Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Four Children’s Fantasy Novels to Revisit

C.S. Lewis said, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” And to that we say, Right-o, Jack! And since he was so fond of fairy tales (and so are we), here are four children’s fantasy novels that children from one to one hundred will enjoy revisiting.


1. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews (yes, the Julie Andrews). When Lindy, Tom, and Benjamin make friends with Professor Savant on a chance visit to the zoo, he opens their eyes to a lush world of pure imagination—Whangdoodleland. Their journey takes them into the very heart of the vibrant land, where the Prime Minister (the Oily Prock) will stop at nothing to keep them from the king Whangdoodle—the very last of his kind.

Reason to revisit? At the end of their first meeting, Professor’s Savant says to the children, “Have you noticed how nobody ever looks up?....Nobody looks at chimneys, or trees against the sky, or the tops of buildings. Everybody just looks down at the pavement or their shoes. The whole world could pass them by and most people wouldn’t notice.” This is a story of what happens when you look up. 

2. A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L’Engle. When people think L’Engle, they usually think of A Wrinkle in Time, but this book nearly has the Newberry-winner beat. Charles Wallace is back again, but this time the battle he quietly wages is not out into the edges of the universe, but inside his own body. With the help of the singularly plural cherubim named Proginoskes and the Teacher Blajeny, Charles Wallace’s sister, Meg, must find out how to rescue one microscopic creature inside Charles Wallace from the deadly grip of the evil Echthroi. The fate of Charles Wallace—and the whole universe—depends on it.

Reason to revisit? From the brightest stars to the smallest cells, no organism in L’Engle’s cosmology is insignificant. The survival of one means the survival of the others, and all of them deserve a Name. 

3. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. Sophie is the eldest of three—a pretty unlucky fate in the magical land of Ingary. So Sophie is not very surprised when the Witch of the Waste casts a spiteful spell that turns her into an old woman and she ends up the slapdash moving castle of the lecherous Wizard Howl to beg for help. In fact, she’s not even alarmed when she strikes a bargain with a fire demon, or uses a pair of seven-league boots, or embarks on a quest for a missing prince. What startles her most is discovering that being the eldest might be luckier than she thought.

Reason to revisit? Aside from its wit and whimsy and wonderful characters, this is a love story about the truest kind of love, the kind that gives lovers the best of maturity and youth. 

4. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. Milo is bored with everything. And then he finds a tollbooth that leads him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Milo enters the land out of boredom, but he stays to help rescue Rhyme and Reason, the two princesses who were banished when the kingdom began to bicker over whether letters or numbers were more important. On his way, he’ll team up with the Watchdog Tock and the Humbug, and together they’ll face the fearsome demons of the Mountains of Ignorance—like the Senses Taker, who robs them of their senses asking useless questions, and the Terrible Trivium, who wastes their time with trivial jobs.

Reason to revisit? The book’s puns on English idioms are clever enough when you’re twelve, but it’s the demons that older readers will recognize best—those insidious roadblocks in the constant struggle to make meaning from life. And besides, the novel’s a linguistic treat filled with wordplay and metaphors that aid philologists, mathematicians, and philosophers everywhere in their own quests for rhyme and reason. 

What children's books do you always come back to?

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