Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12. In order by rating (5 stars at the top).

The Lost Colony: Artemis has a nemesis

The Last Colony by Eoin Colfer

The Artemis Fowl series has always been superbly written and brilliantly conceived, with an astonishing array of humor, techno-gadgets, mind-bending plots, daredevil escapes and rescues... frankly, they have a tendency to leave one dizzy — but enchanted.

And The Last Colony is better than the previous installments.

There are many reasons for this. First, there were at least three places where Colfer could have stopped writing, wrapped the book up, given it a different title, and shipped it off to his publisher and wait to collect his generous royalty checks. But he didn't. He took us from climax to climax as if we rode a roller coaster, each one at least as exciting and breathtaking as the last — if not more so.
Second, Colfer introduces a magnificent new character, Minerva, a 12-year old girl who is... Read More

The Ice Dragon: A truly gorgeous tale

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin

The Ice Dragon is a lovely story and exactly what you would expect from George R.R. Martin after toning down one of his short stories or novellas for younger readers.

In a world that seems mostly inhabited by fire dragons, the ice dragon stands out starkly (pun intended for readers of ASoIaF). It only appears and thrives in winter, and makes the land barren wherever it lands. Even its very distant cousins, the ice lizards, find themselves uniquely suited for ice and snow — any hint of warmth that touches them is like poison. Adara, the seven-year-old main character of the story bears striking resemblances to both the ice dragon and the ice lizards.

The Ice Dragon isn't a straightforward story — there is a strong symbolic statement that runs quietly from beginning to end. It’s a truly gorgeous tale from one... Read More

The City of Ember: Would make a great movie

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I have just finished Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember and am kicking myself for not buying the entire Ember series at once.

In the city of Ember, light is more precious than water. The electricity comes on only during the "day" and is turned off from 9 PM until 6 AM leaving the city in complete and utter darkness... this is the way it has been for as long as any of the residents can remember. But something is very wrong. The lights are going off not just at night now. True there have been power outages before, but never like this one. This one lasts for seven minutes, the longest blackout in recorded history.

There are also rumors. Rumors that the generator under the city is failing. Rumors that the stores of canned food and light bulbs are running out. And things are indeed r... Read More

Skellig: Sad and joyful, poignant and funny

Skellig by David Almond

Michael is living in a stage of upheaval and transition in his life: his parents have just moved to a rather derelict house, his unnamed baby sister is drastically ill, and the house is often visited by 'Doctor Death', the doctor sent to check up on his sister. On top of this, he now has to bus for school; the previous occupant of the house was dead for a week before anyone found him, and the outside garden is a wilderness. The garage in particular is a nightmare — slumping over, filled with junk and dead creatures, and liable to fall over any second. But Michael decides to have a peek inside, and finds an amazing discovery...

What is the strange creature hidden beneath the cobwebs and the dead flies? Is it a human, a bird or something else entirely? Calling itself Skellig, the strange being seems near death, and Michael longs to help it, feeling that in some strange way its fate is wrapped u... Read More

The Amulet of Samarkand: Highly recommended children’s fantasy

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

As I've said in previous reviews, if you're going to set your book in England and have as a main character a young boy learning the art of wizardry, you've guaranteed yourself a comparison to Harry Potter. With The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathan Stroud can proudly say, "bring him on — wands at 15 paces!” With so much pallid fantasy out there, Amulet is a breath of fresh air, told in a witty, original voice within a well-constructed plot and structure focused on two complex characters.

The Amulet of Samarkandis set in an alternate England ruled by magicians whose powers come from their ability to conjure demons. The society is beset within (by a resistance movement of "commoners" as well as by the mu... Read More

Taran Wanderer: Thought-provoking, timeless

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

In many ways, this fourth book in Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain is the odd one out. It is the only story that does not pit our characters against the forces of supernatural evil (well, except in one small instance). It is the only installment in which Princess Elionwy is completely absent. It is the only story that has no clear destination in its quest narrative. Even the title is a little different, lacking the usual "The" before the noun.

