Fantasy books to keep youth in Waterloo region reading all summer

By making our world seem fuller of possibility, alternate realities can turn the mundane into the magical.
Fantasy books can be a great way to fuel the imagination of children and teens and keep them reading all summer long, Mandy Brouse of Words Worth Books in Waterloo says. (Whitney Leggett/Associated Press)
When we think about the fantasy genre, we think about magic and dragons, wizards, trolls and fairies.

But fantasy can also include other realities, such as alternate history or magic realism. Both of these sub-genres use everyday life as their setting, including magical or fantastical elements just short of full-on fantasy.

Adding a touch of magic into our daily reality allows fiction to function with expanded rules for storytelling. It allows a wider scope for experiencing empathy for characters caught in larger than life scenarios, to explore heroism, valour, and courage.

By making our world seem fuller of possibility alternate realities can turn the mundane into the magical. 

It is easy to think of fantasy fiction as being an easy distraction. But you can see in classic children's fiction like Alice in Wonderland, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – and even contemporary classics like Caroline by Neil Gaiman – that alternate worlds open up great possibility for sophisticated storytelling.

The author can explore the question of "what if?" rather than "what is?" because fantasy fiction doesn't have to follow the rules of our daily lives.

Books that attempt to answer this question expand our imagination and encourage empathy in the reader, who wonders, "What would I do in this situation?"

And encouraging a sense of empathy is one of the great reasons to keep your child reading this summer!

Age 5-8

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood is a fairytale re-telling with a futuristic twist! Take an old story, place it in a new, intergalactic world and you're left with a modern story about a millennial girl.

Once upon a time, Cinderella lived on a planetoid amid rockets and robots and mice named Murgatroyd. This lyrical, rhyming text is a perfect read-aloud story and this little mechanic will warm your heart.

When the Prince's rocket ship crashes, Cinderella makes a speedy repair and zooms away, much to the chagrin of the smitten Prince. Luckily, Cinderella has left her socket wrench behind and the Prince searches the land for the girl who can fix his prize ship once again. In a cheeky move, and against typical fairytale rules, when asked for her hand in marriage, Cinderella thinks it over carefully before exclaiming, "I'm far too young for marriage, I'll be your chief mechanic!"

Interstellar Cinderella has more charm than a Disney princess and doesn't need rescuing, thank you very much! 

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler is a charming story about life underneath the surface. 

Even the cover design hints at things beyond what they seem; a little boy looks down into a forest pond, to see the shadowy movement of fish and more fish … and sharks and a squid?

This intrepid little boy and his dog gather their explorer supplies and dive down into its depths. Opening out like the inside of a Tardis, he explores sunken ships, a land with dinosaurs, a place with birds big enough to hitch a ride on, eventually arriving safely back at home.

Beyond the Pond is a simple story but don't miss the message at its heart – there is absolutely no limit to the imagination! You'll never meander past a simple pond again without wondering if it really isn't bottomless.

Ages 9-12

An easy way to convince a kid to read is tell them their book contains a traveling circus on a train. Add a missing person, a fearless tightrope walker, a fast-paced plot and Sasquatches and you've got it in the bag.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel is one of those books you wish will be published every year.

Part Murder on the Orient Express and part Series of Unfortunate Events, Oppel also weaves strong cords of Canadian history into this tale.

Follow Will as he boards The Boundless on its maiden voyage across the continent and learn about Indigenous Canadian history, how the Canadian Pacific Railroad was built, and the dark and magical creatures in Canadian folklore.

But this isn't The Magic School Bus; The Boundless is ensorcelled in Canadiana but avoids becoming a history textbook. This is high caliber adventure where the only thing more suspenseful about being onboard is what happens off the tracks.

The Boundless is a great pick for a family read-aloud or family book club, appealing to both kids and adults alike.

Ages 13-15

You can count on one hand the amount of fantasy novels set in Canadian cities such as Toronto and Hamilton, making reference to well-known landmarks like the CN Tower and the QEW. 

There is something about fantasy that usually wants to fling us to remote locations.

Not so with E. K. Johnston's The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, which is firmly grounded in a small town in Ontario and incorporates major world events into the alternate history of dragons in Canada.

Owen is training as a dragon slayer from a long line of dragon slayers when he meets Siobhan, who becomes his Bard. It's through her darkly comic narration that we get to know the history of dragon slaying and how dragons came to love the taste of fossil fuels.

Siobhan's voice is a testament to the power of storytelling and ultimately how legends and folklore are made. 

Fantasy fiction has always had dragons on the mind but The Story of Owen is a new twist on an old tale – absolutely enveloping.

Ages 16 and up

Much has been written in the dystopian genre, but The Scorpion Rules blows that out of the water.

Forced to live as royal hostages, the children of the world's leaders are summarily executed if their parents declare war on another Nation. Idealized as instituting world peace, this new system has been ushered in by a truly mysterious agent who sends the royal children to a school for future leaders.

The Scorpion Rules is markedly different than any other teen dystopian story in its sophisticated world-building. Intricate political insight and thought has gone into imagining the full consequences of this future "utopian" vision. The result is a seat-of-the-pants adventure with so many twists and turns to count. 

Mandy Brouse, the co-owner of Words Worth Books in Waterloo, is writing a series of columns this summer with book suggestions to keep children and teens reading.


Mandy Brouse, the co-owner of Words Worth Books in Waterloo, is an occasional contributer to CBC KW's The Morning Edition and is writing a series of columns this summer with book suggestions to keep children and teens reading.


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