Over at Kirkus: The Book Smugglers’ Guide to Fantasy (For Young Readers)

It’s Friday, which means we are over at Kirkus! Today, Thea lists some of her recommended books – both old school and contemporary – to get young or new readers in the mood for fantasy.

Searching for Dragons Wildwood Dancing

The list is inpsired by comments we received on our last Old School Wednesday Readalong of Alison Croggon’s The Naming (which we felt was bland and derivative). Go forth HERE to get the full list of our recommended titles!

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  • Morgan
    June 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Awesome list! So many great recs. I loved the Enchanted Forest Chronicles and the Dark is Rising sequence as a kid πŸ™‚ You also have a lot of books that have been on my tbr radar for years, must get around to them! The only Robin McKinley book I’ve read is Spindle’s End, which I loved, and I’ve had Daughters of the Forest by Juliet Marillier on my actual shelf for years. As it happens, I just finished Dragonswood last night, it was fantastic. Would you consider the Redwall series by Brian Jacques to be fantasy? I read all of those in middle school and they were amazing, lots of medieval-esque adventure.

  • Katy
    June 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you so much for granting my suggestion!

  • Stephanie
    June 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I think y’all may win the title for best lists – all these books look phenomenal and I don’t think I’ve read a single one. I’ll throw in a plug for The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley and perhaps maybe a little overly obvious but they were definitely my fantasy gateway drug as a kid – The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

  • Bibliotropic
    June 8, 2013 at 6:04 am

    I adored Searching for Dragons, as well as the rest of the series. They have such a good sense of tongue-in-cheek humour, unexpectedly awesome characters and plot development, and are so much fun to read!

  • Estara Swanberg
    June 8, 2013 at 6:45 am

    I am gulping a bit about Deersking as a recommendation for middle grade readers, but when I consider that I had read the original Grimm fairytales by that time and therefore was already used to dancing in red hot shoes and cutting off bits of feet (although Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty at least isn’t raped out of her sleep with twins as a result, as I seem to remember the Perrault original is)… maybe they’d be ready for Deerskin, too.

    I read it when I was a student and the first part disturbed me plenty, I have to say.

  • Sarah
    June 8, 2013 at 7:46 am

    I was also surprised at Deerskin as a MG recommendation. I teach Grade 6 students and I know, from discussing current events in class, that while some of them are very worldly wise and would have no problem with the content, a few of them actually have no idea what rape is. I would hesitate to recommend anything with sexual violence (and at least 3 books by Shannon Hale also have the threat of rape as a plot element) to this age group.

    Apart from that, a great list! The Song of the Lioness series were my absolute favourite books as a teenager. There are a few on the list I haven’t read and I have already ordered them from the library…

  • Thea
    June 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! I just wanted to clarify a couple of things (@Estara @Sarah): first, that the list is intended for young readers (that can be anything from middle grade to young adult, not exclusively middle grade); second, that I’m of the mindset that young readers (or any readers!) can read and should read anything that interests them. Deerskin is a dark book with tough, mature themes and I can understand why some would feel that it is inappropriate for a young audience. But anecdotally, personally, I grew up reading things like Stephen King (remember It and those scenes?), and Lang’s collections of Fairy Books (those are plenty disturbing – including the original Thousandfurs/Allerleirauh tale), heck, even reading and watching the assorted works of Clive Barker (Hellraiser, etc) with my dad as an 11/12 year old. (Another one that just popped into my head: I read all of the Jean M. Auel books when I was 13.) There were things I didn’t fully understand of course, but after asking questions, and years later upon re-reading/watching now, it all makes sense.

    Of course, everything depends on the maturity level of the reader, and I respect that. The Deerskin recommendation was intended as one for more mature young readers (and on the YA side of “young readers”), but I stand firm with that pick. I completely understand where you guys are coming from (it was a HARD book to read – I would actually guess much harder for older readers than younger ones!). But, if I recall correctly, many of the original commenters and people who had suggested the book had discovered it at a young age, too.

  • Thea
    June 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Whoops, also meant to reply:

    Morgan – Oh I’m so glad you loved Dragonswood, too! I have the first book on my e-TBR and really do need to get around to it soon. I actually haven’t read the Redwall series – but they certainly look right in the sweetspot for young fantasy. Thanks for the rec! (Also, I’m going to nudge you to read Marillier already – you won’t know what hit you πŸ˜‰

    Katy – Thank YOU for the suggestion! This list was a blast to write, and I hope useful for anyone looking for gateway fantasy books that are a little off the usual beaten path (no CS Lewis or Tolkien here!).

    Stephanie – Aww, thanks!!! And I *love* The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword! I decided to go with McKinley’s Deerskin instead of those books (just because it’s a lesser known title, and though dark, her best book IMO), but it was a tough call!

    Bibliotropic – Cimorene and Mendanbar forever! I really need to do an Enchanted Forest reread sometime soon. Man, I love those books so much and always give the box set as a present for nieces/nephews/friends’ kids πŸ™‚

  • Eliza
    June 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Cimorene and Alana forever!!! Two of my absolute favorite fantasy characters and series. I knew you had great taste. Great choices for both MG and YA readers. It’s a mix of books I’ve read and loved plus some I still have to read (e.g., I read Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey but sill haven’t read its companion book Dragonswood). This list is a good reminder to move all those books still unread up on my TBR list. Now knowing that you were going for books off the beaten path answers my question as to why certain books were left off the list. Good job steering readers to books they may have missed otherwise.