Rather than pitting the forces of good against evil, Taran Wanderer is about the journey of self-discovery, making it a much steadier-paced, introspective book. Although some readers may feel that it's less exciting than the preceding books, discerning children will find many hidden rewards here. The core of this series has always been... Read More

The Castle of Llyr: Put The Chronicles of Prydain on your child’s book shelf

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander's five-part The Chronicles of Prydain is essential reading for anyone, regardless of age, gender or reading preferences. Although they are classed as both fantasy and children's literature, these books can be enjoyed by everyone, not just for its fantastical elements and the broad good vs. evil conflict, but for their gentle humour, loveable characters and vindication of humanity over, not just fantasy-evil, but the more base qualities of greed, ignorance, spite and pride. At their core, the books are a coming-of-age story for our protagonist Taran, as he journeys from boy to man in troubled times, acquiring wisdom, humility, kindness and responsibility as he goes. The best part is that this process is gradual, but not stagnant. In each book, Taran has grown, and yet there's always more to learn on the path to becoming a man.

As such, this ... Read More

The Chronicles of Prydain: No one should miss it

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, loosely based on Welsh myths, is a classic work of fantasy that no one should miss. If you think you won’t get anything out of it because it’s “young adult,” think again. If anything, a mature reader probably gets more enjoyment out of it.

The series begins with The Book of Three, which introduces the main character, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper. He is a foundling who lives with the great enchanter Dallben, who to Taran’s eyes never actually does any great enchanting. He shares Dallben’s home with the seemingly useless gardener Coll and the strange part-beast-not-quite-human Gurgi. Life at Caer Dallben is far too dull for a young boy who dreams of becoming a great warrior like his idol Prince Gwydion.

Events, as one would expect, soon ex... Read More

Peter Pan: Do you really know him?

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Most people think they’ve read — or at least know — the story of Peter Pan. The figure of the boy who refuses to grow up has become so infused in Western culture that he’s taken on a life beyond his literary beginnings, starring in countless theatrical productions, movies, television series, prequels and sequels, his image used in merchandise (everything from records to peanut butter), and on several famous statues around the world (the most famous being the one in Kensington Gardens) and even providing the namesake behind a psychological condition (we’ve all heard of people with a “Peter Pan syndrome,” referring to those who refuse to accept the responsibilities of adult life). And then there’s that other Neverland which lends unfortunate connotations to Barrie’s work.

The origins of Peter Pan are quite muddled, first appearing in an adult... Read More

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The movie leaves out so much

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

In his introduction to the first American fairytale that went on to become one of the most famous and beloved movies of all time, author L. Frank Baum says a rather extraordinary thing. Discussing the purpose of the old fairytales by Grimm and Andersen, Baum tells us that such tales existed both to entertain children and provide a moral by means of “horrible and blood-curdling” incident. True enough, but Baum goes on to say that his book falls outside this typical definition of a fairytale, telling us that: “the story of the Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairytale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”

Reading The Wizard of Oz for the first time made me wonder if Baum was even aware of what he’d written,... Read More

Tentacles: A real blast!

Tentacles by Roland Smith

When I picked up Tentacles by Roland Smith, I had no idea it was a sequel (the first book being Cryptid Hunters). But I quickly discovered that it didn't matter. Not only is there a list of dramatis personae at the beginning of the book, but Roland Smith is very deft at refreshing plot details without info-dumping the events of the previous book on unsuspecting readers.

In Tentacles, Marty, his cousin Grace, and his friend Luther join Marty's uncle on a journey to capture a live giant squid — something that's never been done before. But they'll have to deal with a sh... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Gaiman’s dead characters seem alive

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in the category, only enhance the book’s impact.

Chapter... Read More

Treasure of Green Knowe: Superior to its predecessor

Treasure of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston

Tolly has returned to Green Knowe and his Grandmother full of excitement at being there once more, but an unhappy surprise lies in wait for him: the portrait of the children Toby, Alexander and Linnet is missing from the wall. It would seem a small loss but for the fact that its absence means that the children's spirits are also not present in the house.

Grandmother Oldknow explains the painting's loss due to poor finances, though soon sparks hope in Tolly for its return due to the tale of the missing treasure of Green Knowe (which he vows to find), and stories of another family ancestor: Susan Oldknow. Born to a vain mother, a kind but absent father, a spoilt older brother Sefton, and an overly pious grandmother, Susan knows her blindness is a terrible blow to the family's pride: "I can't take her into society, she'll never be married, and I'll have her always!" h... Read More

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

When Charles Ludwig Dodgson first began to tell the story of Alice's adventures underground to the three Liddell sisters, he had no idea whatsoever the impact that his work would one day have in the cultural history of humanity. Is there a person alive in Western civilization that doesn't know of Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat? I seriously doubt it. Writing under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, Dodgson's quirky fairytale soon became a publishing sensation in Victorian England, quite an unusual feat for a dour mathematician who had no interest whatsoever in boys, women or most other human beings, and instead lavishing his attention on little girls — particularly one Alice Liddell, to whom he presented the original manuscript to. The story of Lewis Carroll is jus... Read More

Silksinger: Meticulous details make a wonderful setting

Silksinger by Laini Taylor

When last we left the intrepid — and tiny — heroes of Blackbringer, Magpie, Talon, and company were leaving on a task set to Magpie by the Magruwen (the Djinn King). Their mission: To find the last five of the Djinn who created the world.

