By Noelle, Librarian Extraordinaire
So I must admit that when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I wasn’t all that impressed. I thought it was a very likeable, inventive story, but not what I’d call great literature for kids. But now, 13 years later and on the eve of the 7th film about to open, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (well, part one, anyhow), I can firmly say that I am a fan of the entire series. J.K. Rowling thought her series through, with things that happen in the first book impacting the last one—a true achievement.
But With Something Like Harry Out There, What Else Can Compare to Your Kids—and Let’s Face It—You?
Luckily, fantasy is my favorite genre, so I am here to ladle out some of my favorite replacements for those addicted to Harry.
1. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. This 5 book series chronicles Gregor’s fall into the Underland beneath the depths of New York City. Gregor finds an entire city of people, along with giant rats, cockroaches, bats and more. That city of people seems to think Gregor is the answer to a series of prophecies made by their founder, and Gregor must help defend this land he has just discovered. Lots of action and emotional turmoil; it is good stuff, just right for Harry Potter fans.
2. The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. The first book in this series (Over Sea, Under Stone)was published in 1965 and many, many fantasy books from today take their cue from Cooper’s work. Take some modern day kids and mix in Celtic and Arthurian legends, tons of suspense, and the classic clash between the Dark and the Light, and you’ve got a series your kids will whip through. Don’t watch the movie The Seeker—it is best to forget that ever happened.
3. Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin. The thing about LeGuin is hands down, her writing is just a cut above everyone else’s. Even if the stories weren’t that good, you’d still love to just read how she writes. Luckily, her books rock. The Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged as he becomes a fledgling wizard, and the rest of the series follows his adventures as he grows into his powers (The Tombs of Atuan is my favorite). A real treat for readers of fantasy.
4. The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. The first book, The Thief, has a fabulous twist and sets up the beginning of a marvelous 4 book (so far) series. If your kids don’t like deep intrigue and twists in their books, they may not love these as much as I do—there is quite a bit of the politics of running a country mixed in—but overall, these are well written and involving stories based on lands and gods similar to Greece and Italy that will keep the kids enthralled, and you can’t help but love the character of Gen.
5. Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver. This series, beginning with Wolf Brother, is unique in that it is set during times so ancient that our characters are all from tribal clan groups. There is a prophecy (again!), mages, soul eaters (how creepy does that sound?), connections with animals, plenty of action and really great characters. Although Torak is the main character, we have a strong female in Renn, and plenty of other great supporting cast members. An excellent and satisfying 6 book series that dabbles in magic but more in how our interaction with the world brings it to life as its own character.
6. The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan. This New Zealand import begins with the Ruins of Gorlan and I thought, yeah, this is okay. Kind of typical, predictable fantasy. But a couple of books later, Flanagan hit his stride and he hasn’t missed since, and I am waiting to read book 9, with the final book to be released next spring. The characters are just so likeable that although you may have a good idea of how the plot might go, you have an awfully good time getting there. Even better, our ranger characters solve problems with their brains and sharp shooting (archery) rather than brawn (although sometimes they use that, too). Rangers may best be described as spies in a fantasy type of setting, and the stories are easy to love. Even the ranger’s ponies are stars. These are strongly “boy” fantasy; despite the female characters being strong in their own right, they just aren’t the focus.
7. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. If McKinley wrote it, I am pretty much guaranteed to like it. The Blue Sword (one of my all-time favorite books) and its prequel, The Hero and the Crown, follow two kickass female leads in the country of Damar as they have to fight off dragons and armies to save their kingdoms. There is a horsey element, for those of us that like that, too. McKinley also has many fairy tale retellings in novel form, such as Beauty, Spindle’s End, and the Outlaws of Sherwood. Well-written, inventive and engaging fantasies, all.
8. Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke. This trilogy begins with Inkheart (another movie you should skip) and the premise that a bookbinder named Mo has the ability to literally read a character OUT of a book. But when you read something out, something else has to go back in. When Mo accidentally reads a dangerous character out of a book called Inkheart and his wife into it, he resolves never to read aloud again. That is until the bad guys find him and his daughter Meggie. And what if you, yourself, could get inside the pages of a book? A fascinating concept and finely layered characters make this series rich and compelling. But beware! It isn’t all happy endings.
9. The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. If your kids are a bit older, give them this dark-edged trilogy about fighting the dead. Not the undead—we aren’t talking vampires or zombies—but the actual dead, brought back by necromancers to do their will. The first book, Sabriel, sets the stage as she must take over the Abhorsen’s duty of sending any dead who have crossed into life back. The stories become much more deeply layered in the follow ups—Lirael and Abhorsen. If your kids aren’t ready for the darkness, try Nix’s much younger 6 book Seventh Tower series, about the people who live in towers with sunstones and the ones who live in the darkness below and what happens when Tal must go on a quest to try and find a new sunstone for his family. Then you’ll probably go on and read everything else he’s written like I did.
10. The Alanna series by Tamora Pierce. This is great girl fantasy all the way. Alanna wants to be a knight, but of course, only boys can do that. So she poses as a boy through much of the series (of course, eventually she is found out) and goes on many a fight and quest to earn her knighthood. She also has magical abilities. After this series, there are many others Pierce has written set in the same or very similar fantasy world, including Protector of the Small and the Circle of Magic.
I could keep going for a long time. I know some may view this list and ask “What about Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series?” Well, you already know that one, don’t you?
I would be remiss to not mention authors like Diana Wynne Jones who penned Howl’s Moving Castle and many, many other great fantasy titles, Jane Yolen with her Pit Dragon trilogy, Michael Buckley’s Fairy-Tale Detectives, Angie Sage’s Magyk series, or Emily Rodda’s Rowan or Rondo or Deltora series. And there are many standalone fantastic titles as well. But I will stick with these to start with, and please feel free to email me to ask for more suggestions—I have plenty!
|Noelle has been a children’s librarian for over 15 years. She’s also been a student teacher, worked as an online account manager, worked in a pet shop and as a supermarket checkout clerk, and as a dishwasher and fry cook. She is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter. You can read more of Noelle’s book reviews at Rave Reviews Log
Noelle can be reached at “Noelle @ DadDoes.Com”
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