One Book that Will Introduce Your Kids to 15 Great Fantasy Authors

Neil Gaiman's Unnatural Creatures

I was a voracious reader as a child, but don’t take that to mean I had good taste. I had more Goosebumps than a shaved polar bear, and I read a whole series of videogame-themed Choose Your Own Adventure books. What I really needed was a good librarian to knock some sense into me (“Hey kid, put down that novelization of Gremlins 2: The New Batch and read something worthwhile!”) Luckily, today’s youth has Neil Gaiman, who recently assembled fantastic, fantastical short works by 15 writers into Unnatural Creatures, a collection that works as nothing less than a kids’ primer to some of the greatest writers of fantasy, both classic and contemporary.

Among them are a few authors I would kill to have discovered a few decades ago, including:

Diana Wynne Jones. More than any other writer, I wish Wynne Jones had been on my shelves in elementary school. I picked up reprints of her Chrestomanci series, about a hidden world of wizards just beside our own, in the post–Harry Potter era, when publishers were trolling their backlists for anything and everything they could sell as “the next Harry Potter!”—even if it was published decades prior. Jones, who died in 2011, wrote over 40 children’s books, creating enchanting worlds that kids will just ache to inhabit, filled with characters both lovable and strange. Ten-year-old me would have gobbled them up in a single glorious summer. The story included here, “The Sage of Theare,” features Chrestomanci, one of her most enduring characters.

Peter S. Beagle: Yeah, I saw the slightly creepy animated version of The Last Unicorn (and can still sing all the cheesy songs by America), but who knew that its author had written so many other marvelous books? Though not written specifically for kids, they’re the kind of stories that age along with you, growing wiser and more revelatory with each passing year. The Last Unicorn is a perfect novel, and while I can appreciate its artistry as an adult, it would have consumed me as a child.

Neil Gaiman: Never mind the fact that Gaiman wasn’t writing novels when I was a kid; I’m still pretty sure that Coraline was written specifically for me, age ten. Like all great writers for children, Gaiman never talks down to his audience, and never shields them from terrible things. The Graveyard Book, the first book ever to win both the Newberry Medal and the British Carnegie Medal, is as twisted and haunting a take on Kipling’s The Jungle Book as you’ll ever find, and it’s best when read at 14, roughly the age of the orphaned, ghost-reared protagonist.

That’s just scratching the surface—other featured authors include E. Nesbit, Larry Niven, Samuel R. Delaney, Saki, and Frank R. Stockton, any of whom will open a child’s eyes to new literary wonders.

Who were your favorite fantasy authors as a child?

  • Samantha

    Charles de Lint is an amazing fantasy author.. the stories can be dark, they can be twisting, they are sure to be full of imagination, magic, adventures… he is a masterful world-builder. Moonheart was my first introduction; I’ve quickly read just about everything I possible can of his, and he’s got some books for young folks as well as for older.

  • cassie mccarthy

    Yeah, I read something by each of these authors by the time I was 15. I dedicated my love of reading to each of them. And I will certainly be reading them to my children. And forcing them to watch the slightly creeepy animated version of Last Unicorn.
    But my favorite childhood author was Wendelin Van Draanen who wrote the book Flipped followed closely by Dianne Wynne Jones and her book Dogsbody.

    • http://www.goodreads.com/joeleoj Joel Cunningham

      Dogsbody is a great one, though I admit I barely understood the ending. Apparently it was all about Gaelic myths.

  • KristiPelletierVega

    Oh, I laughed out loud at “I read a whole series of videogame-themed Choose Your Own Adventure books” and “put down that novelization of Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” Makes me think of my collection of Sweet Valley High books. I am intrigued to get this collection and discover some new fiction, maybe it will persuade my 10 year old to read something other than the “Junior Jedi Knights” series.

    • http://www.goodreads.com/joeleoj Joel Cunningham

      I promise you, those are real-life examples!

    • Elizabeth M. Lane

      just as Chad explained I didnt know that some one able to profit $8093 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you read this link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • Amanda

    I cut my teeth at 12 on Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series. I also love Edgar Rice Burroughs “Maritan” series. I was reading “Dune” at 15. I have been seriously hooked on SciFi and Fastasy ever since I gave up reading animal books.

  • DeAnn Rossetti

    Patricia McKillip is without equal in the world of fantasy literature. I also read a ton of Andre Norton, and Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuins’s Wizard of Earthsea series when I was a kid. I also loved Tolkien, Mercedes Lackey, Alan Gardner, Tamora Pierce, Madeline LEngle, Jane Yolen and Anne McCaffrey, among others.

  • Jake Lenburg

    C.S Lewis and J.K Rowling. The latter author was one of the few groups of writers that inspired to become a writer.

  • Adam Cornell

    Great article, Joel! I don’t think I would have read the Last Unicorn or Peter Beagle because of the cheesy movie. Now I’ll pick it up.

    Sorry about the shameless plug, but I came here due to the Neil Gaiman reference. His inspiring commencement speech from 2012 really reached me.

    Plugging away:
    I have three children, and the two oldest, are 10 and 8. I was so very frustrated with the garbage reads out there, that I decided to write my own children’s series for them, starting with The Tesla Connection. I wanted to write books that I would have loved to read when I was 8-10. Now with The Tesla Resistance about to be released, I think I’m getting there.

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-tesla-connection-adam-cornell/1115242745?ean=9780985316549

  • Millie

    I just want to say, as an avid Goosebumps reader as a kid, I am a little annoyed with the start of this review. I feel we’re lucky if today’s kids and teens are reading instead of playing on their iphone 7s. I don’t think it always matters what you read, as long as you’re reading something you love. Reading every Goosebumps book ever shouldn’t be valued any less than reading a collection of stores by popular authors, Spider Man comics or reading the dictionary! If a kid likes to read, encourage that! Of course you want teens to branch out an explore all the awesome authors out there, but I don’t feel that Goosebumps or any other series like that should be discounted as something that’s not ‘worthwhile’ to read. If what you’re reading makes you happy, and you love to read it, that makes it worthwhile in my eyes.

  • Rissa

    I never heard of these authors when I was in elementary school and I was an avid reader (still am) my love for books started in elementary with Mary Downing Hawn Books which were for that age scary and supernatural. ( go figure I still read the same type genres and Lois Lowry Number the stars I loved world war two stories; m.d. Hawn also had one called stepping on the cracks. They both are still in my collection and I am thirty now. If you haven’t read they are must reads especially fro children who are learning about world war two in school!

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