The list author says: "Face it: there's so much children's fantasy out there it's overwhelming. At the bookstore, I pick up the newest fantasy titles with their gorgeous cover art and open the pages with anticipation--only to be turned off by mediocre writing or derivative plots. In reaction to that experience, I've created a list of fantasy books I recommend for upper elementary and teen readers. My emphasis here is not only on good writing, but also on refreshingly unpredictable premises, plots, characters, and settings. (Note: Aside from a few out-of-print books you may have missed, I am listing relatively recent stuff below, not classics such as Lewis's Narnia books, Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, LeGuin's Earthsea books, or Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series. Or, obviously, Harry Potter!)"
"In kindergarten, Mellie's fairy friend abandons her to the teasing of bullies, so she decides she imagined the whole thing. The she moves to her grandpa's old inn and meets all kinds of small persons with wings! Funny and adventurous."
"Meet the Narrator, who will rightly warn you that these stories are scary and gory before leading Prince Hansel and Princess Gretel through a series of adventures adapted from Grimms' fairy tales. Not for the squeamish, but a VERY cool book!"
"Yes, it's a fairy book, but Flory is a tough little thing. After nearly being eaten by a bat, she learns to survive in the day world, arming herself with a thorn dagger and sort of befriending a squirrel. A gem of a tale!"
"The first in a trilogy and a Newbery Honor winner. The Thief is a sly and wonderful adventure; The Queen of Attolia ripped my heart out; and The King of Attolia was the best tale of court intrigue I've ever read. Go Gen!"
"Makes sense to me--hit a river monster on the head with a frying pan! Try the books which follow, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and (for teens) I Shall Wear Midnight; they're also about stoic young witch-in-training Tiffany Aching and the insane little blue men who assist her."
"In this fun new series start for teens and tweens, Elizabeth goes to work at the New York Circulating Material Respository, where she learns that the collections in the basement are straight out of fairy tales. And now someone is trying to steal the magic..."
"Horror-fantasy master Neil Gaiman has outdone himself! Basically, he uses the premise of The Jungle Book, only sets the story in a graveyard. Read about Bod (Nobody) Owens, who is raised by ghosts and other supernatural creatures while avoiding a would-be murderer, in this tender, scary, funny, wonderful book."
"A young girl named Minli goes on a quest to find her impoverished family's good fortune, accompanied by a dragon. Interlaced with Chinese folktales, this 2010 Newbery Honor winner is inspiring and beautiful as well as a fun adventure story."
"You may have read Howl's Moving Castle, which is marvelous, but be sure to try Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books. Look for Volume 2, as well! The books are all linked by Chrestomanci, a nine-lived enchanter who supervises magic across a series of parallel worlds."
"Henry discovers a set of mysterious cupboards in the wall of his attic room in his uncle's farmhouse, but not all of them lead to friendly places. The start of a richly written trilogy. A bit on the dark side."
"Starts out like Sleeping Beauty, but the last fairy, who is more cranky than malevolent, curses the baby princess that she will be ORDINARY! (So much for golden hair and sapphire-blue eyes.) Ultimately, it's the story of a girl who refuses to play by the rules."
"Crown Duel is a romantic adventure, while Court Duel is an adventurous romance--both featuring a fallible yet likable and intrepid heroine. Together, they're a marvelous read, especially for girls. Try her Wren books, too."
"Although it began with this particularly fine retelling of a well-known fairy tale, The Goose Girl became the first of four books (so far) about the land of Bayern. Another of Hale's books, Princess Academy, won a 2006 Newbery Honor award."
"Magic meets police procedural as Beka Cooper of the Provost's Guard hunts for a magical serial killer in this compelling book for teens. Of Pierce's most recent work, I also quite like her Protector of the Small and Trickster books, but she is best known for her Song of the Lioness (Alanna) quartet."
"A unique setting, a version of California where alternative history has a magically talented military presence dealing with a rival Aztec group. Main character Flora is foolish yet brave, roaming her 10,000-room house and making deals with inhuman banished butlers. A bit hard to follow, but worth it. The sequel is more noticeably a book for teens."
"Sabriel can send escaped denizens from the lands of the dead back to where they belong by means of the various bells that hang at her belt--as part of an ancient tradition meant to keep evil at bay in the Old Kingdom. Try also Nix's Keys of the Kingdom books, starting with Mister Monday."
"Okay, this isn't really for older kids, but I can't resist popping it in because it's different, not to mention nuts! The gigglers are little critters whose job is to find dog poo and put it under the downward-stepping feet of grownups who are mean to kids--need I say more? (2 sequels)"
"Patrice Kindl asks that age-old question, "Would you really want to be the girl given supreme beauty by a grateful fairy, not to mention having gold fall out of your hair and diamonds fall from your lips on a regular basis?" As Alexandria soon discovers, these gifts are more trouble than they're worth."
"Philip Reeve is at it again, this time creating a Victorian adventure set on a rambling spaceship--and why not? This book is doing what a lot of the other adventure books coming out these days are trying to do and failing; it tells a story with real panache. Unlike Mortal Engines, Larklight is a good fit for readers in grades 3-8."
"George angers the stone statues of London and they start chasing him, but nobody else can see what's happening--except for the irritating glint Edie. The statue of a World War I soldier helps the two children, who also meet many strange, less trustworthy characters. A dark, intricate and suspenseful story for older children and teens."
"A story with a tall-tale, "hillbilly" setting and tone, this rollicking read follows Magpie Gabbard on her adventures through the Kentucky mountains--as she tries to return her brother's missing foot, rescue the moon from goblin thieves, and end a decades-old feud with another clan."
"When Claire's cousin Duke dangles her over the river, he ends up falling in himself and is cursed with a rhino horn. Something rivery is going on in this book of Mississippi magic, so Claire sets out to save her friends and relations from a web of malicious spells."
"Another rural fantasy, featuring Mibs Beaumont and her family, each of whom acquires an odd magical power or "savvy" at age 13. Her father is in a car accident in another city, so Mibs sneaks onto a traveling Bible salesman's bus to try to reach him--and she's joined by more stowaways. (A sort-of sequel, Scumble, is now out!)"
"From the award-winning author of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a collection of funny and poignant stories about the Armitage family, whose house regularly attracts magical occurrences. A unicorn in the garden, feuding druids, the Greek furies, and miniature neighbors--everything is fresh in Aiken's skillful hands."
"As odd as its name, this book reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Lightning Thief--only it's not like any of them, really. Jo flees to another world when strange creatures show up at her aunt's Christmas party, only to find that she may be the greatest danger of all. Bizarrely funny and a bit dark."
"After you save the world, not everyone's appreciative, as Charlotte and her cousin Zee find out in this sequel to The Shadow Thieves. Not only do her parents ground her, but the villain she defeated arranges for some elaborate and fishy payback! I love this writer's tongue-in-cheek style."
"What, you thought I wouldn't recommend my own book? It's an ALA Notable book for 2007, but mostly it's just a fun read. The Runaway Princess turns the traditional quest for half the kingdom and the princess's hand in marriage on its head. A sequel called The Runaway Dragon came out recently."
"Who better than the grandmaster of urban fastasy, Charles de Lint, to represent the subgenre on this list? Also check out Will Shetterly's and Delia Sherman's urban fantasy books for teens. And de Lint's newest, The Painted Boy."
"Alys is staked out for the dragon to eat, but the dragon--who can take human form--becomes interested in Alys's desire for revenge and offers to help her. A book for teens, with a hint of romance and some thought-provoking ideas about revenge. Vande Velde has written other good books you might want to look for."