Not-So-Enormous Fantasies for Young Readers
Published on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 2:36pm
From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to The Lightning Thief to Eragon (just to name a few), fantasy books are popular with kids.
However, some of these fantasies have pretty hefty page counts -- the paperback edition of Eragon is a door-stopping 528 pages, while The Lightning Thief is 377. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is almost slim by comparison at 309 pages, but as the series gets longer, the books get bigger.
I absolutely love that children's literature isn't afraid of long books! At the same time, though, some readers who would enjoy fantasy literature don't feel ready for those lengths, especially younger readers who are just starting chapter books. Older kids, too, are sometimes looking for a quick read and don't know where to begin.
This is where your friendly neighborhood librarian can help! The titles in the following list are aimed at younger readers (a forthcoming list will focus on books for older kids):
Gannett, Ruth Stiles
My Father's Dragon
This gentle fantasy was first published in 1948 and is still beloved. The narrator tells the story of his father, Elmer Elevator, when he was a child.
Guided by a kindly cat, Elmer travels to Wild Island to rescue a baby dragon from some jungle animals who are holding it captive.
The book makes a great first chapter book read-aloud for kids as young as 4 or 5, while older readers may want to read it independently. It's also a great choice for sensitive children, as it isn't scary.
The sequels are Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland, and they've been collected in one volume as Three Tales of My Father's Dragon.
Toys Go Out
The type of fantasy where toys come to life is as old as Pinocchio, The Nutcracker and The Velveteen Rabbit, but I'd bet that many kids are introduced to it today through the wonderful Disney/Pixar Toy Story series of films.
If your kids (or you!) are Toy Story fans, Toys Go Out is a natural choice, especially for family read-alouds. Each chapter is a short episode recounting the adventures of a toy sting ray named Sting Ray, a stuffed buffalo named Lumphy, and someone called Plastic, who isn't quite sure what she is yet.
The sequels are Toy Dance Party and Toys Come Home.
The large print and wide margins also make the book physically comfortable for new chapter book readers.
The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet
This short chapter book for independent readers has all the tropes of epic fantasy -- portals to other worlds, evil sorcerers, good wizards, kingdoms in danger -- but on a kid-sized scale.
The heroes from our world are three best friends, two boys and a girl. The writing is simple, but not simplistic, and the action is exciting. Think of it as Terry Brooks or Robert Jordan for 7- to 9-year-olds. And like many epic fantasies for adults, there are a lot of books in the series (which is called The Secrets of Droon).
The Weeping Werewolf
Bruce Coville gets my vote as one of the most criminally unknown fantasy writers for children: He can write funny books or serious ones, short chapter books for younger readers or multi-volume sagas for older ones.
This entry in his early chapter book series Moongobble and Me (which also includes The Dragon of Doom and The Evil Elves) is one of my favorites. A young boy named Edward has to help his friend Moongobble the Magician complete three tasks, or else the bullying wizard Fazwad won't let Moongobble into the Society of Magicians. Unfortunately, Moongobble isn't a very good magician, so his spells are always going wrong!
The cats in this series are no ordinary cats -- they were born with wings! Join the Catwings as they go on a quest to escape their dangerous city and find a safe place to call home -- and make friends with some human children too.
Ursula LeGuin is famous for her fantasy and science fiction for teens and adults, and these books show that she can write great stories for younger kids too. The illustrations by S.D. Schindler are also lovely.
The sequels are Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, and Jane On Her Own.
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat
Part comic book, part mystery, part talking-animal fantasy, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat is an intriguing and original tale.
Miss Ottoline Brown lives alone in a fancy apartment in the Pepperpot Building with her friend Mr. Monroe (a hairy creature of undetermined species) while here parents explore the world, looking for hidden treasures. When a mysterious series of robberies happens in their building, Ottoline and Mr. Monroe are on the case!
In addition to fantasy readers, this would be an excellent choice for mystery fans and those who love the adventures of independent girls like Pippi Longstocking and Eloise.
The sequel is Ottoline Goes to School.
And that's just the beginning! Other recommended less-enormous titles for younger readers include:
- The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
- Flight of the Phoenix by R.L. LaFevers
- The Trouble With Chickens by Doreen Cronin
And the classics:
- Half Magic by Edward Eager
- The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
- Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
If you want more suggestions, come see us at the library!