Fantasy for Young Children: What Comes After Narnia?

I received this letter this morning from a pastor:

I suspect you are far too busy to mess with this, but I am a pastor and a family has asked a very intriguing question which I’m not capable of answering. I posted it on my blog, but my readership is small. Then it dawned on me that you, a Christian author of fantasy, would be in the best place to offer some suggestions. So, if you have opportunity, it would bless this family if you could help them out. Here is the post that will explain the situation. In essence, what can a dad read his 9 and 6 year old after have finished Narnia?’

Interesting timing. Just yesterday, I received this:

Love your website and loved your book, Through the Screen Darkly. I was wondering if you could recommend any books for me to read aloud to my four, soon to be five, year old son. We are almost through with The Tale of Despereaux, and I was looking for something else that he might enjoy.

I have already responded to that letter with a few suggestions. Five and six-year-olds need different kinds of stories than nine-year-olds, so here was my response to him.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a beautiful children’s story by the same author, DiCamillo. But it has some heavy, sad chapters, so use your best judgment. Maybe read it yourself first… I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

When he’s a little older, maybe seven or eight, I’d recommend DiCamillo’s The Tiger Rising.

Can you tell I’m a DiCamillo fan?

Also: Michael Ende’s Momo is hard to find, but worth it. Probably for seven or eight year-olds.

Have you read Peter Pan with your son? The original? It’s marvelous. I recently rediscovered it.

Since then, I’ve thought of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which would probably serve ages 7-9 better. Or the fairy tales of George Macdonald: The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and the Curdie, The Golden Key. Why not Roald Dahl, with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach?

I would also very highly recommend Mark Helprin’s A City in Winter and The Veil of Snows for 9-year-olds. All of these are great read-aloud books for families too. My wife Anne recommends The Door in the Hedge, by Robin McKinley.

What fantasy would you recommend for 5-6 year-olds? 7-9 year-olds?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • thedeena

    Of course, your novels for older teens:-) Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather series as well. I enjoy Donita Paul, Wayne Thomas Batson, and so does my 14 year old son.

    Some of the Adventures In Odyssey novels fall into fantasy. For more ideas, watch my Fall Into Fantasy blog festival:-)

  • carolinalark

    What a wonderful thread — I’ve seen so many of my favorites listed already! I have one more to toss out though: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards ( Yes, THAT Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music fame). I was introduced to this fantasy classic when our elementary school library read it aloud to my class as part of our “Library Time” — it’s really a wonderful read-aloud book for bedtimes (or any family reading time)!

  • http://www.andrew-peterson.com andrewpeterson

    I second Leanne’s suggestion.

    But seriously, I’d add Walt Wangerin, Jr.’s THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW to the list. My kids are entranced, and I can barely read a page without getting a lump in my throat.

    Jeffrey–I saw Cyndere’s Midnight today on the new releases shelf at a Barnes and Noble in Toledo (I’m on the road). Proud of you (and of Waterbrook). I hope you sell a jillion.

  • tycen

    Great thread! I grew up reading fantasy and just thought I would second a number of books/series already mentioned that I enjoyed as a kid:
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – Robert C. O’Brien
    Redwall books – Brian Jacques
    Dragon King Trilogy – Stephen R. Lawhead
    The Chronicles of Prydain – Lloyd Alexander

    One series not mentioned yet (unless I missed it) is the Archives of Anthropos by Christian author John White. The series is admittedly (according the the Wikipedia page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archives_of_Anthropos) modeled after Lewis’ Narnia series, so it might be a nice transition directly from Narnia.

  • scuzzbopper75

    Jeffrey-

    Also by Michael Ende is ‘The NeverEnding Story’ which is a fantastic book for children and adults alike. The book resonates with a great deal of Christian symbolism. It had a great impact on me and my faith.

    I also agree with ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ which was my favorite book as a kid.

    The graphic novel ‘Bone’ is also an entertaining fantasy story.

    ~Ken Priebe

  • eriol11

    For older kids boooks from Roald Dahl–Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or The BFG, and certainly Lloyd Alexander’s books and the Hobbit and “A Wrinkle in Time.” And I would add “The Little Prince” and Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales, and fairy tales in general for certain readers.

