Recommended fantasy books

The books recommended below were all published within the last several years and reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

 

Picture books

Suggested grade level listed with each entry

The Other Side of Town by Jon Agee (Scholastic/di Capua)
A New York City cab driver picks up a stranger who asks to be driven not to Bleecker Street downtown but to Schmeeker Street, where everything is round and pink and green; pigs and flamingos roam free, and the landscape looks like dessert. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
When young Annabelle finds a box containing yarn of every color, she knits herself a sweater. Then she knits one for her dog and everyone else in her colorless town. An archduke steals the box, but the magic doesn’t work for him and all is made right. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

A Gold Star for Zog written by Julia Donaldson; illus. by Axel Scheffler (Scholastic/Levine)
Just as Zog fears he’s about to fail his capture-a-princess test at dragon school, his human friend reveals that she’s a princess. The rhyming text shows how the friendship between Zog and Princess Pearl comes to benefit them both. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse; illus. by Randy Cecil (Candlewick)
A lonely young girl yearns for a friend — a dragon friend. In a cave under a mountain, a real dragon is dreaming of a girl for a friend. Once the girl’s tears make their rhyming way to his cave, the dragon follows them back (reversing the rhyming order). Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Vampirina Ballerina written by Anne Marie Pace; illus. by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion)
A young vampire begins dance lessons, works hard, and makes a successful debut performance. The encouraging text reads like an advice book for any young dancer, and the illustrations offer plenty of visual jokes for both vampire fans and balletomanes. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold (Candlewick/Templar)
The Hope family sees a big black dog out the window; with each sighting the dog grows in size and fearsomeness until it’s larger than the house. It falls to the family’s youngest member, little Small, to address the problem. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say (Houghton)
In this gently unsettling tale, young Jiro is lured into fantasy by a lifelike bronze statue of a crane. Entering a cottage, he’s fed by a woman who resembles “The Grateful Crane” from the folktale his mother told him. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

The Dark written by Lemony Snicket; illus. by Jon Klassen (Little, Brown)
When the comforting glow of Laszlo’s nightlight goes out, the dark comes to visit and speaks to Laszlo: “I want to show you something.” With his command of language, tone, and pacing, Snicket creates the perfect antidote to a universal fear. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan by Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Levine)
In this compilation of previously published books (“The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits” with text by John Marsden), Tan’s superb art — paradoxically inviting and alienating — is tailored to each story without any loss of his signature style. Grade level: K–3. 128 pages.

A Good Knight’s Rest written by Shelley Moore Thomas; illus. by Jennifer Plecas (Dutton)
When the king orders rest for the good knight, his three young dragon friends join the vacation. Rather than enjoying relaxation, the good knight spends his time pleasing the trio. The familiar structure and refrains for listeners to repeat create a comfortable story. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere (Holt)
This scary-silly story begins: “Do you ever wonder if somewhere…there might be… MONSTERS?” More questions follow as a goofy monster tromps toward a house. The humorous interplay between image and text signals there’s nothing to fear. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

 

Primary

Grade level for each entry: 1–3

The Very Little Princess written by Marion Dane Bauer; illus. by Elizabeth Sayles (Random)
While visiting the grandmother she didn’t know existed, Zoey discovers a tiny princess doll who miraculously starts talking — and bossing. The story is both a sweet tale about a doll come to life and a bleaker, darker tale of a little girl facing some difficult truths. 122 pages.

Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins; illus. by Harry Bliss (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Fourth-grader Hank Wolowitz has a very special imaginary friend: an invisible, squash-loving, almost-extinct bandapat named Inkling, whose attempts to help Hank with a bully go spectacularly wrong. Look for sequel Invisible Inkling: Dangerous Pumpkins. 156 pages.

Earwig and the Witch written by Diana Wynne Jones; illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow)
Bossy Earwig is not your typical orphan in distress. She’s adopted by an unpleasant witch and a nine-foot-tall fire-demon but takes advantage of the situation and learns magic to outwit the witch. A worthy introduction to the delights of a master fantasy writer. 120 pages.

 

Intermediate fiction

Suggested grade level for all entries: 4–6

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander (McElderry)
When a goblin gives Kaile a bone flute, the song she plays is so powerful that her shadow, a.k.a. Shade, separates from her. Kaile must seek the origins of the flute bones before she can reunite with Shade. 167 pages.

