Thursday Top Ten: fantasy books to encourage children to read

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Two strong predictors of future academic success for our youngest children, when you have a supportive family life, are vocabulary and being read to daily. Simply put, the more hours a child spends reading and being read to coupled with a  large vocabulary, the better off children will be.

For older children, reading comprehension is the single most important skill your child will need to learn, both to have that academic success and to become a life-long reader and knowledge-seeker. Academic success will only get us so far in life. We want to encourage our children to be curious, to ask questions, to seek answers, to love to learn and explore, and to always, always be thinking.

The most effective way to accomplish all of these things and have fun doing it is to read, read, read aloud to your children as much as possible and to choose books and stories that you and your children are invested in. For this, I highly suggest visiting your local library often to explore the vast range it has to offer.

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For the most opportunities for learning, choose books that are highly imaginative: fairies, dragons, giants, magic, time travel, pirates… fantasy. Reading fantasy can lead to greater curiosity about the natural world, challenge the imagination, and encourage creative writing. Fantasy can lead our children to other worlds and teach them to be better citizens of ours.

The books on the following list are all ones that we have actually read, or are currently reading. This is not a theoretical top ten list, or a top ten list of the most wonderfully written children’s fantasy books, but it is a top ten list of books that my children have loved and have asked to read again. My oldest son has also chosen to read many of these to himself after we have read them together. They are tried and true and I hope your children love them too.

Top Ten Fantasy Books, listed from easiest to most difficult:


1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - “And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”

Who hasn’t felt something like a wild thing from time to time? Knowing that even after behaving like one and becoming king of all, you can still come home to your own room to a warm meal, is the best kind of love. If you have a Max, or even if you don’t, there is something special about this book that keeps us reading it over and over again.


2. Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books) by Crockett Johnson - “One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.”

Oh, how I love this gentle story exploring the imagination of a little boy and his purple crayon. I love how he keeps his wits, goes on adventures, and helps deserving animals have pie feasts, all with the power of his purple crayon.


3. Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen - “The same way Pa knew that farming was in his blood, I knew that raising dragons was in mine. There are some things you just know.”

What little girl doesn’t dream of raising her very own dragon? Well she certainly will after reading this book. The daughter of practical farmers finds her true calling when the egg she discovers hatches a dragon. She knows that she was meant to raise this dragon and so she does until she has to take him back to his tropical homeland due to the overwhelming crowds and attention he draws. Sweet, loving, and a book the whole family can enjoy together.


4. Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen – “Long green ships fly through space past the winking of a thousand thousand stars. There is one ship, one mighty ship, long and green, called Star Warts. The captain of this ship is brave and bright, bright and brave. His name is COMMANDER TOAD.”

For children who can’t get enough of Star Wars, but who (or who’s parents) might be looking for something a little different, this is the series! With seven books altogether and plenty of puns, this will keep early readers busy and provide fun material for more experienced readers.


5. Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osbourne - “There–at the top–was a tree house. It was tucked between two branches.” And so began the many adventures of Jack and Annie, through time and through books.

My boys love these books. There is just enough adventure and magic with just enough history to keep it interesting for kids and parents alike. My 7 year old has never wanted to read the series in order and skips around to the subjects he finds most interesting. Each book gives an opportunity to learn more about a time or place that has some historical significance and has prompted some wonderful conversations: mummies in ancient Egypt, rainforests in the Amazon, Vikings and Irish monks, and even the American Civil War.


6. The Enchanted Wood, The Faraway Tree ,and The Folk of The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton - “It’s a simply enormous tree,” said Jo. “Its top goes right up to the clouds-and oh, Dick, at the top of it is always some strange land. You can go there by climbing up the top branch of the Faraway Tree, going up a little ladder through a hole in the big cloud that always lies on the top of the tree -and there you are in some peculiar land!”

These books were lovingly introduced to me by Read Aloud Dad. I just knew we had to get one from the library for my 5 year old’s first chapter book at bedtime. It was a huge hit! This is the book for children who want to listen to stories about three children (and later their cousin too) going on adventures in an Enchanted Wood with a magical Faraway Tree inhabited by angry pixies, fairies, a saucepan man, and Moon-face (so called because of his very round face) where Lands with names like, The Land of Ice and Snow, The Land of Take-What-You-Want, or The Land of Birthdays visit the top of the tree for a short time and then change again.

