Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fantasy Fiction for Kids

A follow up to yesterday's post - I try to have a good-sized stock of books at home for reading with the kiddos.  My daughter is still in the Ramona and Beezus and The Magic Tree House period, but my son has been hearing (and reading) fantasy for a while.

He's read a few series to himself - The Spiderwick Chronicles, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and a few odds and ends, like How to Train Your Dragon.  He recently took on The Hobbit.  Although the Percy Jackson series is a Potter knock-off, it's about right for an 8 year old to work through by themselves - not too difficult, and he did learn a bit about Greek myth along the way.

We enforce some time each night where one of us reads to the kids, so we've been able to read a number of kid-oriented books.  A few of the recent ones included the 7-book Harry Potter series, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and Fablehaven (5 books).

The first Bartimaeus book (The Amulet of Samarkand) is on the way to being a movie; it was an interesting series, but a little bit over the head of a kid.  It's an alternate world ruled by the British Empire, and the Empire is openly ruled by magicians, and magicians work by summoning Djinn and making the Djinn go and do the dirty work.  There's a lot of politics and skullduggery; in hindsight I'd recommend it for older kids and not the 7-8 range when we read it.

Fablehaven is a recent series that turned out to be just fine.  Written slightly better than Percy Jackson and Co, the series is an urban fantasy, where mystical creatures live on secret magical "wildlife preserves", safe from the mundane world of non-believers.  The bad-guy group, the 'Society of the Evening Star', is seeking to return magic to the world by opening a demon prison, overthrowing the preserves, and ushering a new dark age.  The major story arc involves a race to recover a series of artifacts.  All the books beyond the first one feature interesting dungeon crawls, plenty of traps in said dungeons, and all sorts of mythological creatures.  Good inspiration for a youthful D&Der.

We're at the point that we can start moving into books that are considered a bit more "classic - the Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, A Wrinkle in Time, stuff like that.  We're starting with Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series.

Tom Moldvay placed some 'Young Adult Fantasy' suggestions in the back of the Basic book - some he lists include John Bellairs The Face in the Frost, Alan Garner The Weirdstone, Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea - does anyone have experience with those authors and can make a recommendation?

There are plenty of dads (and hopefully a few moms) playing D&D with their kids, hope these give you some ideas!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I recommend Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy. I know there are four books. The last one isn't worth reading in my opinion. It undermines the first three books.

  3. Holy crap, you read the entire Harry Potter series to your kids? I'm impressed (with the length, not with the books themselves). I'm about 3/4 through reading the Hobbit to my 5-year old and it seems painfully slow. it's been great and he loves it, but it takes a lot of time to read things out loud (especially with frequent interruptions).

  4. me and my six year old son are on the Last Chapter of the Hobbit and then we'll dive back into Harry Potter (we left off at book 3). I'd really like to explore some other stuff as well. Bear really digs the Hobbit. I'm thinking about the Once and Future King by T.H. White as well.

  5. Face in the Frost and Earthsea are both great choices. I started reading the first Earthsea book to my kids when my little girl was about 6, and that was a bit early for her. I think 8 would be about right.

  6. Earthsea was a very important cornerstone of my fantastical literary upbringing as a child. Awesome books, and a great springboard to her more adult works.

    - Ark

  7. Wow - lots of recommendations for Earthsea. We saw the Sci Fi channel version (which I heard was not representative) and the demon possession freaked the kiddo out! Maybe it was too graphic seeing it. So it was lower on the priority list, but like I said - lots of recommendations here.

    @Risus - Mrs Beedo was committed to reading all the Harry Potters out loud, she was way more ambitious than me.

  8. Ah, you can't go wrong with Prydain! I read those books again a year or two ago, and found them as fresh and charming as ever. (I'm half-Welsh, which probably helps.)

    To my mind, Alan Garner is the giant on that list: a curmudgeonly old sod who also happens to be a first-class writer of unsettling adventure stories deeply rooted in the physical and mythological landscape of Britain. I'd place Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" sequence in the same basket.

    The best recent(-ish) children's books I've read are Kevin Crossley-Holland's "Arthur" trilogy, beginning with "The Seeing Stone": it's medieval historical fiction rather than fantasy, though young Arthur de Caldicot has a famous namesake, and his dad has a friend called Merlin... Crossley-Holland is also a poet, and it shows; his writing sings from the pages. I'd recommend these to adults and children alike, and I'd imagine they would be especially good to read aloud.

  9. Prydain, Narnia, Wrinkle in Time, and Earthsea are all great! I heartily recommend them!

    I'd also suggest the Dealing with Dragons series.

  10. I read The Face in the Frost, The Weirdstone, and Earthsea as an adult and enjoyed them all, but the only one I have a child's feedback on is Earthsea which my daughter liked, but as a young teen, really. I would think that The Face in the Frost and The Weirdstone would be actually easier reading for kids than Le Guin, especially the latter. The Face in the Frost is the most humorous of the three and magic is handled with a lighter heart. There's a good 'children facing down threat' plot in The Weirdstone that I think will speak to children, in spite of the overall non-originality of the plot.

  11. ClawCarver and Theodoric - thanks for endorsing The Weirdstone, I'll go ahead and add Alan Garner to the reading list.

    After Prydain, we'll go with Face in the Frost and The Weirdstone.

    Tracking down copies of out of print books is part of the fun.

  12. As it happens, The Weirdstone celebrated its 50th birthday last year, and there's a rather handsome anniversary edition available in hardback.

  13. I don't think I'd worry about Earthsea being too frightening (Le Guin herself was highly critical of the film adaption). I read the books (at the time only a trilogy) as a teen - I really enjoyed them, and can't remember anything particularly scary or freaky, just a great fantasy series with a very interesting world and concept of magic.

    I always meant to dig my original copies out of storage and re-read them now that there's a couple new books in the series (six volumes in total now, if you include a book of short stories).

    I'd also recommend Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. Again a series I first encountered as a trilogy back in the late '80s; it now has 9 novels (of which I've read the first 5).

  14. Earthsea is awesome (and its representations on the screen have always been a travesty) -- but the philosophical depth is sufficient that I'd hold off from introducing it to preteens. Not bad, mind you; they just won't get much out of it. That said, the second book (The Tombs of Atuan) would work well, I think.

    1. I think the Earthsea books are actually great ones for multiple ages. The joy in seeing something that you thought you knew through new eyes...