Explorations in Children's Fantasy: or, How to Satisfy Your Kids until the Next Harry Potter Book ...
by Eleanor M. Farrell
OK, so your kids have finished the latest Harry Potter and are starting to squirm. Don't panic! There's a whole library full of children's fantasy books, and other authors you can introduce to younger readers. Articles in newspapers, magazines and web sites have already made some suggestions for Rowling follow-up reading material, most obviously Diana Wynne Jones's series of Chrestomanci books (including The Lives of Christopher Chant and The Magicians of Caprona) and her Dalemark Quartet. Jones, like Rowling, is British, and her stories of young wizards in a magical land are a logical choice. But there are many more authors whose books should appeal to lovers of Harry's adventures. Jane Yolen's Wizard's Hall has seen a burst of popularity of late; Yolen has had a distinguished career exploring folktales and writing entertaining fantasy for children, young adult (YA), and adult readers.
When I finished reading the first Harry Potter book, I went straight to my copies of John Bellairs' first young adult trilogy, starting with The House with a Clock in its Walls. Lewis Barnavelt, the 10-year-old protagonist, has just lost his parents in a car accident and is being sent to live with his uncle. Not only is Uncle Jonathan a wizard, but his best friend and next door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmermann, is a witch. Lewis's adventures put him in the midst of magical peril while he is trying to make friends and adjust to his new life. Sound familiar? Bellairs wrote several other YA series (and one totally original and charming adult novel, The Face in the Frost) before his untimely death in 1991; these may be scarce outside the public library but are well worth the search.
Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, the "coming-of-age" story of Taran, a dissatisfied young pig-keeper in mythical Wales, begin with The Book of Three and end with The High King. Disney's film The Black Cauldron was based on this series, but don't let that deter you. Taran's adventures are exciting and the books are full of adventure, humor, and intriguing characters. Alexander has published at least one newer series in more recent fantasy efforts. Susan Cooper's five-volume Dark Is Rising series, also set largely in Wales with a more serious exploration of Celtic and Arthurian myth, is another excellent choice for young adults. Cooper continues to write folklore-based fantasy with her more recent The Boggart and its sequels. Even more authors of good series fantasy: Madeleine L'Engle's exciting metaphysical [I know, it sounds like an oxymoron, but trust me!] adventures of the Murry siblings -- Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and Charles Wallace -- and their friend Calvin O'Keefe, beginning with A Wrinkle in Time; Carol Kendall's tales of the Hobbit-like Minnipins, starting with The Gammage Cup; Robin McKinley's award-winning The Blue Sword and its sequel The Hero and the Crown. Search a bit more and you'll discover neglected gems from Eleanor Cameron, Norton Juster, Nancy Bond, Elizabeth Pope, Patricia A. McKillip, and many others, published over the last fifty years.
Newer entrees of recommended YA/children's fantasy (individual books or series) include books by Bruce Coville, Patricia Wrede, Sherwood Smith, Kara Dalky, and the 200 MFA winner, Franny Billingsley. Check the Mythopoeic Society web site; a complete list of finalists for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards (the children's award was instituted in 1992; before that YA and adult fantasy books were combined), which can be found at www.mythsoc.org/MFAnoms.html, may introduce you to some worthy new authors.
Don't forget the classics: E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Kenneth Grahame, Lewis Carroll and many other authors of older and well-loved fantasy titles have had recent new editions published, often as beautiful hardcover volumes with the original artwork included. (They make great gifts for new nephews, nieces or grandchildren!) The Oz books in particular seem to never lose their popularity; several new writers continue to add new adventures for the inhabitants of Ozma's magical realm. And, of course, the contributions of our core authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien cannot be overestimated. To book-lovers, particularly those of us who enjoy the imaginative works of the Inklings, their predecessors and successors, the most exciting aspect of the Harry Potter phenomenon is that children areÑgasp!Ñreading (and reading thick books, without lots of pictures or interactive links). So let's encourage them, by widening their landscapes to include glimpses of lands created by other authors of fantasy literature, past, present and (hopefully) future.
(compiled from Society discussions, conference guests, and award lists; use only as a starting point for exploring the genre)
The Book of Three
The Black Cauldron
The Castle of Llyr
The High King
The House with a Clock in Its Walls
The Figure in the Shadows
The Letter, the Witch and the Ring
Billingsley, Franny, The Folk Keeper
Bond, Nancy, A String in the Harp
Cameron, Eleanor, The Court of the Stone Children
Red Moon and Black Mountain
The Grey Mane of Morning
When Voiha Wakes
Charnas, Suzy McKee, The Kingdom of Kevin Malone
The Dark Is Rising
Greenwitch Over Sea, Under Stone
The Grey King
Silver on the Tree
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
Jennifer Murdley's Toad
The Heavenward Path
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
The Moon of Gomrath
The Owl Service
Jones, Diana Wynne:
Juster, Norton, The Phantom Tollbooth
The Gammage Cup
The Whisper of Glocken
Kindl, Patrice, Owl in Love
Le Guin, Ursula K.:
A Wizard of Earthsea
The Tombs of Atuan
The Farthest Shore
A Wrinkle in Time
The Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Lewis, C.S., The Chronicles of Narnia
McKillip, Patricia A.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
The Throme of the Erril of Sherrill
The Moon and the Face
The Blue Sword
The Hero and the Crown
Pope, Elizabeth, The Perilous Gard
Wren to the Rescue
Crown and Court Duet
Wrede, Patricia, Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Pit Dragons series
Young Merlin trilogy
Originally published in the September 2000 issue of Mythprint.
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