Thursday, July 13, 2006


Dear Madame Esme,
My 10-yr-old son is very particular about the books he loves. Since his favorite genre is fantasy and I don’t read much of that at all, I’m of little use in recommending books to him. All fantasy looks alike to me. But my son is more discerning. He likes fantasies that happen in the real world. Is there a word or category for that? He loves the idea that magic or fantasy can happen to real people, like him! His favorites are Harry Potter and the Animorphs. He also already read all the Narnia books. He has also read and enjoyed Edward Eager and some of Bruce Coville. And to explain further, a book he couldn’t get into (no matter how good it is) was THE WALL AND THE WING because the whole book is fantasy. There isn’t a real world that bridges to the fantastical world. What should I recommend for him next? Thanks for your advice! Love your blog! And love you, too!

A Madame Esme Groupie

Dear Gentle Reader,
The closest term that some might use for what you desribe is one borne of a more cinematic origin, "magical realism," in which a realistic story has surprising, surreal elements; but even that label suggests a kind of acceptance of magic as part of the way things are. It sounds like your son likes books in which the characters are just as surprised as he would be about a magical turn of events! It's only natural, as intermediate children conquer so much of the concrete world, they hold fast to the hope that something amazing...unexpected...impossible can happen. Luckily, this hope is often embraced and celebrated in children's literature. So you have the kind of kid who climbs into wardrobes or tries to feel his way through to the other side of a looking glass, check out these oldies but goodies (9 and up):

THE WISH GIVER by Bill Brittain (HarperTrophy)
When a strange little man sets up a tent at a county fair, four everyday folks spend fifty cents to make their wishes come true, exactly as they ask for them...and irrevocably. This cliffhanging fantasy is one of my very favorite read-alouds of all time!

THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES by Julie Andrews Edwards (HarperTrophy)
A professor leads children to Whangdoodleland in search of an endangered species. Fans of Narnia will get a kick out of this imaginative offering, written by the famous actress before celebrity books were the norm (and before they were so dadgum awful).

Though you mentioned your son already liked Bruce Coville, I wanted to make sure you are acquainted with this prolific talent's "Magic Shop" series. In this book, a strange egg bought at a magic shop produces unusual offspring. The first book in the series, THE MONSTER'S RING, is a bit spooky, so for some, JEREMY THATCHER is a more subtle, magical entryway. Coville has a knack for the goosebump as well as the funny bone, and has female protagonists in his casts; check out JULIET DOVE, QUEEN OF LOVE.

A homely, unpopular orphan gets her hands on a powerful library book, and then, look out world! Unfortunately, a criminal genius is hot on her heels, looking to do more than borrow the precious tome. Snarky voice and breakneck action will make the reader anything but sleeeeepy.

THE CASTLE IN THE ATTIC by Elizabeth Winthrop (Holiday House)
A boy uses a magical playset in his attic as a means to try and keep his beloved nanny in the family, whether she wants to be or not. With carefully drawn and often powerful characterization, this is a contemporary to Lynne Reid Bank's popular INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD, also about toys that come to life.

UNEXPECTED MAGIC: COLLECTED STORIES by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow)
Fifteen stories about people who encounter magic in everyday situations provide an introduction to the work of this widely loved fantasy author. (11 and up)

Of course, there are many more wonderful titles... Andrew Clements' THINGS NOT SEEN, Jane Langton's THE FLEDGLING, or Natalie Babbit's immortal TUCK EVERLASTING...readers, chime in with your favorites in the "comments" section!

Hope these titles help your son, and many other children, have a magical summer of reading.

Madame Esme

Also of interest:
If you enjoyed this "Ask Esme" feature, you'll find many more examples of the reading advice column in HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO LOVE READING. I'll try to answer about a question a week here on the blog; please submit your stumpers to esmeatripcodotcom, with the subject heading "Ask Esme". Though I can't promise to answer every question, you know I'll try!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Marion said...

Esme, you haven't listed E Nesbit. One of my fave authors.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all these great suggestions. I know my son will love these.

afp763389 said...

:) impressive great effort...

let our kids never hear
" u'r to small to be nervous"
"u dont know what u feel"

take care & good luck

Kim / POWER OF RUN said...

Esme, Thanks for all the work you do! I specially liked your post about the summer reading slide. This post inspired a summer reading party for 15 kids ages 4-8 at our house tomorrow night. If you're interested in seeing what we're doing, you can read about it here:

Anonymous said...

I've heard the terms "low fantasy" in reference to fantasy that takes place in our world and "high fantasy" in reference to fantasy that takes place in another world.

Some of my current favorite low fantasies are by Cornelia Funke, especially Dragon Rider and Inkheart.

Thanks for this fantastic blog, Esme. I read it every day; you make me want to read everything you recommend!

Anonymous said...

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer are great fantasy novels that take place in our world but contain fantastical elements. They are quite adventurous and I've found that boys especially love them.

Anonymous said...

I would also suggest "The Lightning Thief", by Rick Riordan (and sequel "Sea of Monsters"). It has the children of Greek Gods going through life in ordinary New York (well, not so ordinary, but it's definitely a blend of realism and fantasy). Kid I've talked to have LOVED these books.

This is my favorite category of fantasy, too.

Anonymous said...

I would also look at "Time Waits For No Mouse" and it's sequel. Another good one is anything by Cornelia Funke.

Anonymous said...

How about the Pendragon series and Oppel's Airborn series?

I just finished The Lightning Thief and I can't wait to recommend it to my teachers! The 4th graders do a unit on Greek Mythology & this will fit right in!


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