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?