencing per se, it's definetely worth a try. It's my childhood favourite and a major influence, so there's that too.
What makes this a fascinating read ( or a re-read in my case) for an adult, though, is how it touches on topics like slavery, racism or discrimination while still remaining an inspiring coming of age story with unlikely friendships, comradery and bureaucratic backstabbing.

That being said, Bartimaeus is where the books truly shine. He has the most recognisable character voice from any fiction I've ever read or watched and his PoV chapters are gold, probably the most fun I've ever had reading.

Edit: the first book was released in 2003.
 

Cyphon

Journeyed there and back again
#15
I will give input on the ones I have read and add a few I think you should check out:

- The Dark is Rising: I am currently on book 3 and this series is incredibly boring. I don't feel like going into detail but honestly there just isn't much these books do well. In my opinion it reads a lot like Lord of the Rings at times.

- His Dark Materials: I think I will revisit this at some point. I remember some interesting ideas but just never really good hooked. Another one that ended up feeling mostly bland to me.

- Harry Potter: A fantastic experience and the series that catapulted me into fantasy. It has some big flaws but they are overcome but just how much the HP universe draws you in. I am not sure I have read another big in any genre that had me so engrossed in the actual world. And this is coming form someone who cares very little about world building.

- Percy Jackson: Fun books but not great. I think the 2nd 5 books are an improvement on the first 5. Some interesting reading for sure if you are into greek and roman gods and that kind of stuff.

Now for my recommendations:

The Tapestry series by Henry H. Neff: Sometimes I feel like I am the only person that has read these. I wasn't quite drawn into the world like with HP but for overall quality I would pick these above any other YA stuff I have read.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull: To be honest with you I don't remember much about these because it has been a long time but I remember them having some interesting elements. Definitely worth a visit if you are exploring this genre. If you want some really quick and light reads I would also recommend his 2 books, Candy Shop War and the sequel Arcade Catastrophe. These are fun books and have a very Sanderson-esque feel with the creative use of magic.

Brandon Sanderson has also explored a few books for young audiences. The Rithmatist was pretty good and he has a series called Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians that has some interesting elements to it. I am not the biggest fan of them but they are fun.
 

Derk of Derkholm

Journeyed there and back again
#16
Definitely add Bartimaeus, as suggested by Andrew J.!

Also, the late Diana Wynne Jones published a lot of very good fantasy books that are well suited for young readers, in addition to "Howls Moving Castle".
e.g. "Crestomanci"
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#18
I would suggest Bartimaeus Sequence trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.
I already read it (well actually listened to as audiobooks), in 2013 or 2014. It's one of my favorite trilogies in general. I still need to read The Ring of Solomon though. Fully agree with your post, it's an amazing read.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
I've read lots of bad and mediocre reviews for this.

Definitely add Bartimaeus, as suggested by Andrew J.!
Already read it.

Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Read them so many times.
 

Andrew.J

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#19
Andrew.J said:
I would suggest Bartimaeus Sequence trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.
I already read it (well actually listened to as audiobooks), in 2013 or 2014. It's one of my favorite trilogies in general. I still need to read The Ring of Solomon though. Fully agree with your post, it's an amazing read.
For various sentimental reasons Ring of Solomon was the first book I read on my kindle. Although the book was a delight to read it lacked something I can't quite put my finger on. The whole book lacks the epic urgency achieved in the trilogy. The setting too, doesn't have the exotic tone I felt in the first books whenever I read the flashbacks. And magic feels a bit too commoditised for my taste.

That being said, Bartimaeus, back with his awesome footnotes and humour more than makes up for it. The plot is intriguing and fast-paced and the finale, as I've come to expect from Stroud, is fantastic. :)

Have you read his new series by any chance? It's a great read as well.
 

Cyphon

Journeyed there and back again
#20
I've read lots of bad and mediocre reviews for this.
Guess it depends where you look. On Amazon it has a 4.8/5 stars after 800 reviews and from a quick browsing of goodreads each book has over 4 stars. I am not pushing it too much to you because like I said, I don't remember many specifics. But I do remember (at minimum) liking some things about it.