1. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – Tolkien never expected his story about Bilbo Baggins to be such a huge hit, but its instant success inspired the epic sequel ‘The Lord of the Rings’. For younger fans of fantasy writing, this is a great place to start: a quiet, stay-at-home hobbit reluctantly finds himself on a daring expedition to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Dragon. It’s a dense read, but it crackles with wit, imagination and adventure.
  2. Watership Down by Richard Adams – This tale about young rabbits is anything but cuddly. Fiver, Hazel and their companions must leave their warren, but in order to reach the safety of Watership Down, they face immediate dangers – angry former friends, humans and predators – in their quest. A fabulous, poetic and at times heartbreaking read.
  3. The Sword and The Stone by TH White – TH White’s fantasy imagines the boyhood of King Arthur. The prince is tutored by Merlyn to prepare him for royal responsibility. With magic and a few lapses of historical accuracy, the adventures of jousting, falconry and medieval derring-do make for a thrilling epic, much more gritty than the Disney adaptation.
  4. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin – A reckless young wizard attempts a spell beyond his ability and accidentally unleashes an evil shadow-beast. Only he can destroy it and in this, the first of a series of ‘Earthsea Cycle’ novels, he goes on a quest to find it. First published in 1968, it’s been a celebrated influence on fantasy fiction ever since.
  5. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett – When wealthy Sara Crewe is made penniless by her father’s death, she must work as a maid at the boarding school she’s been attending. Through twists and turns her fortune is eventually restored, but her headmistress does all she can to foil Sara’s dreams. An industrial age fairytale.
  6. Holes by Louis Sachar – Sachar’s powerful, the clever novel follows Stanley Yelnats who, through a miscarriage of justice, is sent to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Centre. His daily ‘punishment’ consists of digging holes. Soon, however, Stanley discovers there’s more to this seemingly dull task than first appears.
  7. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – A great storybook for children suffering sticky times with their friends. Harriet aspires to be a writer and has a habit of putting down her brutally honest opinions in a notebook. When her classmates discover this, she is ostracised as a spy. Fitzhugh’s vivid writing makes this 1964 tale wholly enjoyable.
  8. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – This award-winning, uncompromising novel is a valuable read for older children struggling to understand life’s unavoidable trials. Connor’s mum has cancer and life has become almost unbearable – the school is miserable, his relationship with his gran is edgy, and at night a monster invades his thoughts.
  9. Wonder by RJ Palacio – This complex page-turner centres around Auggie, starting school after being home educated all his life. To add to this challenge, Auggie has a severe facial disfigurement that inevitably leads to cruel treatment from many and overprotectiveness from others. A vivid and surprisingly life-affirming read.
  10.  Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – Pirates, treachery and heroism – a perfect storm of adventure for budding novel readers, once they get accustomed to Stevenson’s nineteenth-century expressions. Jim Hawkins finds a map and sets off on the Hispaniola on a dangerous quest with his friends. However, they’re not alone in the search for the booty.
  11. Love that Dog by Sharon Creech – This heart-warming account breaks conventional storybook format, mixing poems with narrative to tell the story of Jack, a schoolboy who’s nursing a sadness that he can’t find the words to share. However, during lessons at school, he realises that poetry could be the perfect channel for his feelings.
  12. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper – This is the second in a series of fantasy thrillers published between 1965 and 1977. The adventures draw on Arthurian legends, and Celtic and Norse mythologies. In this story, 11-year-old Will Stanton discovers he has powers to help The Light’s struggle against The Dark. A breathless yarn.
  13. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – In a community dominated by power and battles, a misfit Viking teenager rescues and befriends an injured dragon. Can the two outsiders unite to be accepted and live happily? Descriptive and flowing, Cowell’s Dragon novels have become deserved hits at the cinema, too.
  14. Cherub: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore – This pacey spy thriller follows the fortunes of undercover agents, all aged between 10 and 17, who work for an organization called Cherub. Muchamore’s taut writing and powerful descriptions make this a haunting and tough contemporary fantasy.
  15. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – After his family is murdered, a toddler wanders into a cemetery where he finds himself adopted and raised by its inhabitants (yes, the dead ones and a guardian who seems to hover between the living world and the afterlife). Darkly magical, Gaiman’s crafted narrative skills make this award-winning book a compelling read.
  16. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner – This fantasy adventure is a 1960s classic in which modern and medieval worlds collide. Colin and Susan encounter a wizard who shows them an underground cave where 140 knights lay in an enchanted sleep. They must help the wizard find the lost, magic Weirdstone that keeps the knights safe.
  17. Lionboy by Zizou Corder – Having accidentally exchanged blood with a leopard cub, Charlie Ashanti can speak ‘cat’. This ability proves invaluable as he befriends a team of lions in his search for his parents, who discovered a cure for asthma and have mysteriously gone missing. This is the first book in a well-crafted, thrilling trilogy.
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