By Kathleen Krull
So we’ve stayed up late, waiting in line for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And gorged on a bleary-eyed weekend of reading. But what's next? But what is a poor Muggle to read for the rest of the summer?
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For readers who love the pure pleasure of immersion in another universe with its own logic, customs, perils and delights, here are some suggestions to get started on life beyond Harry. Get thee to a Muggle library or bookstore, where staff will be only too pleased to guide you through the fantasy shelves to other titles and other series, both classic and new. Depending on their reading level and maturity, children ages 8 to 12 will enjoy these titles – all of which make fabulous family read-alouds, as well:
My favorites among the classic titles are Edward Eager's magical books – Half Magic, Seven-Day Magic, Magic or Not and several others (Harcourt). The writing is deft, witty and conversational. His children are everyday kids, very real – even when their reality shifts. Their delicious challenge is to figure out the magic – like how to double their wishes when using a half-magic coin – and make it work for them, not against them.
Many will prefer the more life-threatening fare in Madeline L’Engle’s Newbery Award-winning A Wrinkle in Time as Meg Murry and her family must help good triumph over evil. The battle persists through A Swiftly Tilting Planet and the other books in the powerful Time Quartet series (Dell Yearling).
Still other fantasy fans will seize upon The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. While exploring the magic closet that leads to an enchanted kingdom, readers will devour all seven spiritually infused books in C.S. Lewis’ much-loved Narnia series (Harper Trophy).
Most Harry fans can tackle The Hobbit, the delightful tale by the master fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien. That success may spur them to linger long in Middle Earth for the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy (Ballantine). Bilbo and Frodo and their elvish friends have overwhelmed and obsessed readers for decades – long before the movies.
MILY: Verdana">Eva Ibbotson is yet another British fantasy writer whom readers can depend on for frothy confections. Check out The Secret of Platform 13, The
MILY: Verdana">Slightly older readers will be riveted by Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (Del Rey). In the first book, The Golden Compass, the author creates whole worlds for the heroine, Lyra Belacqua, and her daemon – worlds so teeming with tension and danger that you won’t be able to rest till you read the sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
MILY: Verdana">A serious influence on our beloved J.K. Rowling was E. Nesbit, whose classic fantasy novels hold up very well. Try Five Children and It (Puffin) or Wet Magic (SeaStar) for page-turners that mix the familiar with the strange.
You might think Artemis Fowl is just a Harry clone, but it’s a unique blend of James Bond (or Austin Powers) thriller, techno-gadgetry, Irish fairy lore and snappy patter. Plus the hero, the extraordinarily precocious Artemis, is not always a good boy. With The Arctic Incident and a third book, The Eternity Code, Irish author Eoin Colfer packs an amazing amount of unpredictable action into Artemis’ adventures (Hyperion).
Michael Hoeye’s Time Stops for No Mouse (Putnam) is a gentle and sophisticated fantasy starring Hermux Tantamoq – yes, a mouse who makes watches. Gallivanting through very short chapters, big-hearted Hermux keeps a pet ladybug named Terfle, writes brilliant thank-you letters to the universe each night, solves a mystery or two, and has a wealth of dynamic, fascinating friends. The sequels, The Sands of Time and No Time Like Show Time, are equally charming.
My 13-year-old niece clued me in to her new favorite books of all time – the thrilling
Another worthy read among recent fantasies is Hatching Magic (Atheneum), by Ann Downer. The heroine, Theodora Oglethorpe, faces a long, lonely summer. Meanwhile, the wizard Gideon must rescue Wycca, his pet wyvern (and chocoholic), and what he needs most is stuck to the bottom of Theodora’s shoe. Gideon time-travels from his castle in 13th-century
This year’s Newbery Award winner is a thoroughly engaging fantasy: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread (Candlewick), by Kate Dicamillo. The style is old-fashioned, full of “Dear Reader” flourishes, shaping the sweetly interconnected tale of a baby mouse, a princess, a rat and a peasant girl.
For kids who love reading books in series, one after the other, it’s hard to top the best-selling A Series of Unfortunate Events (HarperCollins), by Lemony Snicket. Coming soon is The Grim Grotto, Book 11. Kids love the slightly sardonic tone, sophisticated language and bizarre plots of these unfortunate volumes.
Another elegant little set of books is The Spiderwick Chronicles, by Tony Diterlizzi. Now it’s up to The Ironwood Tree, Book 4 (Simon & Schuster), in which the Grace children continue exploring the world of faeries on the Spiderwick Estate.
Very much in the vein of Harry, though less complex, is Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy (Orchard), the latest in the Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo. The children start off at Bloor’s Academy, where everyone has a unique talent. Charlie’s is being able to hear conversations taking place in the photos he looks at.
The Wee Free Men, last year’s quirky fantasy by Terry Pratchett, gets followed this year by A Hat Full of Sky (HarperCollins). Tiffany, a witch in training, confronts the Forces of Darkness with a frying pan, as well as the aid of a gang of 6-inch-high blue and extensively tattooed men.
Readers who like a fast pace with vivid description worked right into the action will speed though The City of Ember (Random House), by Jeanne DuPrau. Two heroic children rescue the citizens of their doomed underground city. This year’s sequel is The People of Sparks, a timely book about the Emberites above ground and heading for war.
In the category of big fat books to disappear in is Inkheart (Scholastic), by Cornelia Funke, the follow-up to last year’s big fat best-seller, The Thief Lord. While Meggie attempts to save her beloved father, a book-binder with an awesome magic power, there is incidentally a great deal about how books are made and how much they are loved.
Eragon (Knopf), by Christopher Paolini, is Book 1 of the Inheritance series. Not only will readers appreciate the Tolkien-ish touches to a farm boy’s magical quest to avenge his uncle’s murder, but the book will encourage young writers: the author started writing this when he was only 15.
For older readers, a gripping start to the Bartimaeus Trilogy is The Amulet of Samarkand (General), by Jonathan Stroud. Nathaniel, a magician in training, must recover a valuable amulet in
Very popular with readers getting too old for Harry (if that is possible) is the creepy, vampire-crazed Cirque Du Freak series (Little, Brown) by Darren Shan, of which Hunters of the Dusk is Book 7.
And that’s not all! There’s even more great fantasy coming this fall.
Read All About It
For more on children’s literature, authors and the art of storytelling, check out:
• Behind the Pages - Seven noted children’s book authors share their childhood memories and influences
• The 100 Greatest Children’s Books of All Time – See whether your favorites made our list. If not, then add yours in our Best Children’s Books Family Forum.
• What Makes a Great Children’s Book? – A look at why great children’s books strike a chord and stay with us through adulthood.
• The Very Creative Children’s Book Author – A Conversation with the inimitable Eric Carle.
• Why Reading to Your Kids Works – Celebrated storyteller Jim Weiss discusses how sharing books and stories fosters deeper parent-child bonds. •