The Magician’s Apprentice written by Kate Banks; illus. by Peter Sís (Farrar/Foster)
Baz is apprenticed to a weaver whose cruel treatment causes Baz to question his fate. When the weaver trades Baz to a traveling magician, the boy’s education begins in earnest. Spare, delicate spot illustrations beautifully reflect the shifting mood. 213 pages.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood (Harper/HarperCollins)
Jinx can see people’s emotions in colorful clouds around their heads, but after his guardian, the wizard Simon, performs a forbidden spell on Jinx, that sixth sense disappeats. Jinx sets out to regain his power, encountering new friends and the evil Bonemaster along the way. 360 pages.

The Traveling Restaurant: Jasper’s Voyage in Three Parts by Barbara Else (Gecko)
Escaping evil Lady Gall, Jasper’s family flees by ship, mistakenly leaving him behind. Boarding an odd vessel called the Traveling Restaurant, Jasper learns more about his family’s role in the Great Accident that removed magic from Fontania and his own role in restoring it. 295 pages.

Dragonborn [Flaxfield Quartet] by Toby Forward (Bloomsbury)
Apprentice wizard Sam is lonely and beleaguered when his master, Flaxfield, dies. Flaxfield’s former apprentices accuse Sam of lying about his status; he ends up sent to the mines. Like many a naive wanderer, Sam meets some kind helpers and some mischief-makers. 345 pages.

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury)
Miri and Peder (Princess Academy) leave their beloved mountain for the capital city of Danland, where they are joyfully reunited with their friend Britta, now betrothed to the prince. But something is amiss: revolution is brewing. 323 pages.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom written by Christopher Healy; illus. by Todd Harris (HarperCollins/Walden Pond)
Four Prince Charmings discover that evils are afoot in the woods. Witty banter, movie-ready descriptions, cartoony illustrations, and nonstop action help make this fairy-tale mash-up highly entertaining.  Looks for the sequel The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. 438 pages.

Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes (McElderry)
In Duodecia, every child has a darkbeast, a creature who takes the child’s faults on themselves. Keara refuses to kill hers, raven Caw, on her twelfth name day, as custom demands; they run away and join the migratory thespian Travelers. 280 pages.

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, ed. by Kazu Kibuishi (Abrams/Amulet)
In this anthology of seven stories, comics creators take the same idea and run with it. Each story — spooky cautionary stories, slapstick humor, tales of enchantment — fits the theme but spins its own twist; part of the fun is anticipating how each will integrate the titular box. 128 pages.

Dragon Run by Patrick Matthews (Scholastic)
The society of Evans has a plan to loosen the ruling dragons’ stranglehold on humanity, and Al, who is unsusceptible to magic, could play a role in that plan — if he can only figure out what he’s supposed to do. 328 pages.

The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet (HarperCollins/Harper)
In Paris with her family for a year, Maya finds herself in a life-or-death struggle after becoming keeper of the mysterious Cabinet of Earths. A story a-shimmer with magic, in plot, characters, and literary style. Look for sequel A Box of Gargoyles. 260 pages.

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
In a zany adventure filled with Arthurian references and sly parodies, new kid Scott and twins Erno and Emily set out to find the connection between their town’s megalomaniac cereal company and magical enslaved beings. 423 pages.

The Serpent’s Shadow [Kane Chronicles] by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
With Egyptian gods from the previous two books and teen magicians Zia and Walt, the Kanes face the culmination of peril. Serpent of Chaos Apophis is attempting to swallow Sun God Ra, destroying creation; Sadie and Carter try to perform a spell of banishment on him. 406 pages.

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion)
In Massachusetts, Tommy grieves for his mother; on a distant planet, Young Waeglim invests his Valorim culture into a necklace. It falls through worlds and lands in Tommy’s lunchbox, bringing Tommy memories of the Valorim — and superhuman abilities. 294 pages.

The Cup and the Crown by Diane Stanley (HarperCollins/Harper)
Molly (The Silver Bowl) returns for another test of her wits, strength, and magic powers. Friendships and loyalties change realistically and are tested in ways that readers will recognize from their own lives. The plot’s suspense propels the reader through the story. 344 pages.

