A little bit of old, a little bit of new … these are series so that the reading experience can go on and on. Today’s selections are primarily fantasy with a little bit of science fiction around the edges.
The Invisible Detective series by Justin Richards. They’re very popular in England. The Invisible Detective can solve any crime, his face has never been seen, and he’s really four bright and curious kids who call themselves the Cannoniers. They’re solving crimes in 1930s London. In a parallel storyline, Arthur Drake lives in today’s London. He buys a journal in an antique shop, only to find that the entries are in his own handwriting! The journal turns out to be the casebook of the Invisible Detective. Part mystery, part science fiction, these are terrific for readers aged 10 and older. The first title in the series is Double Life (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), followed by Shadow Beast, then Ghost Soldiers, and more. A tidbit of knowledge: Justin Richards is a creative consultant on BBC’s Doctor Who series.
For older readers, probably 12 and up, Michael Scott’s series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, which begins with The Alchemyst, The Magician, and The Sorceress, all of which are available in paperback or at your local library. Brother and sister Sophie and Josh Newman have summer jobs in San Francisco. Sophie works at a coffee shop and Josh works for Nick and Perry Fleming at The Small Book Shop. It doesn’t take long for those who want The Dark to overtake the world to find Sophie, Josh, Nick, and Perry, and the breathless chase in on. John Dee is the villain of the piece, an immortal, and someone who is able to tempt Josh, creating a fine tension throughout the books. A tidbit of knowledge: Nicolas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, were both alchemists in reality. One can visit their home on the Rue de Montmorency in Paris. They also figure into the Harry Potter books because they are said to have created the Philosopher’s Stone. John Dee also lived. He chose the date for Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation and was one of her spies, signing his messages, “007.” True.
Published in the 1970s, don’t forget Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Based on Welsh mythology and the Mabinogion, the five books in the series begin with a wonderful sense of humor that is maintained throughout, but the stakes are increasingly higher as Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, Fflewddur, the bard, Eilonwy, the strong-minded traveling companion, and Rhun, the somewhat bumbling prince. Just right to begin reading around age 8 or 9, the books intrigue all ages. Forces of great evil and greater good fill these pages. They’re timeless writing from a master. Start with The Book of Three, then The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King, which deservedly won the Newbery Award.
For older readers, ages 15 and up, who wish to know more about The Mabinogion, I recommend Evangeline Walton’s books, Prince of Annwn, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon and The Island of the Mighty. They’ve been gathered into one volume called The Mabinogion Tetralogy.Â Publishers Weekly said, “this series ranks with the best of 20th-century works of fantasy.”
Before The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins wrote a nifty fantasy series which began with Gregory the Overlander. When Gregor’s father disappears, the family falls on very hard times. They don’t know where he’s gone or why. One day, eleven-year-old Gregor sees his baby sister disappearing into a heating grate in their apartment building’s laundry room, so he follows her. Thus begins the great adventure in the Underland, where humans live alongside giant talking spiders, rats, cockroaches, and bats. Before you say “Ewwwww” and decide to pass these by, I liked this series a great deal and I am not a fan of creepy-crawly things. Suzanne Collins also writes for children’s televisionâ€”she writes a novel cinematically.Â A great choice for reluctant readers.
I can’t write a full page of recommendations for fantasy series without including The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, a master of the genre. The series begins with Over Sea, Under Stone, then progresses to the magnificent The Dark is Rising (Newbery Honor), followed by Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree. Filled with characters from Celtic mythology, and ideas of good and evil that have evolved from every culture, this is a tale of the battle of The Light and The Dark, with children on the front lines. Simon, Jane, and Barney figure strongly in books one and three. Will Stanton is the central character in books two and four. All four of the children, together with Bran the Raven Boy, join forces in book five for a magnificent conclusion to the tale. (Please don’t see the movie which is supposedly based on The Dark is Rising. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the book.) This series is powerful and mesmerizing. I highly recommend it as a summertime read-aloud for the whole family.