Today I’m condensing reviews of a few new releases into one big blog post to showcase some great fantasy reading options for kids of all ages. I was lost without a book in my hand when I was a kid, so I’m also making this a Thankful Thursday story – thank goodness for kids’ books!
I was an early reader, and an early writer for that matter, with a great passion for escaping into fantasy worlds. May Gibbs’ gumnut baby books are my earliest memory of a ‘favourite’, followed swiftly by Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. By the end of primary school, I was mixing tweeny romances with gothic horrors – both of them fantasies in their own ways. Some people think realism is essential in children’s and young adult fiction in order to provide moral lessons and play around with the Big Issues. I see that point, but I think there’s just as much merit in a good dose of escapism. What’s more, many of our favourite ‘fantasy’ books are, themselves, morality tales in disguise.
Queensland author Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series is a classic heroes and villains tale for readers aged 10+. Full of action, it’s described as ‘Alex Rider joins the X-Men’ – a pretty impressive sales pitch! Like X-Men, this series works around the challenges for ‘normal’ people who discover they have superpowers in a world where this may not always make you popular. Sam Lee’s superpowers emerge when he’s a teenager and lead to him becoming the youngest ever member of his gang of childhood heroes, Vanguard Prime. Bearing a lot of similarities to the X-Men franchise, this series is very much about the hero’s coming of age. Will he be brave enough to fulfil his destiny as a hero once his powers emerge? Issues of acceptance, difference and ‘true’ bravery emerge amidst action packed save-the-world story lines. While this is marketed as a boys’ book series, the girl heroes – with their own twisted personal journeys to power – are every bit as important as the boys. Very much in the comic book superhero tradition, this is a dark series, though no more graphic than PG films and games enjoyed by the same age group, and gives every reader the chance to imagine what it might be like if they woke up one morning with unimaginable powers!
For readers in the 8-10 year age group, depending on reading ability, Dan Abnett’s Dragon Frontier is pretty much summed up in the title – just another traditional fantasy featuring dragons and … cowboys! The Wild West is wilder than ever as home to a fierce, legendary creature who just might hold the key to saving 12 year old hero Jake Polson and his family as they tackle life on the frontier. Abnett is a prolific writer of fantasy and superhero fiction – including comic books, screenplays and novels – but this is his first book for younger readers. Check out the groovy retro YouTube trailer for this book here….
5-8 year olds display a great variation in reading and cognitive abilities. Max and George by Cori Brooke and Sue deGennaro is a wordy sort of picture book with a whole lot of subtext that will be interpreted differently by different kids. Sweet illustrations of little boy Max and his bunny friend George complement a straightforward storyline for younger children, whilst more insightful children may understand this as a gently melancholy tale about making friends. ‘Max only had one friend. Max’s friend was called George. George lived in windows.’ Max is about to start school and he’s feeling ‘jittery’. Luckily Max has a special friend, George, who Max (and only Max) can see when he looks at his reflection. George understands what it’s like to feel jittery and Max is relieved to find that George is in the windows at school, too. Soon, though, Max meets Sam – a boy in his class who likes the same jokes as George. Maybe Max can make friends who don’t live in windows after all? Max and George tackles the insecurities that go with new experiences and that tricky transitional age between the fantasy world of imaginary friends and the ‘real world’ that arrives with the start of school.
Finally, for toddlers and preschoolers, I’m a Dirty Dinosaur by Janeen Brian and Ann James is a jaunty, rhyming, playful exploration of language – and mud! Uncomplicated but evocative illustrations bring to life a dinosaur who may just remind you of the little people in your own house. He’s friendly and cheeky and he loves to get dirty from his tum to his tail. He sniffs and stamps and taps and shakes his way through muddy playtime until he manages to wash, wash, wash in the swamp. The repetitive language is great for reading aloud and engaging young pre-readers; and the simple storyline is easy for them to relate to. The book ends with the freshly washed dinosaur giving a longing look back at the mud pool. Only staying clean for 5 minutes? Sounds just like my house!
Keep in mind, of course, that age recommendations are a guide only – every child is different. Plus, to be honest, I don’t think you’re ever too old for a picture book!
Reading was a critically important part of my childhood. Books helped me figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Special books left a big impression and laid the foundations for a lifetime of being a pretty good student, right through to my university years. Now, with my own kids, I am extremely thankful for the huge range of good books still available for young readers, despite all the doom predictions about the negative impact of technology. Books can fire the imagination, help kids along with life skills and develop their literacy – all in the guise of pure fantasy.
All books mentioned in this blog post are published in Australia by Penguin and I thank them kindly for my review copies.
Please note that Max and George is released on 20th March 2013 and I’m a Dirty Dinosaur on 19th March 2013. Dragon Frontier and the first installments of the Vanguard Prime series are available for purchase now.
I’m also linking up with Leigh at Six by the Bay for Thankful Thursday.