One of the required courses in my graduate program was a class about science fiction and fantasy. I remember telling my professor that I was not a big fan of fantasy, to which she responded by asking me for the title of one of my favorite novels. “That’s easy,” I told her. “Charlotte’s Web.” “So,” she asked me,” do pigs talk?” She won the first round, and every subsequent battle. At the end of the semester, I was hooked. I became a fan of Philip Pullman, Susan Cooper and, of course, the world of Hogwarts. So, today’s buying guide is for the young fantasy reader. These are the kids I talk to every day at school – the 5th or 6th grade student who loved Harry Potter and The Lightning Thief. If I could put five new books under the tree for these students, they would be:
Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner (“Lian Tanner’s Museum of Thieves is filled with characters who are oddball but meaningful, a dystopia-for-beginners plot that is at once serious and silly, and a pace fast enough to draw in even reluctant readers. The thrilling conclusion teaches that courage and freedom are virtues, too, even if they mean a few scrapes along the way.” Amazon.com)
The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein (“This series opener won’t disappoint. Escaping from a bounty hunter, a streetwise cat becomes the familiar of a boy magician-in-training. Almost before Aldwyn gets to know his new surroundings, Jack, his sister, and a fellow student are kidnapped and it is up to him; Skylar, a magic-adept bluejay; and Gilbert, a clumsy, red-eyed tree frog, to rescue their “loyals.” The consistently suspenseful narrative moves quickly and is full of twists and turns…This winning combination of action and humor will keep readers turning pages right up to the ending, which successfully concludes this adventure but leaves room for more.” School Library Journal)
The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi (“Tony DiTerlizzi’s fantastically imaginative new middle grade novel, The Search for WondLa, combines old-fashioned storytelling with a highly original twist. Eva Nine is a curious and sensitive 12-year old, who has existed only in a subterranean home called Sanctuary, cared for by a robot named Muthr. Eva’s great desire is to go aboveground, and her wish comes true, though not as she had imagined….the book includes augmented reality maps where readers can follow Eva and her friends’s travels in 3D. A surprising conclusion to this action-packed story of friendship and belonging will leave readers clamoring for more.” Amazon)
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (“Unlike any children’s book I’ve ever read… A Tale Dark and Grimm holds up to multiple rereadings, like the classic I think it will turn out to be.” —The New York Times)
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce (“A story of human possibility with a lot of adventure, or an adventure with full credit given to human possibility? Either way, it’s a fantastic, funny, and moving novel….Celebrates not only the spirit of exploration but the human connectedness that allows it to flower.” Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
A couple of notes about this list. First, I’m conscious of the fact that four of these books were written by men. There are many wonderful fantasies by women, but this list, as I said up front, was a list of new books that have drawn rave reviews and enthusiastic responses from readers. That being said, don’t forget Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley and Patricia Wrede and Suzanne Collins.
And for teenage readers – Kristin Cashore (a graduate school classmate) is the author of the critically acclaimed Graceling and its companion novel, Fire. Both novels are exciting and beautifully written. In fact, Fire was the recipient of the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award presented by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.