posted by Gina
Brace yourself, fantasy lovers – for this, the third post-Harry installment, I’m throwing a lot at you. Ready? Fabulous.
We’ve mentioned the majesty that is Jane Yolen before, so perhaps you’ve had a chance to explore the wonder that she has bestowed upon the world. If you haven’t come across Wizard’s Hall, however, now is the time.
Wizard’s Hall has a lot in common with Harry Potter: a boarding school for wizards, details of classes, dorm rooms, and teachers, and a young wizard (with a red-headed friend) trying to make his way. It is, however, very much a different story. Henry enters Wizard’s Hall as the 113th student – the exact number needed to defeat the dreaded Evil Wizard and his Quilting Beast. However, Henry (re-named Thornmallow, for being “prickly on the outside and squishy on the inside”) seems to be nothing but inept. Can he find his way in time to save his school and his friends?
Comparing Wizard’s Hall to Hogwarts is a fun activity, as is the inevitable discussion of what kind of wizarding school you might design if you had the opportunity.
Should all this wizarding and spell-casting make you think longingly of knights and chivalry – or perhaps you’re anxious for more after a dose of Edward Eager – fear not, I bring to you one of my sister’s favorites, The Castle in the Attic.
William’s wonderful housekeeper, Mrs. Philips, gives him an amazing, incredibly realistic model of a castle for his birthday. (And oh – the description. How badly I wanted this castle!) When he discovers Mrs. Philips is planning to leave, William, in desperation, uses the magic of the castle and the silver knight to shrink her to castle-size. Soon regretting his actions, he embarks on a quest to rescue the castle’s kingdom from an evil wizard and return Mrs. Philips to her regular size.
This book is chock full of detail, and will no doubt send both you and your kiddo to the library (or computer) to look more deeply into the architecture, traditions, and fashions described.
Speaking of knights and castles, it’s a logical leap from Harry Potter to King Arthur (isn’t it?). There’s a wealth of round table lit out there, including the aforementioned Jane Yolen’s very very excellent (and impressively girl-positive) Sword of the Rightful King. While you’re there, swing by her Young Merlin Trilogy, maybe stopping on your way at Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Seeing Stone, the first book in his Arthur Trilogy.
If you’re liking the King Arthur route, and have someone in mind who’s a little older/can handle something that takes a wee more effort to get into, may I strongly, strongly recommend the marvelous Dark is Rising series.
Technically, the first book in the series is Over Sea, Under Stone, but, much like the Chronicles of Narnia, it’s best to start with another volume – in this case, that which shares the name of the series. The Dark is Rising tells of young Will, who learns, on his 11th birthday, that he is the last of the Old Ones, and destined, as a force of the Light, to fight the powers of the Dark (sound familiar?). His first task is to find the Seven Signs of the Light, guided by Merriman, the first and greatest of the Old Ones. Merriman is the Dumbledore of this series, although less whimsical – as is the series in its entirety. A great deal of Arthurian mythology weaves its way – wonderfully – into this story, and The Grey King, the fourth in the series, won the Newberry Medal.
I will say, when I tried to read these books at first I wasn’t hooked. I’m not sure what changed – the time, the place, the circumstance – but it has since become one of my absolute favorites. So if your sprout loves the fantasy but can’t quite sink her teeth in here, encourage a re-reading in a couple of years.
Any other fabulous post-Harry Potter recs? Let us know in the comments!