  • azhiashalott

    - The Gammage Cup — a wonderful work of original fantasy by Carrol Kendall (Newbery Honor)

    - Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates — a great tale of childhood and adventure set on the frozen canals of Holland

    - Rosemary Sutcliffe did a brilliant job of translating classic, mythic tales and creatures into very readable children’s novels

    - The Oz series by L. Frank Baum

    - Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass — these books will spark the imagination in any child!

    - The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare — possibly a little too gut-wrenching for younger children, but a fascinating look at first-century Judaea through the eyes of a child

  • Leanne

    Oooh, I just thought of one more. We’ve just read Andrew Peterson’s _On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness_ which was fun and had some of those hints of Lewis/Tolkien imagination in there.

  • Leanne

    Thanks for this post. I’m always looking for good imaginative stories to give to my 9-year old avid reader. She’s enjoyed the MacDonald fairy tales a lot, as well as some of the others mentioned here. I also wanted to add to the list: The Chronicles of Mistmantle. The fourth book in the series was just published, and we’ve both really enjoyed the first three very much. The author is M.I. McAllister.

  • rootboy42

    I would second many of the books submitted here, but I definitely agree with George MacDonald. Particularly “The Light Princess” and “At the Back of the North Wind,” which is a book that EVERYONE should read, and if they haven’t should do so right now. Phenomenal children’s story

    Also, Stephen R. Lawhead, a prolific historical fiction author, has a children’s fantasy series as part of his early work that, while not as good as his later stuff, is pretty good. It’s called the “Dragon King Trilogy” and the first book is “In the Hall of the Dragon King”

    Finally (Because if I don’t stop now, I could go on forever) there is always “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien, which is a great lead in to “Lord of the Rings” later on. Tolkien also has a lesser known short story called “Leaf By Niggle” which is, in my opinion, the best piece of fiction he ever wrote. You can find it in a collection of his fiction and non-fiction work called “The Tolkien Reader.”

  • http://twelveofyes.wordpress.com emillikan

    For older kids, mostly gentler reads:

    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

    Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

    Redwall, etc. by Brian Jacques

    Also by MacDonald, and one of my favorites: At the Back of North Wind

    Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

    I also recommend Caesar’s Antlers by Brooks Hansen. Hansen is who I call my “favorite author,” since his novel The Chess Garden is the one I buy up and send my friends. Caesar’s Antlers is a quiet, precise story about a bird who loses his family, a moose who loses the men whose sleigh he pulls every winter, and the journey of the bird’s family and the moose as they try to find their loved ones together. Oh, and a girl in a window…

  • http://www.gohope.net Randy Greenwald

    Thanks for putting this request out there. Your response, and that of others has already been a big help and a great encouragement.

    I’m reminded of a positive review that Stephen King gave of the Harry Potter books while he was recuperating from being hit by a car. (Accessible here: http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/07/23/reviews/000723.23kinglt.html)

    At the end of that review, he said this: “And if these millions of readers are awakened to the wonders and rewards of fantasy at 11 or 12 . . . well, when they get to age 16 or so, there’s this guy named King.”

    So, perhaps what should be added to all these comments is this: “And if these millions of readers are awakened to the wonders and rewards of fantasy at 6 or 9 . . . well, when they get to age 16 or so, there’s this guy named Overstreet.”

    Thanks!

  • http://culturezoo.wordpress.com/ culturezoo

    The original Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (seriously beautiful, tear-jerker books, believe it or not)

    E. Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle.

    Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

    The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

    The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.

  • http://beediva.blogspot.com beediva

    If the child is a good and avid reader, I would highly recommend Madeleine L’engle for children’s fantasy…especially for the 7-9 yr old range. She is brilliant and a great read.
    I second the George MacDonald suggestion as well.

  • http://superfastreader.wordpress.com/ superfastreader

    Edward Eager’s Half Magic & the subsequent books

    E. Nesbit–The Railway Children

    For older kids, John Bellairs is marvelously macabre, but playfully so

    The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

    The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye


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