We are reading the original books, no editing of the 1930’s British names or anything else. It has been quite interesting to read a book in English and not understand many of the things they say because of the differences in time and place.



7. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin – “What a poor fortune we have. Every day, Ba and Ma work and work and we still have nothing. I wish I could change our fortune.”

Minli and her parents work very hard living in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain, yet remain in desperate poverty. Minli’s father tells old folktales every night to keep their minds off their circumstances. His stories include the Jade Dragon, Magistrate Tiger, and the Old Man of the Moon who keeps the book of everyone’s destiny. Minli decides one day to seek the Old Man of the Moon to change her family’s fortune. Along the way she meets a wonderful cast of characters – a flightless dragon and a talking fish among others – that help her in her quest. A beautifully woven tale with strong morals and enough adventure and fantasy to satisfy all curious minds!


8. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – “Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean. It’s like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten. And the way you usually act, the things you would have normally done, are like these ghosts that everyone can see but pretends not to.”

Miranda is a fairly ordinary sixth grader growing up in 1970’s New York when her life is changed by a message from the future. The novel follows ordinary themes like independence and friendship, interweaving them with mystery and time travel. Three plot lines – Miranda’s mom preparation for and appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid, Miranda’s oldest friend Sal suddenly not talking with her, and the appearance of a strange laughing man – all come together at the end in an unpredictable conclusion that will keep children engaged until the very end.

Miranda’s favorite book is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. This sold me on at least trying this book out, plus it is a Newberry Medal winner. Deservedly so. This is a subtle, character driven novel that may be best suited for the ages it was intended for, but my 6 year old absolutely loved it.


9. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin – “To be oneself is a rare thing, and a great one.”

Long before Harry Potter, was another youth with a talent for magic and recklessness. A coming of age story with magic and adventure at the center. “Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea,  but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless  youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.”

Admittedly, we have only just begun this book, but any book that has been given as high praise as this one deserves to be on this list. Plus she is a local author!


10. The BFG by Roald Dahl – “The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.”

This is the darkest of all the books listed here. My son could handle the idea that there were giants sneaking about in the middle of the night searching for “human beans” to gobble up, but there certainly may be some that will not. The BFG is The Big Friendly Giant for he does not partake in the guzzling and munching of human beans like the rest of the giants.

One night, a little girl named Sophie sees the BFG and he takes her away back to his home in giant land. He keeps her safe and protected from the other giants, but is afraid to let her go because she has seen him. Instead they come up with a plot to stop all the horrible bone-crunching giants, with the help of the Queen of England of course!

The most difficult part about reading this book is the amusing way in which the BFG speaks. For example,

“Yesterday, we was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own two winkles, we think it is not existing.”

A truly delightful book, but not for the faint of heart!

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There are countless wonderful books in the fantasy genre with wonderful characters and amazing adventures. Have a favorite? Put it in your comment!

Stay tuned for Friday when I introduce fun activities that you can do with each of these books in a Fantasy Book Series!

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Comments

Thursday Top Ten: fantasy books to encourage children to read — 11 Comments

  1. We are all about reading in my house. I like how you had the books separated from easiest to hardest. My oldest is 7 and she loves reading the Magic Tree House Series right now and she is just getting started on some Dahl. Great list.

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  10. Oh wow! I’ve read most of these. I guess I’ve always thought of Earthsea as darker than BFG, because the danger is so much more everpresent for Sparhawk as he goes on to become Ged. BFG always just felt very … real, I guess, and rollicking. The danger was present for sure, but the Giant’s hilarious manner of speaking sort of offset everything else for me. But then, I’m also thinking through to the rest of the story (through to The Other Wind), which isn’t children’s fantasy really any longer. Unless you were a kid like me. And then, those last stories only came out recently, so I came to the later part of the series as an adult.
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    • I really think it does depend on the child, and the parent reading with the child. I will say I certainly struggled with the order of this list! My eldest has a much harder time with characters who are mean than who are violent. When he was 2.5, we had to leave the theater during ‘Elmo in Grouchland’ because he was screaming so loud. ;)

      Parents know their kids and do their best to anticipate reactions, but a little danger isn’t always a bad thing. I never read to the end of the story either. I suppose I should look into that!

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