A common request in our store is for fantasy books for a child who “loved Harry Potter”. Now the Harry Potter series is a great read, and while there are people who loved it more than me (they made websites and wrote fan fiction), I’ll readily boast that I was the first in line, dressed as a Ravenclaw prefect, in a bookstore in London for the release of the 6th book. My friends and I were interviewed by CNN International and BBC Spain (thank you, thank you). The point is that I enjoyed HP immensely and it is still great fun to discuss the series with people. But there are a lot of fantasy books out there that are even better and I love having a chance to introduce these books to readers.
For any one who wants to ready quality, British fantasy, Diana Wynne Jones should be at the top of the list. She has an enormous following in her own right, especially in the UK, but has never gained the reputation that Rowling has. However, Jones’s books are incredibly well-written, smart, and engaging. Her books are also challenging. Readers have to work, and work hard, when reading her stories, but the results are well worth the effort. Jones has written for a range of readers and I won’t even try to cover everything here.
The Chrestomanci series is for later elementary readers (at least 4th grade) and includes The Lives of Christopher Chant, Witch Week, Charmed Life, and The Magicians of Caprona. Some of the newest additions to this series, such as Conrad’s Fate and The Pinhoe Egg are probably more appropriate for 5th or 6th grade. All titles are also included in The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volumes I, II, and III (HarperCollins, $9.95).
Her single volume stories are even better and are more appropriate for older readers in junior high and high school mostly because the narratives are complicated and require sophistication and critical thinking, as well as the ability to tease out the significant aspects of the books and then reassemble them into a cohesive story. Again, Jones demands that her readers actively engage with her narratives and it is this respect for kid — the belief that they are capable of such active engagement — that make reading her books such an amazing experience. These books appear to be currently out of print, so rush to your local library for a copy.
My favorite of her books is Fire & Hemlock. When you’re done reading, go do some research on the Scottish ballads Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. The Power of Three, Hexwood, and The Merlin Conspiracy are also excellent, but warning: reading Fire & Hemlock and Hexwood is like running a marathon. You have to train and pace yourself, but, and I can’t stress this enough, you will be so proud of yourself when you get to the finish line.