In the year 2000, the Harry Potter reached its pinnacle. J.K. Rowling released her fourth book in the series, and parents lined up around the block with their kids to snatch it from the shelves at midnight sales. Librarians hail the craze as a stimulus for reading; moms and dads read with their kids and get hooked, too.
To every silver lining, there is a cloud. When kids are done with the series, the funk sets in: "I'm bored." "When's the next Harry Potter coming out?" "There isn't anything more for me to read!" It's hard for parents to see their kids' newfound enojoyment of reading snuffed out by a lack of literary direction.
Fortunately, the end of the Harry Potter line doesn't mean the end of the line altogether. There are a lot of great fantasy book series for kids out there. With these great series, all it should take is a nudge to move 'em on...
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
-- C.S. Lewis
The renowned classics begin with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," in which a troupe of children taking refuge from bombed-out WWII London enter a land where the rules of time and nature are suspended, but morality plays itself out just the same. It doesn't take a genius to notice the heavy-handed Christian symbolism of the books (Aslan is Jesus), but you don't need to be a Christian to enjoy the grand stories (take it from an atheist, folks).
THE DARK IS RISING SERIES
-- Susan Cooper
Start with "The Dark is Rising", in which our young hero Will is initiated as the youngest of a circle of mysterious wizards on the side of the Light in a fight against the Dark. Cooper's series follows Will as he, his wisdom and his power grow (what? someone thought of that before Harry Potter?). Although the dialogue is laced with the occasional English twitticism, the stories' retelling of Celtic mysticism is simply enrapturing. As a child, I read and reread these books until the pages frayed.
THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN
-- Lloyd Alexander
The most famous book of this series is the gripping and somewhat weighty "The Black Cauldron," but to get the story right you've got to go back to the beginning with "The Book of Three", in which the young and anonymous assistant pig keeper Taran gets entangled with a mysterious book. The enjoyment in the series comes not only from the fantastical scenery, but also from watching Taran and his friends mature -- the books are really about learning to grow into your own skin and take your place in the world. Alexander can really spin a tale.
THE WRINKLE IN TIME SERIES
-- Madeline L'Engle
L'Engle's series follows the Murry family (and, later, their own friends and relations), gifted both in science and the surreal. Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, the Twins and their parents surf the known and unknown crannies of the universe on adventures of varying scale. As in all good fantasy, the books deal with common human themes by applying them to extraordinary situations. "A Wrinkle in Time," "A Wind in the Door" and their successors may especially appeal to a child whose gifts or talents leave him or her feeling alone or misunderstood.
THE MIDDLE EARTH SERIES
-- J.R.R. Tolkien
More than any other set of books, the Hobbit series was responsible for the explosion of Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasm in the '70s and '80s. Nobody has been able to match the completeness of mythology, geography and history of Tolkien's Middle Earth. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are classics that many keep on their shelves after they've grown to adulthood. Although the series is often seen as a set of children's stories, the reading can get a bit difficult at times; I recommend this series for the older or precocious child.
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