Fantasy books offer wonderful opportunities for young readers to use their imaginations while relating to universal themes found in all types of books. The world building inherent in the genre expands ideas for what is possible and helps build empathy. And many fantasies are just plain entertaining.
“LillyBelle: A Damsel Not in Distress” by Joana Pastro is a fun fantasy book that turns the damsel in distress trope on its head. LillyBelle is in training to be a damsel who waits for others to come save her; however, that is not LillyBelle’s style. When she is in trouble, LillyBelle uses her baking skills to convince the witch there are better things to eat. LillyBelle also runs into a giant and an ogre, and she has to use more skills she has been taught as a damsel. This is a cute story encouraging girls to use skills they have learned to help themselves.
Julia Denos’s “Star Crossed” tells the friendship story of a girl on Earth and a boy in the constellations. Eridani is a girl who loves to study the constellations of the night sky. Acamar is a boy made of stars who talks with her. Each wishes they could be where the other is to experience a different way of life. Wishing on a star goes haywire when Eridani transports to the stars, while Acamar comes down to a physical form on Earth. The friends get to experience what the other has only described, and it is marvelous. The illustrations of this adventure have a great cosmic feel.
“Stella’s Stellar Hair” by Yesenia Moises is another fantasy book that plays with outer space. In this story, Stella lives in the future and can zip planet to planet on her hoverboard. Stella has a big event, and her hair is not doing what she wants. Different aunts live on the planets of the solar system, and each does her hair in a unique style. Stella is not satisfied copying an aunt and creates her own signature look with elements of all the aunts incorporated. The endpapers talk about the atmospheres of the different planets in our galaxy and how different hairdos represent the planet or would be good for living there. This is a fun, futuristic fantasy that highlights the help of elders and discovering your own path.
Back to stories that subvert ideas we have about mythical creatures. “Unicorns Are the Worst” by Alex Willan features Goblin, who is feeling down that unicorns are so glittery and have fun all the time. He sees them as silly creatures who are overhyped and make the worst neighbors. But then one day Goblin is in a sticky situation, and the unicorns come to the rescue! Traits he thought were negative, such as glitter, pointy horns and hooves, all work to help keep Goblin safe from the dragon. This book shows fantasy creatures doing normal life things that are a bit silly, and the overarching theme is that something you might find annoying actually could help you someday.
Melissa de la Cruz has been creating fantasy worlds for almost 15 years; the Blue Bloods young adult series, back when vampire novels were all the rage, is a favorite. Her newest series is directed toward middle graders, especially those who like fractured fairy tales.
“The Thirteenth Fairy,” the first book in the Never After series, introduces Philomena Jefferson-Cho, a tween from North Pasadena, Calif., who does not have friends but does have very overprotective parents. Philomena loves to read and is excited for the 13th and final book in the Never After series. Unfortunately, she learns it was not published, so she leaves the local bookstore empty handed. On her way home, she is followed by Jack the Giant Stalker, one of the characters from the Never After series.
It turns out Never After is a real place, a land that has the same characters as the fairy tales we know, except the stories aren’t quite what mortals learned. Not only is Never After real, it is being overtaken by Olga the Ogre. Philomena and her newfound friends, Jack, Alistair, and Gretel, band together to fight ogres and find the magic lamp that will save Never After from Olga.
“The Thirteenth Fairy” is an enjoyable novel with lots of action and a bright, strong female protagonist. Readers will delight in discussing how Cruz fractures popular fairy tales.
Upper elementary readers who like superheroes, especially the Incredible Hulk, may want to check out “Ikenga” by Nnedi Okorafor, an origin story set in contemporary Nigeria.
Nnamdi is 12 when his police chief father is killed because he was fighting rampant corruption in the community. Nnamdi is overcome with grief and anger, and as he continues to process his loss at the one-year anniversary of his father’s death, his father appears from the afterlife and entrusts him with the Ikenga, which allows Nnamdi to unleash his powers. In critical situations, Nnamdi transforms into The Man, a physically large person with a deep voice and great strength.
Becoming a superhero is a process with fits and starts as Nnamdi learns to control his powers. His sidekick is a young woman named Chioma, who helps him focus on helping people and finding his father’s killer. “Ikenga” is about self-discovery and acceptance, working through emotions such as grief and anger, and growing up physically and emotionally.
TeensThe publication of another Graceling Realm book for older teens is cause for celebration. “Winterkeep” is the fourth title in Kristin Cashore’s series, and it introduces a new continent, Torla, a democratic republic east of the monarchs that make up the Royal Continent. Torla is a land of blue foxes who can read human minds, silbercows who live in the sea and can project their emotions and thoughts, and the Keeper, a magnificent creature who lives in the depths of the ocean.
It is four years after “Bitterblue,” the third book in the series, and the titular queen is back, on a trip to the Torlan land of Winterkeep to investigate the death of two of her envoy. However, Bitterblue is kidnapped, leaving half-sister Hava and best friend Giddon bereft.
This entry also introduces teenager Lovisa Cavenda, the oldest child of two prominent Winterkeep politicians who, like most parental figures in the series, are less than great. Through her penchant for spying, Lovisa becomes drawn into her parents’ secrets, which are tied to Bitterblue’s kidnapping and the fate of Winterkeep. As in the rest of the Graceling Realm, Winterkeep features independent young women who are discovering their place in the world. Each title in the series stands on its own, although readers may want to start with the first book, “Graceling.”
Fans of alternate history may appreciate “Burn” by Patrick Ness, an award-winning author whose newest book begins in Washington state in 1957 in a world in which dragons exist. Sarah Dewhurst’s father hires the blue dragon Kazimir to help clear the farm fields, and as Sarah and Kazimir begin to talk, Sarah learns the dragons’ prophesy that she will save the world.
At the same time, Malcolm is a human Believer on his way to the Dewhurst farm from British Columbia to kill Sarah and ensure she does not save the world. All of the characters come together in a pivotal moment that occurs at only the halfway point in the novel. The plots thickens with plenty of action, and the teen characters deal with real-world issues such as race and sexuality. Do not be surprised if “Burn” is optioned for the screen.
Aurora Oberg is the Youth Services Librarian and Kris Wiley is the Director of the Roseburg Public Library.