One of my goals for Orange Marmalade in 2019 is to delve a bit into fantasy — which sounds very dwarf-like, this delving. Partly in order to keep expanding my own reading menu; partly because I recognize that for many of your kids, fantasy is the only thing they want to pick up; partly because I’m so very curious about what storytelling gems I’m missing out on!
My hope is to unearth some unique fantasy novels, rediscover a few vintage titles, explore a bit of steampunk and sci-fi, and bring you occasional blasts listing a bunch of titles at a whack . This may all fall apart as I am magnetically pulled into other reading, but I’ll give it a shot!
Over the years, I have reviewed quite a number of great fantasy titles, all of which you can find on my list here. There are some fabulous titles there!
Today I’ve got some titles I’ve just recently read, as well as some tippity-top favorites that I’ve never quite posted on the blog for some odd reason. I’ve tried to arrange them by recommended age of listener/reader.
Half Magic, written by Edward Eager, illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
originally published in 1954; current edition by HMH Books for Young Readers
Edward Eager is a name you should know if your young children love fantastical stories. He wrote a number of them, any one of which will happily satisfy sturdy young readers or work for a read-aloud. Ages about 6 and up.
Half Magic centers around a mysterious coin, found by Jane during a frightfully boring summer. It’s a magical coin that grants wishes, and Jane and her siblings come up with some grandiose wishes easily enough. The problem is, as they discover, the magic of the coin is partially worn out; half worn out, to be exact. They’ve got to wish for exactly double of what they want in order for things to work out just right, and that takes some trial and error — quite surprising errors, as it turns out!
Delightful, with the air and vocabulary of vintage children’s lit. I’ve shown you an older cover here as I think the newest one is…not so great 🙂
Five Children and It, written by E. Nesbit
originally published in 1902; current edition by Puffin Classics
E. Nesbit’s classic children’s fantasies were actually the inspiration for Edward Eager’s work a half century later. If you haven’t discovered her yet, by all means do! We read many of her books aloud, including the hilarious tales of The Bastable Children.
Her vocabulary is more challenging than other books I’ve listed here, written in the classic style of the turn of the century, but if you’ve got sturdy listeners or readers, don’t hesitate to dive in. Your kids will quickly grow accustomed to the rhythms and it will serve them well as they continue to read older literature.
This book follows the adventures of five siblings who unearth, literally, a magical creature called a Psammead, from the sandy beach near their home. He’s a bit of a grumpus, yet is bound by his ancient sand-fairy code of honor to grant them a daily wish, no matter how foolish a wish is made or what the unanticipated consequences might be. The magic of that wish lasts for just one full day — fortunately!
Utterly delightful for ages 6 and up.
The Princess and the Goblin, written by George McDonald
originally published in 1872; current edition by Puffin Classics
We just keep dipping older and older here!
It’s been a long time since I read this book with my children, but I remember us all enjoying it, as well as its companion novel, The Princess and Curdie. It has more of a fairy tale quality I’d say, as it is one of the oldest children’s fantasies and as such forms a bridge between ancient fairy tales and more modern fantasies. McDonald was highly influential to Tolkien, Lewis, Le Guin, and others who further developed fantasy literature.
This is the story of Princess Irene, and her friend Curdie, who is a young peasant miner, and a whole society of treacherous goblins who’ve been banished from the kingdom for generations and are plotting their revenge — and of how their fates collide. Mysterious great grandmothers, magical threads, and a queen goblin with toe-busting stone shoes. Try this as a read-aloud for strong listeners ages 7 and up, or hand it to sturdy readers ready to explore something other than contemporary literature.
Now on to something more recent…
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
published in 2003 by Scholastic
This is the first in a 5-volume series by the author who went on to write the much-more-famous Hunger Games books. I read them back when they were being published and was astounded at Collins’ world-creating acumen. This series is accessible to a younger audience than the Hunger Games, ages about 8 and up.
When Gregor accidentally falls through a grate in his apartment’s laundry room, he enters the brilliant Underland universe, populated with unforgettable characters from fully-developed diverse populations, from bats to cockroaches to rats. If all that sounds merely yucky, take my word for it. You will fall in love with some unexpectedly heartwarming creatures, even as Gregor joins in the tensions and warmongering that are currently seething in this new world. My kids loved these books!
The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
first published in 1964; currently published by Square Fish
For many readers, The Chronicles of Prydain are their top favorite fantasy series ever, a fabulous Newbery-winning set of tales by an outstanding author you really should explore if you don’t know his work — Lloyd Alexander. Several of my kids gobbled up many of his books.