    I think you had a bold enough warning on Deerskin that any concerned adult will take a look at it to make sure it’s appropriate for the child they’re giving it to.

    Books I might add to the list:
    Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

    Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer – When a twelve-year-old evil genius tries to restore his family fortune by capturing a fairy and demanding a ransom in gold, the fairies fight back with magic, technology, and a particularly nasty troll. Artemis Fowl is the first book in a series of 8 books. The character development of Artemis over the series is very good and realistic. No sudden epiphany or easy change, but earned redemption. Also includes an element of magic but in a believable and not cutesy way. This may not be the strongest of the series but it’s an important place to start to appreciate how the characters grow and change because of their interactions. Audiobook – a great narrator in Nathaniel Parker.

    The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley – Orphan Corinna disguises herself as a boy to pose as a Folk Keeper, one who keeps the Evil Folk at bay, and discovers her heritage when she is taken to live with a wealthy family in their manor by the sea.

    Books by Edward Eager (Half-Magic, Magic by the Lake, Seven Day Magic, etc.) All stand-alone books but follow siblings on a series of magical adventures. First book is Half-Magic.

    Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit – When four brothers and sisters discover a Psammead, or sand-fairy, in the gravel pit near the country house where they are staying, they have no way of knowing all the adventures its wish-granting will bring them. If you haven’t read this one, definitely add it to your OSW list (it’s a classic) or any book by her (e.g., The Enchanted Castle, The Book of Dragons). She’s one of the first writers of fantasy for kids. Edward Eager’s books are all a homage to her books and a means of getting kids to read her books also.

    The Star Shard by Frederic S. Durbin – Twelve-year-old Cymbril is a slave on a gigantic, traveling wagon city, on which resident merchants travel from town to town, but when her master purchases a new slave, Loric, who has magical abilities, Cymbril and Loric secretly team up to plan their escape, which leads them to increasingly dangerous situations. I’m not sure if this is the first book in a potential series. It does not end on a cliff hanger but definitely has room for more stories. I hope there are other books in this world. Good for those that liked Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

    The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin – dolls come alive when the people are not around (but not in a creepy Twilight Zone kind of way). A family of porcelain dolls that has lived in the same house for one hundred years is taken aback when a new family of plastic dolls arrives and doesn’t follow The Doll Code of Honor (do not let the humans know you’re real). Good for fans of The Borrowers.
    Book 2: The Meanest Doll in the World – Annabelle and Tiffany, dolls who are best friends living in the Palmer house, have an adventure when they hide in Kate Palmer’s backpack, are carried to school, mistakenly go to another house, and try to stop Princess Mimi, a doll who threatens all dollkind.

    A couple of new series that have started and I’ve enjoyed so far but risky in that the publisher may not publish the last ones or the last books may not live up to the promise of the earlier ones:

    The Cold Cereal Saga by Adam Rex – Three kids must save the world from the diabolical schemes of an evil breakfast cereal company, which has been luring magical creatures to our world through a rift in the time-space continuum
    Book 1: Cold Cereal
    Book 2: Unlucky Charms

    The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman – New York high school student Elizabeth gets an after-school job as a page at the “New-York Circulating Material Repository,” and when she gains coveted access to its Grimm Collection of magical objects, she and the other pages are drawn into a series of frightening adventures involving mythical creatures and stolen goods.
    Book 2: The Wells Bequest : A Companion to the Grimm Legacy – this just came out and I haven’t had a chance to read it, though I’m on the hold list for when it comes into the library.

  • Sarah
    June 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Thea, thanks for your response to my post. It reminded me that I too read Stephen King and the first two Jean M Auel books at about the age of 12 (as well as a lot of other ‘mature content’ adult literature) and loved them. And Justin Cronin supposedly wrote The Passage for his 8 year old daughter!

    But we have been discussing the issue of recommending books in my class this week, as we are starting a collaborative class review blog on the school website. The first question a student asked was, can I review Divergent? Then they started talking about whether it was OK to recommend books with strong language and/or sexual content. Some parents of students this age are very opposed to it! I think it becomes hard when you go from recommending to an individual to providing a recommendation to a group.

    This got me thinking about how so much modern YA fiction is creepily sexless, as if it’s been censored to reach the widest possible audience. I am so sick of passionate kissing that lasts for three books! Compare this with what I think are the realistic relationships in the Song of the Lioness books, which I think should be essential reading for every teenage girl. But I am sure there are many who disagree with me – I have seen a review on Amazon denouncing Alanna as ‘promiscuous’.

  • Missie Kay @ The Book Fix
    June 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    My latest epic fantasy love (and such things geared for older teens are quite rare nowadays–it’s all paranormal romance) is the Fire & Thorns series by Rae Carson.

  • shadab
    June 15, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    hmm interesting….

    for e-books visit

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