| By Jennifer Stock |
A young boy draws a sword from a stone and becomes king. A girl tumbles down a rabbit hole to a land of wonder. A hobbit begins a quest to destroy an artifact of evil. A baby is attacked by a dark magician and lives.
Each of these fantasy stories have become classics, and film and stage adaptations attest to their enduring popularity among all ages. But many people first discovered these stories as children or young adults, and fantasy continues to be a beloved genre for young readers.
There are several reasons for the appeal of the fantasy genre to children and young adults. Speculative fiction nourishes its readers’ imaginations and promotes creative thinking. Young readers who grow up believing that anything is possible just might invent world-changing technology or develop cures to disease. As children’s author Cornelia Funke wrote in the Guardian, “We won’t try to change this world unless we are able to imagine another reality. One could say all change starts with fantasy.”
Fantasy, perhaps more so than other genres, offers an escape, a brief break from everyday life. All the better when those stories provide young readers with tools for dealing with strong emotions, facing fears, and coping with the challenges of growing up. Harry Potter, for example, grieves for his murdered parents and faces frightening situations, but also deals with the trials of adolescence.
Fantasy may be escapist, but at the same time, it does not shy away from darkness. However, fantasy offers a safe space for young readers to face that darkness, and depicts strong characters who can overcome it. For example, in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, winner of the 2003 Hugo Award, a young girl discovers a doorway to a world that, at first blush, seems like a better version of her own world. Here, her “other” mother and father are not distracted by their work and pay more attention to her. But Coraline soon discovers the Other Mother is dangerous, and her family is threatened. Using her wits and determination, Coraline must find a way to defeat the Other Mother.
Finally, fantasy books are fun. Students who find reading boring are more likely to be drawn into tales of magic and adventure. Furthermore, the more engaged students are in the book, the better their reading comprehension.
Gale’s Something about the Author series is a great resource for information on children’s and YA authors across many genres, including fantasy. For example, Volume 327, the most recent volume, features several top fantasy authors:
- Kelley Armstrong, author of paranormal YA novels featuring demons, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and witches
- Kevin Crossley-Holland, known for his translations and retellings of myths, legends, and folktales of the Anglo-Saxon tradition
- Neil Gaiman, whose fantasy works for middle graders includes Coraline, Odd and the Frost Giants, and the Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book
- Claudia Gray, author of the “Evernight Academy” YA series, featuring a Gothic boarding school and vampires
- Frances Hardinge, whose darkly fanciful tales include Fly by Night, A Face Like Glass, and The Lie Tree
- Gail Carson Levine, best known for her unique take on fairy tales, including Ella Enchanted
- Jane Yolen, author of hundreds of books for children, young adults, and teens, who has been dubbed “the American Hans Christian Andersen”