Path of Beasts [Keepers Trilogy] by Lian Tanner (Delacorte)
In the final volume of the trilogy, Goldie, Toadspit, and Bonnie return to the city of Jewel only to find that the villainous Fugleman has made himself Lord High Protector. An evocative setting, a unique cast of characters, and a satisfying conclusion will keep readers hooked. 337 pages.

Margaret and the Moth Tree by Brit Trogen and Kari Trogen (Kids Can)
Margaret finds herself at the Hopeton Orphanage, whose proprietress is a baddie straight out of Dahl. Margaret learns she can communicate with moths and, with their help, incites her orphan compatriots to rise up, leading to a satisfying, humorous climax. 176 pages.

Eep! by Joke van Leeuwen; translated by Bill Nagelkerke (Gecko)
When Warren finds a rare creature (“a bird in the shape of a little girl. Or a little girl in the shape of a bird”), he and his wife care for her. Slowly Beedy walks, talks, and fledges — until one day she flies away. Affectionate humor and whimsy suffuse this fantasy. 151 pages.

 

Older fiction

Suggested grade level for all entries: 7 and up

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (Holt)
When Alina and best friend Mal are attacked by monsters, Alina discovers a hidden gift: she is able to manipulate light and thus save Mal. The king’s mage sweeps her off to develop her abilities — but what about her bond with Mal? Look for sequel Siege and Storm. 358 pages.

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough (Candlewick)
Cora, sent with her little sister to crumbling Guerdon Hall, learns that the family has suffered a string of child deaths and abductions. Delving into Guerdon history, she and a local boy increasingly see ghosts of the children and of a tormented Elizabethan priest. 455 pages.

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (Greenwillow)
When her Godstone draws her on a quest to find a legendary magical-spiritual power source, Elisa (The Girl of Fire and Thorns) and a handful of companions — including steadfast romantic interest Hector — embark on a dangerous journey. 410 pages.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Dial)
This Graceling sequel picks up eight years after Katsa killed King Leck, making his daughter Bitterblue queen. Now eighteen, Bitterblue sneaks out of the castle, and a friendship with two thieves causes her to reevaluate everything she’s been told and whom she can trust. 563 pages.

The Crimson Crown [Seven Realms] by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion)
In this concluding volume of the series, Han longs to marry Queen Raisa, but she’s committed to a political marriage to save her quarreling queendom. Betrayal, war, and the faith of lovers all come around to a glorious conclusion. 600 pages.

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch (Abrams/Amulet)
Irrepressible Mirka (How Mirka Got Her Sword), an eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish wannabe warrior, races to rescue Hereville from a meteor strike. A witch transforms the meteorite into a Mirka-clone. This quirky graphic novel melds fantasy, realism, and imagination. 126 pages.

Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures by Peter Dickinson (Big Mouth)
Dickinson completes the series of “elemental” tales he began with his wife Robin McKinley (Water; Fire) with six new stories. Suspenseful, frequently violent, sometimes comic, and with Dickinson’s command of imaginative imagery, this is a fitting capstone to the series. 195 pages.

Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher (Dial)
Jack Wilde discovers that his father disappeared while experimenting with a Victorian time machine made of an obsidian mirror. A ghost, a girl from the future, the fairy queen, and Jack’s own guardian all want to use the mirror for their own purposes. 376 pages.

The Last Dragonslayer [Chronicles of Kazam] by Jasper Fforde (Harcourt)
Foundling and indentured servant Jennifer Strange runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management in the absence of its founder. When she learns that she herself is the Last Dragonslayer, all her skills at negotiating product endorsements, bribes, and threats are put to the test. 287 pages.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Random)
The royal court of Goredd celebrates a forty-year (uneasy) peace with dragonkind, but events take a dark turn when Prince Rufus is found murdered. Music mistress Seraphina tries to unmask the killer, while concealing her own relationship with dragons. 476 pages.

Grave Mercy [His Fair Assassin] by Robin LaFevers (Houghton)
Running from an arranged marriage, Ismae lands up at St. Mortain’s convent, discovers she has special gifts (and that her father is Mortain, the god of Death), and trains to become an assassin — the true vocation of a daughter of Death. Look for sequel Dark Triumph. 549 pages.

