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Advanced Pre-Teen Reads #7: Fantasy

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Library Li talks Fantasy Books for Advanced Pre-Teen Readers (APTRs)

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts focussed on Advanced Pre-Teen Readers (APTRs). Find the first one here.

When I was eight, I was introduced to Harry Potter. My school librarian had two copies of The Philosopher's Stone, and two copies of The Chamber of Secrets. I was lucky enough to get the first book, and I was hooked. For the next five releases, I was in that line on release day! I would pay my money, and then basically do nothing but read Harry Potter until the new book was finished. My love of fantasy didn’t fade, and even these days I grab new books as soon as I can.

I’m going to talk about a few books today, mostly series, but I don’t want to only talk about the most popular. So there won’t be any Harry Potter (Junior fiction ROW), Narnia (Junior fiction LEW), Artemis Fowl (Junior fiction COL), Eragon (YA fiction PAO), or The Golden Compass (YA fiction PUL). That’s not to say that those books aren’t amazing (because they are!), or that you shouldn’t read them (because you should!), but there are some really great fantasy books out there that just don’t get the same airtime. So, let’s get into it!

 Note: there are some awesome NZ fantasy books that aren’t mentioned here, but you can read about them on the next blog post: Library Li talks New Zealand books for APTRs

 Let’s start with one from across the ditch:

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend (Junior fiction TOW, first in the Nevermoor series).

 I was introduced to this book by a colleague who “doesn’t read fantasy”, but said that they had read it and loved it. I loved it too. It was so good I went and bought myself a copy.

From the publisher: A cursed child destined to die on her eleventh birthday is rescued and whisked away to a secret realm called Nevermoor and given the chance to compete for a place in a prestigious organization called the Wundrous Society

I didn’t know what to expect with this story, especially with the way it begins. I was wondering if it was going to go down the track of A Series of Unfortunate Events (Junior fiction SNI) and never be happy, but it didn’t. Nevermoor is an amazingly full and well developed world, and I loved the hotel. The characters who live in the hotel are so perfect, and the story speeds along. There’s a great thread of friendship throughout, and not only between the kids. The adult representation (even if it's not all human) is sweet and positive and uplifting, which is great for an adventure-filled children’s book. The main character is eleven and a girl, but readers of all ages and all genders would enjoy the “wundrousness” of the story.

Next up we have Magyk, by Angie Sage (Junior fiction SAG, first in the Septimus Heap series).

 Here’s the blurb: The 7th son of the 7th son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son, Septimus?

What makes this book are the characters, and the way the story is told. You know in movies, how the camera will be focusing on someone, and then their scene ends, and the camera follows someone else? Angie Sage manages to do this with words. I wish I knew how!

We start our journey with the Heap Family - okay, yes, they are a little like the Weasleys, but that makes us love them all the more! All but one of the Heap children have bright green eyes - the mark of magic. Jenna, the youngest (and only girl) of the family, has violet eyes, but they love her just the same. There’s something Darke lurking in the area, and our heroes (Jenna, head wizard Madame Marcia, Alther (Marcia’s mentor, now a ghost), and a rat trained to deliver messages) have to race against time to stop the fall of the Wizard’s Tower. It’s full of adventure, ghosts, bad wizards, good wizards, and later in the series, the most ridiculous sandwiches. There are seven books in the series, and while they look chunky, they aren’t really; the books themselves are just an odd shape.

Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce (YA fiction PIE)

 These are a quick read with a great plot of friendship, and wonderful adult representation. Our four heroes each get their own book, and their own specific adult teacher.

In a world where magic is real, Tris has always been looked down on by her family, having no magic. Sandry, a recent orphan, is fascinated by the things a noble girl shouldn’t be: weaving, spinning, and mending. Daja, a Trader girl who was orphaned by the sea, is now considered an outcast by her people, someone cursed with bad luck for surviving the tragedy that took her family. And Briar, who has been living on the streets since he was a child, is faced with two options: go with the moneybags who offers to buy him or go to the docks, a place none return from. They end up at Winding Circle, a temple city, living in a house called Discipline.

Together, the four teens learn about their unique magics, and how to live with people you initially can’t stand. Their mentors treat them as equals, and the bond that forms between the teens is almost family. There’s no sex, drugs, cursing, or romance. There are some relatively graphic descriptions of death and plagues and bombs, and a serious earthquake. There are four books in the main series, then a secondary series, and a few more spin-off type books as the main characters age.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (YA fiction STR, first in the Lockwood & Co series)

 This series takes a step into the dark - we moved it from our junior collection up to the teen area, after some parents told us their ten year olds were having nightmares. Even I don’t read this at night!

Set in an alternative present (we never get a date, but they have cars and dishwashers), the dead don’t stay dead. I’m not talking zombies, I’m talking some seriously freaky ghosts. They rise up and haunt the living… and try to kill them. If you get touched by a ghost, you just might die. Another problem? Adults can’t see the ghosts, but they can be haunted by them. So young people are in charge of finding the ghosts, finding what is tying them to the world, and destroying that item. Our heroes are a ragtag bunch, looked down on by the big spirit-hunting teams, but somehow they keep finding their way into major situations. Lockwood and Co. are hilarious, the books race along, and I was truly sad when I ran out of books! Would love to see this made into a TV show, but only if they did it right! There are some pretty gruesome descriptions of dead and injured bodies and ghosts, and the ghosts are very much vindictive. If your kid loves that stuff, set them loose.

I can talk about fantasy until the griffins come home, so if you want more recommendations, hit me up in the library (I’m usually the one with the pink hair). I’m always willing to talk about it!

Come back for more

This series of blogs covers a selection of books from the children’s, YA, and even adult collections that are suitable for advanced young readers.

Look out for other APTR blog posts on:

If your APTR has read something great, let us know so that we can let other parents know! Email us or leave a note with staff at any of our libraries, letting them know to pass it on to Li and Emma. 

17 December 2021

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