The stories center on a boy named Taran, a humble Assistant-Pig Keeper in the land of Prydain, looked after by the wizard Dallben, eager to shake the dull dirt of his homely life off his feet and find true adventure. This he does, and then some! The universe of Prydain is complex, high fantasy, based in part on Welsh mythology. There are ancient kings and mythical fortresses, a gaggle of witches and a race of Fair Folk. It is an extremely compelling fantasy sequence.
My kids loved these, especially my son. Ages 8 and up.
Sanity & Tallulah, written and illustrated by Molly Brooks
published in 2018 by Disney Hyperion
I was easily sucked into this sci-fi graphic novel — a brand new reading experience for sure! — starring two intrepid friends, Sanity and Tallulah, in their home aboard an out-of-the-way space station, Wilnick, where nothing ever happens…until!…
…Sanity bends the rules a mite in her latest science experimenting, and suddenly things begin to go seriously amok on Wilnick! Hyper cool space station life, science nerds ruling the day, male and female characters who are equally as intelligent and authoritative, and a wild, deadly race to repair the station before it blows up! Lots of techno vocabulary is the main factor in judging who to hand this snappy story. More adventures are promised so hop aboard now! Ages 9 and up.
Time Stops for no Mouse, by Michael Hoeye
first published in 2000; now published by Puffin
This is the first of four books starring Hermux Tantamoq, a skilled watchmaker of a mouse who turns out to be an ace detective as well.
Hermux is thrown into rip-roaring adventure most unexpectedly when the world-famous aviatrix, Linka Perflinger, stops by his shop, drops off her beloved wristwatch for emergency on-the-double repairs, then…disappears. Subsequent encounters cause Hermux to believe that her disappearance is not of the normal, garden variety type. Something sinister is going on, and Hermux resolves to get to the bottom of it!
Hermux (and his pet ladybug, Terfle) will need every gram of courage, cleverness, and resolve to outsmart the dastardly rats, thieves, poisoners, and potion-makers popping up here, there, and everywhere in this account. Action, intrigue, cold-blooded criminals, and nail-biting scenarios abound. I’ve not read the subsequent novels, but would hand this to ages 9 or 10 and up.
Beyond the Deepwoods, written by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 1988 by David Fickling Books
This is the first in a tremendously long series of books by the fabulous story-spinner, Paul Stewart, His richly imagined world in The Edge Chronicles is peopled with all manner of outlandish characters, some freakishly-gruesome, some marvelously loyal, from woodtrolls to Banderbears, Rotsuckers to Slaughterers.
Young Twig is on a hero’s journey to figure out just where he belongs in all of this mysterious, perilous place, and it is quite a ride! Although the cover on some editions looks a bit more cuddly and quaint, be aware that in the universe of the Edge Chronicles, Very Nasty Stuff goes on in the wilds. I’d say ages 9 or 10 and up.
The Nowhere Emporium, by Ross Mackenzie
published in 2015 by Floris Books
Winner of a major children’s book award in the UK — the Blue Peter — and the Scottish Children’s Book Awards, this book has a sequel I have not read, The Elsewhere Emporium.
Daniel, an orphan, and Lucien Silver, a purveyor of wonders in Glasgow, lead us into the mysterious, fantastical shop that “dances through time…from city to city…all over the globe.” Their story flits back and forth between the present and late 1800s Edinburgh as they conduct a lively trade in imagination, spinning dreams into spectacles.
Yet beyond all the sparkle and fizz, a man with icy blue eyes lurks menacingly on the fringes. Who is he and what are his nefarious designs? Glittering, tantalizing, with dangers that become increasingly murderous as the plot unfolds, this is a dynamite page-turner for ages 9 and up.
The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
first published in 1968; current edition by HMH Books for Young Readers
I had just finished reading this fantasy classic, long on my to-be-read list, when the news came that Ursula LeGuin had died. Since then, numerous retrospective articles have been published about this uncommonly powerful, thoughtful writer. And I have to say, I hadn’t read two pages of this book before I looked up and said, “Wow. This woman can write!”
Her command of words, the compelling rhythms of her sentences, the sheer strength of her prose sweeps us into the complex world of Earthsea, rivets our attention on the flawed, tangled lives of its occupants. Incredible!
The story follows one young boy, Ged, whose proclivity for unusually great wizardly power is noticed early in his life. This power, though, is regrettably attractive to Ged. While his mentor counsels patience and restraint, Ged wonders “what was the good of having power if you were too wise to use it.” In one fateful moment, Ged recklessly succumbs to selfish ambition, and in so doing, unleashes a great evil upon the world. Now his mission becomes to survive and defeat the shadow that threatens him and all of Earthsea.
This is the first of the Earthsea trilogy. I haven’t read the others — The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore. I very much enjoyed it and recommend it for advanced readers ages 10 -12 and up.
Find more fantasy at the link here, and stay tuned for another blast of titles at some point. I’m reading quite a juicy title right now!