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
A bitter, ostracized seal-kin girl magically calls up beautiful selkie women to entice the men of Rollrock Island. As the sons of selkie women and human men mature, their mothers’ longing for the sea spurs the boys to heroic and loving acts. 309 pages.

Froi of the Exiles [Lumatere Chronicles] by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick)
Froi, a secondary character in Finnikin of the Rock, takes center stage here. How he goes from loyal subject to unwilling spy and assassin to major figure in the future of this crumbling world makes for feverish page-turning. Look for sequel Quintana of Charyn. 596 pages.

The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry (Abrams/Amulet)
In an alternative late-nineteenth-century American West, eighteen-year-old Lena Mattacascar seeks her long-absent father, who is rumored to be a goblin. Nods to various genres — romance, mystery, Western, steampunk — bring the era of territorial expansion vividly to life. 362 pages.

A Corner of White [Colors of Madeleine] by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)
From the Kingdom of Cello on the other side of a “crack” in our reality, Elliot begins corresponding with Madeleine. Elliot has learned about Madeleine’s world in school, but she thinks Cello is an imaginary land he’s invented. An unusual fantasy with a strong dose of humor. 376 pages.

Defiance by C. J. Redwine (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
When Rachel’s father disappears, she sets out to save him by entering the Wasteland — a region that means almost certain death. Rachel’s personal ethics crumble as she makes choices that mirror her enemies’. 408 pages.

The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti (Dial)
Frenenqer rescues a cat that turns into a winged, shape-changing “Free person” — sometimes a cat but often a boy — who offers to fly her wherever she wants. Nightly, she and Sangris explore far-flung places and other worlds. 290 pages.

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown)
In the renewed war between chimaera and seraphim, human Karou (Daughter of Smoke & Bone), a resurrectionist, repopulates the chimaera, while her star-crossed lover Akiva reluctantly takes a lead role in the seraphim army. Surprises and acts of personal sacrifice ratchet up the suspense. 517 pages.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente; illus. by Ana Juan (Feiwel)
September’s (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making) shadow, Halloween, is now monarch of a liberated-shadow society in Fairyland’s underside. September and her companions must stop Halloween from siphoning away Fairyland’s magic. 258 pages.

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Fifteen-year-old loner and gamer Perry has been sentenced to forced socialization at Camp Washiska Lake. In a fantastical turn, he discovers that the world of his favorite role-playing game is based on the reality of another universe, the World of the Other Normals. 389 pages.

Flora’s Fury: How a Girl of Spirit and a Red Dog Confounded Their Friends, Astounded Their Enemies, and Learned the Importance of Packing Light by Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt)
In this third book in the series (Flora Segunda; Flora’s Dare) Flora decides to undertake a magical working to discover her mother’s whereabouts. Racing to reach her mother before their enemies do, Flora takes readers on another thrilling, bizarre ride. 517 pages.

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty by Jane Yolen (Philomel)
For generations Gorse’s faerie family has been unable to refuse any of the king’s Bidding. Now the royals have demanded christening gifts for their long-awaited newborn daughter, but on the way to deliver her gift (a spindle), Gorse is held captive. 290 pages.

Curses! Foiled Again written by Jane Yolen; illus. by Mike Cavallaro (Roaring Brook/First Second)
Feisty Aliera, the heroine of graphic novel Foiled, makes a return appearance to “save Faerie from the big bad guys.” Of course, there’s also high school and fencing class, and “balancing the mundane world with the mystical” isn’t exactly easy-breezy. 164 pages.

Dust Girl [American Fairy] by Sarah Zettel (Random)
The Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and Celtic fairy-lore come together when Callie learns that her long-absent father was a prince of fairyland. When her Mama is whisked away in a whirl of dust and magic, Callie sets off to retrieve her. 293 pages.

Poison by Bridget Zinn (Hyperion)
Living in the world of witches, dwarves, potion masters, shape shifters, and the like, Kyra is reluctant to trust anyone, even her best friend and the future queen, Ariana. Quick getaways, disguises, tricked-out witches, and one clever boy make this a rollicking adventure. 280 pages.

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Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, assistant editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College.

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