Diana Wynne Jones has dominated the field for decades,
writing more than thirty books, according to a
One of my favourites as a child was
Eight Days of Luke. This is the story of an orphaned
boy, David. While David enjoys life to the full at his
boarding school; he dreads the holidays, which he is forced
to spend with his bitter and resentful aunt, uncle and cousins. When
he recites a curse, David becomes involved with a set of
mysterious and mystical characters.
"Eight Days of Luke" bears re-reading as an adult. Although
I didn't realise it as a child, the characters Davis meets
are familiar figures from a certain mythology.
Describing all the Diana Wynne Jones books would take up a long
article in itself. Some of my other favourites included
The Homeward Bounders, a book about a group of people
forced to wander between parallel universes. The Chrestomanci
series of books, beginning with
Charmed Life deal largely with a young wizard learning
about magic. I'm too old to have read them as a child, but
Howl's Moving Castle and
A Tale of Time City have also been recommended.
There are a couple of authors whose books are somewhat darker
and more complex than Diana Wynne Jones's, aimed more at teenagers
than children. One series is the
The Dark is Rising sequence by
Susan Cooper. This again is a fantasy series set in the real
world, which is a common theme within the genre. A similar author
Alan Garner, whose books had a particular appeal to me, as they
are largely set in an area a few miles from my childhood home. The
sequence begins with a book whose brilliance belies its odd name:
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.
Another of the contemporary authors in this genre is
Ursula Le Guin. Le Guin is better known for her adult books,
which are somewhat heavy going; but her trilogy
The Wizard of Earthsea is definitely more readable, though
again probably better for teens than young children.
"The Wizard of Earthsea" inspired some characters in
Terry Pratchett's books. His Discworld books need no
introduction, but he has also written books aimed primarily
at children, notably the
Truckers books, and a series beginning with
Johnny and the Dead.
One of the classic books of the time was
A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle, now part of a
quartet of novels. The story involved travelling through a
space warp, and its use of the word "tesseract" caused many a math teacher
to wonder about their younger students' knowledge of multidimensional geometry.
Some other authors arrived on the scene too late for my childhood, but are
highly recommended by others. These include
Philip Pullman was the author of the
His Dark Materials sequence, set in a universe where science,
theology and magic are closely allied.
Patricia Wrede's dragon books, beginning with
Dealing with Dragons, are also recommended.
These contemporary authors in turn owe a debt to some of the
authors of the past. Bestriding this narrow world like a colossus
is of course, the figure of
J.R.R. Tolkien, who practically invented the modern fantasy genre with
The Hobbit. A close friend of his was
C.S. Lewis, who is more famous for his
beginning with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe",
than for his adult books. I found that the Narnia books are
less palatable to read as an adult, though I loved them when I was a kid.
This could be because they contain a lot of Christian allegory, which I
was pretty much oblivious to then. An interesting recent
Guardian article contrasts Tolkien and Lewis with J.K. Rowling,
partly attributing Rowling's success to the absence of allegory and angst
in her books.
Going back further we find the classic author
E. Nesbit, author of the excellent
Five Children and It, first published in 1902.
Finally, the Harry Potter books owe a great deal to another children's
genre: the boarding school story. Possibly the most familiar are the
"Billy Bunter" books by Frank Richards, now sadly too sizist for
widespread popularity. I also enjoyed the similar "Jennings" books by
Anthony Buckeridge. The "The Hobbit" of this genre seems to be
Stalky and Co by Rudyard Kipling.
This has not been an exhaustive list of children's fantasy books, just a
brief trip through my befuddled memory, aided by helpful
If I've missed out something you
love, please mention it below!
Since most readers seem to be North American
I have used
amazon.com links where possible. However, several these books are
listed as out of print
on amazon.com, but are readily available from
amazon.co.uk, which does deliver internationally.
Unfortunately, there's a limit on the poll options. I've eliminated those
authors who I think are better known for adult books. Write-in votes