Book Review · Fantasy

Underrated Children’s Fantasy

Instead of focusing on the classics that everyone probably knows about already (Narnia, Harry Potter etc.) I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite Children’s Fantasy books growing up that are perhaps lesser known! Enjoy!

The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit

This author has several good books I’d try recommending, and was one of the pioneers in the genre of Children’s Fantasy. If you’re going to try one of her books I’d recommend starting with The Enchanted Castle, it’s my favorite and probably has the strongest plot and story out of her books. Like many fantasy series, the story follows the adventures of four childrens (although in this case they’re not all siblings, although three of them are). They find a magic ring that grants wishes, the only problem being they soon find that you need to be careful what you wish for. I love the scrapes the characters get into, but my favorite part of the book is the castle they explore. It’s very atmospheric at parts and at one point the Greek statues all come alive and they have a scene where they are interacting with the legends from famous Greek Myths.

A Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Castle

I technically read this when I started highschool I believe, but I love it so hey! This book is hilarious and is in the same vein as Terry Pratchett. It’s both witty, hilarious, and overall highly entertaining. Interestingly it’s also primarily character driven, not plot driven like many fantasy books, which I particularly loved. Even though it’s a children’s book on some deeper level, the level that matters, the interactions between the characters and how they relate to one another is really realistic. Not the elements of fantasy understand, but how they grow and develop relationships with one another and how those relationships change was surprisingly insightful for a children’s book. Overall if you’re looking for something fast-paced and fun, this is the book for you!

The Knight and the Squire (from the writer of Monty Python!)

I’m a sucker for Monty Python, and this book and it’s subsequent sequels was written by one of the writers of Monty Python! It has that same dry almost dark humor at points. It’s narrated all from the viewpoint of a young boy who is trying to become a squire. His takes on people and funny quips to what happens to him is what really makes this book hilarious. It’s also surprisingly historically accurate, aside from the main character’s obviously unrealistic reactions to his circumstances.

The Squire’s Tale by Gerald Morris

Now this is another hilarious book, again like the other two that’s the main focus. However the entire series is also a retelling of the Arthurian Legends and the Knights of the Roundtable. The difference here is that you don’t have a self-aware snarky narrator. Instead this follows a knight who genuinely believes all people are inherently good, and would never do anything to hurt him. His squire inevitably is left to clean up his messes as they embark on quests and the Knight blindly trusts any and everyone who crosses their path. The other books in the series are equally entertaining, plus again, they are on some level true to the Arthurian Legends.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews

Now you may not know that Julie Andrews also wrote children books, now you do. You’re welcome. Lovely is the word I would use to describe this particular story. It’s the story of three siblings who meet an eccentric professor who teaches them to access a magical world inhabited by a creature called The Whangdoodle. It’s a very lighthearted story and the main theme it explores is belief and how beliefs shape how you approach solving problems and viewing the world. The world building is magical and almost Disney-esque except more thoughtful. She also wrote another book, Mandy, which I encourage you checking out.

The Great and Terrible Quest

This story was my first foray into epic quests, compared to LOTR or Harry Potter it probably seems pretty light in comparison. However at the time when I read it, it seemed epic to me and definitely gave me a taste to read more books about characters taking on impossible challenges against impossible odds. I’d recommend it for younger readers, again it’s a good introduction to the world of epic fantasy in my opinion.

The Medallion by Dawn L. Watkins

This book is like the Great and Terrible Quest, but geared towards an even younger audience. It also reminds me a bit of The Prydain Chronicles.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I actually wouldn’t call Gail Carson Levine underrated, but she’s definitely not as well known as C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling and the likes. Her best book by far is Ella Enchanted, it is its own little masterpiece and work of art and continues to be one of my favorite books of all time. Its both clever and touching and funny and insightful all at the same time. While I love the movie, it’s truly an entirely different story in both the tone and way its told, not to mention the characters and events are significantly changed. If you do nothing else after reading this blog post, please add it to your to-read list if you haven’t already!

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Disclaimer: the other books in this series are pretty terrible I’ve heard. I’ve only read the first two. What I can say is that this first book is atmospheric, mysterious, and perfect all on its own. It tells the story of Miri who is a bit of an outcast in her rural mountain village. A delegation from the Capital comes to pick a princess from their region and its the story of her finding out who she is, making friends, and learning how to create a life for herself after being an outcast.

Tales of Magic Series by Edward Eager

Last but not least! These were some of my favorite books growing up, particularly when I was 8 I believe. Set in the 1920s, each one is a lighthearted adventure that revolves around some sort of magic. Be it a magic turtle, lake, or coin…

My favorite book in this series is Knight’s Castle, because I found it more exciting than the others when I was younger. I haven’t read them in awhile however so it’d be interesting to go back and reread them now. Regardless, they shall always be special to me.

Summary of my four favorites in the series:

  • Half Magic: four siblings find a coin split in half. They discover that they can make a wish…but only half of their wish will be granted, which makes for some interesting scenarios.
  • Magic by the Lake: the same four siblings spend their summer at a lake that has the power to grant wishes, and also is home to a lovable (and sometimes grumpy) talking turtle who acts as their guide.
  • Knight’s Castle: Set after the previous two, this book follows the children of the first four siblings. In this one the character’s have a toy castle that comes to life each night. It’s a blend of Robin Hood, and Ivanhoe and sword fights combined with Alice in Wonderland and the 1920s. A very odd yet fun combination!

Anyways, if you haven’t read them yet give one of them a whirl! I’d definitely recommend these to any fans of Edith Nesbit, or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia.

That’s it!

What are some of your favorite underrate Children’s Fantasy books?

5 thoughts on “Underrated Children’s Fantasy

  1. I’ve read “The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom” several years ago. I remember it being hilarious! I also LOVE Princess Academy. Thank you for these new recommendations!
    An underrated children’s fantasy series that is AMAZING is Septimus Heap by Angie Sage!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Septimus Heap? Wow I looked it up and the artwork looks pretty sweet (not that I judge books by their covers *cough*). I don’t know how I never heard about this series, it looks right up my alley! Thanks for the recommendation!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic post! I loved Ella Enchanted and The Great and Terrible Quest growing up, and I just recently discovered The Hero’s Guide series- it was a lot of fun! I have been meaning to read an E. Nesbit book at some point, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
    I haven’t read any of the other books (and I haven’t heard of half of them) but I will need to check some of them out!
    One of my favorite underrated children’s fantasy books is The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall.

    Liked by 1 person

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