In Silksinger we meet Whisper Silksinger, the last remaining member of a clan of faeries who weave flying carpets (because they’re all “scamperers,” meaning their wings are too small to carry them). She, too, has a mission. Her clan has long been the protectors of the Djinn known as the Azazel. As the last Silksinger, she must bring the Azazel (only an ember smoldering away in a teakettle) to his throne, where he will, she hopes, awaken. It’s a burden Whisper carries alone, as she doesn’t believe she can share her secret with anyone else.

Along the way she meets Hirik, a young mercenary wit... Read More

The Grey King: Newbery Medal winner

The Grey King by Susan Cooper

Although it is not my personal favourite, The Grey King, the fourth book in The Dark is Rising sequence is generally considered the best in the series, and is the winner of the Newbery Medal. Following on from the other books, Will Stanton (an Old One of the Light, who protects humanity from the forces of the Dark) travels to Wales, in order to fetch the golden harp, which in turn will wake the mysterious Sleepers, fulfilling the next part of the prophesy chronicling the battle between Light and Dark.

But the circumstances surrounding his visit are grim: after a serious illness he has been sent to relatives in order to convalesce, and soon finds that he cannot remember the vital phrases of the prophesy. Though he can only remember bits and pieces, he is aware that he is meant to seek help from "the raven boy" and "silver eyes ... Read More

The Dark is Rising: Should not be overlooked

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

Despite multiple awards and a talent that is up there with the best of the fantasy authors, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series is often overlooked by readers in general. A five-part series, it deals with the battle between good and evil as waged by the Old Ones, several contemporary children, a range of mystical objects, and figures from history and legend. It sounds like pretty generic stuff, but Cooper’s gift lies in the telling of the story, and manages to take these well-trod aspects of the fantasy genre and turn them into something truly memorable.

Like Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles (the best series with which these can be compared) it is the second book that is the most fam... Read More

Greenwitch: Jane’s story

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

Greenwitch is the third book in The Dark is Rising series, and it is necessary to be familiar with the first two books Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark is Rising to fully understand what is going on in this volume. In the first book siblings Simon, Jane, and Barney uncovered the grail from its hiding place, but unfortunately lost the lead-incased manuscript that would decipher the inscription on the grail's side. Now after the grail has been stolen from the museum, their great-uncle Merry brings them once more to Trewissick in order to find what they once lost.

Meeting them for the first time is Will Stanton, the youngest of the Old Ones, the beings of the Light that guard mankind against the Dark. He came into his own in ... Read More

The Spiderwick Chronicles

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES by Holly Black

Although the book in The Spiderwick Chronicles were originally published separately (five in all), I knew it was only a matter of time before a box set was released, and so held off purchasing the separate installments so that I could invest in the complete set. I'm glad I waited, as one of the best things about this series is its beautiful presentation (the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" has little meaning here), and this nifty box set protects and displays them to best effect. Between the attractive coverings, Tony DiTerlizzi stunning ink illustrations and even the box itself, The Spiderwick Chronicles are books that will inhabit a place of pride on any bookshelf. They really are that pretty.

But of course, the story itself must always be of paramount importance, and Holly Black has managed to craft a fast-paced... Read More

The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain: Essential companion

The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain

After the five-part Chronicles of Prydain came to a close, fans of the series requested more stories from Lloyd Alexander, and he obliged with this anthology. There are eight short stories in all, set in Alexander's Welsh-inspired land of Prydain in the time before our favourite Assistant Pig-Keeper was born, and each one includes familiar characters or legendary circumstances from the original books. In particular, many of the tales pit the forces of light and life against the main antagonist of the saga: Arawn, the dark Lord of Death.

The first and last stories, "The Foundling" and "The Truthful Harp," deal with the backgrounds of two major characters in the original books: Dallben and Fflewddur Fflam respectively. Dallben is the foundling of the title, who is discovered as an infant by the three mysterious crones and raised as their ... Read More

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