Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (for ages 8 and up; great for a read-aloud; beautifully illustrated)
Alice follows a white rabbit down a rabbit hole out of curiosity, and only grows more curious as she grows bigger, gets smaller, attends a mad tea party, talks to animals and flowers, and searches for a way home. This is one of my favorite books of all time. I have a lengthy post dedicated to this book in which I discuss the original book, its sequel (Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There), and the many films and other books it has inspired. I also have an Alice tag for related posts. Curiouser and curiouser.
The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende (for ages 8 and up)
When a young boy named Bastian "borrows" a book from a shop, he has no idea that he is about to embark on a journey of his own. The book speaks of a place called Fantasia (or Fantastica, depending on the translation) that is built upon the dreams and fantasies of humans. Sadly, Fantasia is crumbling and its Childlike Empress is dying. Because people are not using their imaginations as much as they once were, everything is being overcome by The Nothing, a force which is sweeping the land at an alarming rate. The Nothing's evil henchman is a frightening wolf named Gmork. It is up to Atreyu, a warrior, to stop the spread of the Nothing.
There are no words to describe this story, and there are a million words to describe this story. There are a million stories in this book, and there is just one story. If you clapped for Tinker Bell in Peter Pan but you haven't read this book, you must read it now, because you know what it is to imagine and to believe.
The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks (ages 8 and up)
A spunky, diminutive fairy named Tiki befriends a grown-up who wants more than anything to have a child. With her bright pink hair, furry purple wings, and stubborn streak, Tiki is a force to be reckoned with. Tiki decides she's going to help Jan, her human friend, no matter what it takes. She defies the cruel Fairy Queen, who takes action against the little fairy and her human friends.
I really love this book, and I highly recommend it. Read my full-length review of The Fairy Rebel.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (ages 8 and up)
What would it be like to never grow up, or to go on an adventure with someone who will always remain a child? The three Darling children travel with a magical boy named Peter Pan and his sassy pixie friend, Tinker Bell, to Never Never Land, where they encounter pirates, mermaids, and more.
I have a detailed post about this book, similar to that which I have for Alice. I also have a special tag for Tink!
OutCast by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski (ages 8 and up)
- Book One: The Un-Magician
- Book Two: Dragon Secrets
- Book Three: Ghostfire
- Book Four: Wurm War
In the world of OutCast, everyone and everything is magic. Everyone, that is, except for Timothy. For his own safety, his kind father kept him hidden away for years, providing him with a safe haven and a chance at a decent - albeit magic-free - childhood. When his father passes away, Timothy is flung back into the world. Now everyone knows he exists. Who can he trust? Where can he go? He must decide who his allies are - and quickly, because assassins are coming for him.
OutCast is phenomonal. I devoured each book as it was released. I love the characters, I love the tension, I love the action. Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski have created such a fascinating world. They performed a great twist on the typical magical tale (in which the main character is the most powerful and talented magicwielder ever) by making Timothy the powerless one. I hand-sell this series to old and young alike.
I dedicated an entire post to this series.
The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn (ages 8 and up)
When a little girl follows a white cat through a hedge, she travels back in time and befriends another girl about her age. With those elements - don't they make you think of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Secret Garden a little bit? - and the fantastic writing of Hahn, it's no wonder that I read this book time and time again as a kid and continue to recommend it to this day.
The Brimstone Network by Tom Sniegoski (ages 10 and up)
- Book One: The Brimstone Network
- Book Two: The Shroud of A'ranka
- Book Three: Specter Rising
Anyone who loves action/fantasy stories with good guys, bad guys, cool powers, and kid-heroes will dig Brimstone. In the fight against evil, Elijah Stone was a force of good. He bravely led a group of sorcerers and warriors called The Brimstone Network. After an unexpected attack, the Network is almost all wiped out, and Elijah is among those who have fallen. His son, Bram, inherits the responsibility of leading the Network. Only thirteen years old, this young sorcerer has to quickly learn who to trust and how to channel his true nature as he assembles a new Network and gathers potential members - some of which are just as young and inexperienced as he, but each of which has a special supernatural ability.
Keep reading my review of The Brimstone Network.
Visit The Brimstone Network website.
Young Wizards by Diane Duane (ages 10 and up)
- So You Want to Be a Wizard
- Deep Wizardry
- High Wizardry
- A Wizard Abroad
- The Wizard's Dilemma (my favorite in the series)
- A Wizard Alone
- Wizards' Holiday
- Wizards at War
- A Wizard of Mars
- Games Wizards Play (coming in 2015)
Nita and Kit, two thirteen year olds in Manhattan, discover that magic is real and taking place every day, in every corner of the world. This is set in our world; however adept they become, the teens still have to go to school, do their homework, and clean their rooms. They take the Wizard's Oath and become dedicated to their studies and their work, under the tutelage of adult wizards Tom and Carl. They learn the Speech, which enables them to communicate with other sentient beings - so Kit can then communicate with his adorable dog, Ponch.
This series is packed with magic and action. (Perhaps I should start saying MAGCTION! for series such as this and OutCast and see if it catches on.) Amazing, descriptive, innovative, touching, and very, very shiny.
The beginning of the first book, So You Want to Be a Wizard, got my attention right away because it reminded me of the opening sequence of The NeverEnding Story. In So . . . , Nita runs into the library to hide from bullies; in TNES, Bastian runs into the bookstore to hide from bullies. I read TNES when I was very, very young - if I tell you how old I was, I'd scare you - and I love the book and the first film. Years later, I read the first few Young Wizards books. Though the first book came out over twenty years ago, the characters have barely aged, and the writing quality has never lessened - only strengthened, in my estimation.
