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Fresh Fantasy Picks for Kids

Kate Coombs
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!)"
Small Persons with Wings
Small Persons with Wings
"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."
Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! (A Pals in Peril Tale)
Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! (A Pals in Peril Tale)
"The latest in a series of outrageous spoofs of kids' adventure fiction set in a funny, crazy version of Delaware (with jungles, Tibetan-ish monks, and monsters). Place tongue in cheek and enjoy!"
A Tale Dark and Grimm
A Tale Dark and Grimm
"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!"
The Crowfield Curse
The Crowfield Curse
"William lives at a poor abbey, where he finds out the monks are keeping secrets right about when he rescues a fairy creature in the forest. A darkly atmospheric medieval fantasy."
The Night Fairy
The Night Fairy
"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 Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1)
The Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1)
"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!"
The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching)
The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching)
"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."
The Grimm Legacy
The Grimm Legacy
"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..."
The Graveyard Book
The Graveyard Book
"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."
Plain Kate
Plain Kate
"A medieval girl is manipulated by a vengeful, grieving magic-maker. A dark, poetic tale in which Plain Kate must find a way to stop a rusalka, a soul-sucking Russian water ghost. (For teens.)"
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
"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."
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant
"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."
100 Cupboards (100 Cupboards, Bk 1)
100 Cupboards (100 Cupboards, Bk 1)
"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."
Dogsbody
Dogsbody
"You don't have to be a dog lover to enjoy this story of Sirius, the dog star, being banished to earth in the form of a puppy. Trouble follows him, and he both helps and is helped by a young girl."
The Ordinary Princess
The Ordinary Princess
"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 (Crown Duel / Court Duel)
Crown Duel (Crown Duel / Court Duel)
"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."
An Eva Ibbotson Collection: Which Witch?, The Secret of Platform 13, Island of the Aunts
An Eva Ibbotson Collection: Which Witch?, The Secret of Platform 13, Island of the Aunts
"I wasn't crazy about Island of the Aunts, but Which Witch? and The Secret of Platform 13 are a hoot. Ibbotson's books are wholesome and upbeat without being bland--a rare commodity these days."
Dial-a-Ghost
Dial-a-Ghost
"A temp agency that sends ghosts--and a mix-up about which ghosts are sent where, to the benefit of our young hero. A fun and friendly read."
The Folk Keeper (Jean Karl Books)
The Folk Keeper (Jean Karl Books)
"The story of a girl who has just enough knowledge to control the monsters that live beneath the castle--and whose own hidden past eventually comes to light. A fresh and satisfying book."
Dragon's Blood: The Pit Dragon Chronicles, Volume One
Dragon's Blood: The Pit Dragon Chronicles, Volume One
"The first in a trilogy about a boy raising dragons to fight competitively--a mix of sci-fi and fantasy and a terrific read, especially for middle and high school age boys."
The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)
The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)
"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."
Terrier (The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book 1)
Terrier (The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book 1)
"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."
Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog
Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog
"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 (Old Kingdom)
Sabriel (Old Kingdom)
"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."
Sylvie and the Songman
Sylvie and the Songman
"One by one, the animals are losing their voices, but who is taking the songs, and why? When Sylvie's composer father disappears, she and her friend George set out to find him AND some answers."
The Giggler Treatment
The Giggler Treatment
"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)"
Goose Chase
Goose Chase
"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."
Mortal Engines (Hungry City Chronicles)
Mortal Engines (Hungry City Chronicles)
"Imagine a world where cities crawl around on giant tractor feet, devouring other slower or smaller cities. There are additional books after this one. Dark enough to be best for teens."
Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space
Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space
"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."
Stoneheart Trilogy, The: Stoneheart - Book One (Stoneheart Trilogy (Hardback))
Stoneheart Trilogy, The: Stoneheart - Book One (Stoneheart Trilogy (Hardback))
"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."
Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon
Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon
"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."
Horns and Wrinkles
Horns and Wrinkles
"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."
Savvy
Savvy
"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!)"
The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories (Junior Library Guild Selection)
The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories (Junior Library Guild Selection)
"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."
The Order of Odd-Fish
The Order of Odd-Fish
"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."
The Cabinet of Wonders: The Kronos Chronicles: Book I
The Cabinet of Wonders: The Kronos Chronicles: Book I
"Historic Prague plus magical clockwork--another fresh combination! We follow Petra on her mission to retrieve her father's stolen eyes (yes, eyes) from a powerful prince. A bit dark, but well done."
The Siren Song (Cronus Chronicles, Book Two)
The Siren Song (Cronus Chronicles, Book Two)
"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."
The Runaway Princess
The Runaway Princess
"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."
The Blue Girl
The Blue Girl
"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."
Dragon's Bait
Dragon's Bait
"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."