Parent Guide to Book Genres: Fantasy

What could be more enriching than books that celebrate the power of imagination?
By Kate Jack



Parent Guide to Book Genres: Fantasy

Do you have a Harry Potter enthusiast in your house? In recent years, J.K. Rowling's best-selling series has brought legions of new fans to the genre of fantasy. But charismatic characters from Peter Pan to Mary Poppins have enchanted young readers for generations. Fantasy's timeless appeal is that it allows children to travel to another world without having to leave the comfort of home. There's only one requirement: a willingness to dream. When you encourage your child's interest in books that allow her to escape the monotony of everyday life, you celebrate the power of imagination. And the results are truly fantastic.

Why They're Worthwhile
It might seem like smoke and mirrors, but fantasy books can actually serve as powerful learning tools. When your child reads a fantasy title, she begins to question the world around him. Subjects she might wish to explore further could include: natural science, physical science, space, history, and so many more.

In addition, fantasy books challenge the imagination in magical ways. When your child's perceptions of reality are blurred, her creativity can blossom. Now is a great time to encourage creative writing. And remember that Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Talking the Talk
Fantasy books can create wonderfully happy scenes, but they can also be frightening. Make time to talk to your child about the books she is reading and what she thinks of them.

Some questions to ask:

  • How can you tell what's real and what's not?
  • Do the characters in this book use their power for good or for evil?
  • Describe the setting. Is it a place you would like to visit?
  • How does the author use his or her imagination to tell the story?

You can even encourage your child to imagine his own fantasy. Try prompts such as: What kind of world would it be? Would there be any rules? Do the characters remind you of people you know?

Older readers might find inspiration — and you might find more food for discussion — in The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy by Leonard S. Marcus. This fascinating book features interviews with 13 famous fantasy writers, from Lloyd Alexander to Jane Yolen.

Beyond the Books
Try a few of these activities when you're ready to extend the fun.

  • Be sure to check your local library or children's bookstore for Harry Potter wizard-related activities.
  • See a show by a local magician or even a performance like Cirque du Soleil. Afterward, stage your own magic show or fantasy play at home.
  • Rent a movie based on a fantasy classic. Read the book with your child first, then talk about ways in which the movie version is different.

Top Titles to Try

Start your fantasy bookshelf with these standouts — some famously popular, some hidden gems. 

For younger readers:

  • The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne. Travel through time with Jack and Annie, two siblings whose interest in books leads to real-life adventures.
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles series by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. Follow three siblings as they move into a decrepit old house and go up against fairies, goblins, and dwarves after discovering a dangerous book.
  • My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Still, as captivating as ever, this 1949 Newbery Honor book follows a young boy as he tries to save a baby dragon. Additional titles in the series include Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. From Answer-Backers to Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has never met a childhood disease she couldn't cure. Grown-ups and children will delight in this classically magical tale.

For older readers:

  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. No fantasy list is complete without this best-selling series about a bespectacled boy wizard.
  • The Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. This action-packed series about a boy who discovers he is half-demigod has everything from Greek mythology to monsters to magic. 
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This 1963 Newbery winner continues to enchant with its mesmerizing tale of time travel.
  • The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. The fight between good and evil makes for compelling page-turning in this classic 5-book series.
  • The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. From The Book of Three to Newbery-winning The High King and more, this series sets the standard for high adventure.

Lesser-known Wonders
For younger readers:

  • Sector 7 by David Wiesner. A young boy's field trip takes a fantastic turn to a cloud factory in this Caldecott Honor picture book.
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. After being accidentally cursed at birth by a fairy, Ella embarks on a brave quest to find the fairy and break the curse in this spunky retelling of Cinderella. 
  • The Little Witch series by Deborah Hautzig. A pint-sized heroine enjoys adventures galore in these Step Into Reading titles.
  • The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola. Humor saves the day in this entertaining tale of two inexperienced foes.
  • The Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo. In this riveting fantasy school series, a young boy is sent to a magic school after discovering he is descended from an ancient magician. 

For older readers:

  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. A modern-day classic, this epic trilogy features adventure on a grand scale.
  • Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This colorful beloved fantasy about the mysterious Wizard Howl, and Sophie, a young girl who finds herself under a curse that transforms her into an old lady, is nothing less than enchanting. 
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This collection of four novels in one serves as a comprehensive guide to the legend of King Arthur.
  • Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages by J.K. Rowling. Hit the books with Harry Potter using these two Hogwarts textbooks.
  • Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry. Find out just how Peter Pan became Peter Pan in this thrilling story about a young Peter aboard the Never Land ship, where he must keep a mysterious secret treasure away from the hands of pirate Black Stache.        

Fantasy Books for All Ages

Guides to Reading
Independent Thinking
Critical Thinking
Age 13
Age 12
Age 11
Adventures and Adventurers
Independent Reading
Magic and Supernatural
Guided Reading
Reading for Pleasure