Companion books: The Feline Wizards (for adults and teens)
- The Book of Night with Moon
- To Visit the Queen (aka On Her Majesty's Wizardly Service)
- The Big Meow (read it here)
The Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix
- Mister Monday
- Grim Tuesday
- Drowned Wednesday
- Sir Thursday
- Lady Friday
- Superior Saturday
- Lord Sunday
Arthur's in the right place at the right time - or the wrong time, depending on how you look at it. He was trudging along in P.E. class when he saw something out of this world: dimensions cracked and pieces from another place fell into ours, one coming into his possession and leading him on the journey of his life. A mysterious house leads to another Universe where there's a Will, a (hard) way, and seven strange Keepers named after days. With no time to lose, Arthur must quickly determine who's good and who's up to no good, who can help him and who will hurt him.
Watching Arthur evolve, both literally and figuratively, is fantastic. He begins as a somewhat typical kid, troubled by asthma, hanging back from the crowd, then grows braver, stronger, even taller, and he ends as - well, I also don't want to spoil the books for those who haven't read them yet, so let's just say that his trials and triumphs change him a lot along the way.
Read my more detailed review of the series.
The Fallen by Thomas E. Sniegoski (for teens)
- The Fallen
Eighteen year old Aaron has a recurring dream which is both strange and epic. He feels the weight of armor and hears an odd sound. He realizes the warriors all around him are angels, and that the sound he hears is that of wings unfurling and flapping. Over the course of the first book, he develops the ability to understand any language and discovers that he is nephilim - the offspring of a fallen angel and an earthly woman.
His newfound multilingualism allows him to communicate with Gabriel, his adorable dog, much like Kit can communicate with Ponch in the Young Wizards series.
I run the official site for Thomas E. Sniegoski, as well as the site for The Fallen.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (for kids, teens, and adults)
- The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights)
- The Subtle Knife
- The Amber Spyglass
- Lyra's Oxford (short story)
- The Book of Dust (not yet released)
It all begins when Lyra overhears something she shouldn't have - and this newfound knowledge changes her whole world. A world which seems a lot like our world, except for the fact that every child is born with a daemon, an animal with the ability to shape-shift until its human comes of age. Then it stays in a shape which is typically indictive of said human's vocation and personality life. The daemon and the child are never the same gender and are always able to communicate. Though daemons do not speak directly to other humans, they do speak with other daemons.
Of course, this is only part of the story, only part of this world. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, go on an amazing journey filled with truth, lies, adventure, and magic. They explore alternate worlds, including ours, where they meet a boy named Will who will further change Lyra's world.
Lyra is one dynamic girl. Her faith is tested, her life threatened, her truths challenged, yet she never loses her determination to do the right thing. Her heart may get broken, but her spirit never does. She begins as a mixture of Anne Shirley and Mary Lennox, then gets some Alice thrown in, but is very much her own girl.
As evidenced by my rambling, this trilogy cannot be summed up in a few mere paragraphs. Read it. You'll be glad that you did.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (originally released for adults, then re-released for teens)
Once upon a time, in the town of Wall, a young man asked the object of affection what he could give her to win her heart. Disinterested, she told him to get her the fallen star which shot overhead moments earlier. In a heartbeat, he agrees, and he sets off for the land of Faerie, where the star landed. This is the story of a man on a quest, a star with unexpected personality, a multitude of murderous sons, a gaggle of witches, and many other fascinating characters and storylines, all of which tie up nicely by the end of the book.
The Aldous Lexicon Trilogy (aka Withern Rose) by Michael Lawrence (for teens)
- A Crack in the Line
- Small Eternities
- The Underwood See
Alternate worlds at their finest, with family ties. Sci-fi, alternate reality, and time travel combine into something memorable and mind-boggling.
The Faerie Path books by Frewin Jones (for teens)
- The Faerie Path
- The Lost Queen
- The Sorcerer King (published overseas as The Seventh Daughter)
- The Immortal Realm
- The Enchanted Quest
- The Charmed Return
Anita, a British teenager, learns that she is Tania, the youngest daughter of the Faerie King and Queen, Oberon and Titania. Tania discovers her ability to side-step between worlds - between what we consider to be our world and the land of Faerie. As she attempts to reconcile her mythic and magical life with her "normal," everyday existence, she may have to select one world in which to live forevermore, and give up the other completely.
Also available: The Faerie Path: Lamia's Revenge, a graphic novel written by Leigh Dragoon with art by Alison Acton and lettering by Lucas Rivera.
Many, many books by Diana Wynne Jones (kids and teens)
The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs (ages 10 and up)
The Sight by David Clement-Davies (teens)
There are two additional classic fantasy series which I feel compelled to mention due to their importance to the genre. Though I enjoyed them, I don't worship them as some do.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
- A Wrinkle in Time
- A Wind in the Door
- A Swiftly Tilting Planet
- Many Waters
It was a dark and stormy night . . . and so it begins. After meeting Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which, Meg Murry and her younger brother Charles Wallace go on a quest to find their father. Time and space, science and geometry (tesseracts!), intuiton and smarts, and love and loyalty see them through.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
For nearly sixty years, this story has made countless children walk into their wardrobes (and closets, and cupboards) in an attempt to visit a magical world.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The Silver Chair (written after Horse, but published before Horse)
- The Horse and His Boy (written before Silver, but published after Silver)
- The Magician's Nephew
- The Last Battle
- The Magician's Nephew
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- The Horse and His Boy
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The Silver Chair
- The Last Battle
books.narnia.com offers summaries and the timeline in both Narnian years and English years.
Related Booklist: Funny Fantasies for Kids and Teens