It’s going to be very obvious on this blog that I’m a big fan of reading aloud to kids–and that I don’t think reading aloud should stop when kids learn to read! David and I take turns reading chapter books to our older kids and we’ve found it’s a wonderful way to spend time together. Since we usually read right before bedtime, it also helps our kids unwind and get ready for sleep.
We enjoy reading a lot of different genres to our kids, and fantasy is one of our favorites. I love the way fantasy novels can stretch kids’ imaginations. Also, in the words of C. S. Lewis:
“Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
I hope the fantasies we read will help inspire my kids to be strong and courageous when they’re inevitably faced with life’s challenges.
So here are some of our family’s favorite fantasy read alouds as well as a quick list of the books on our to-read list. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments!
For my master list of book lists, click/tap here.
[Note: Personally, with some occasional editing, I’m comfortable reading the books on this list to kids ages 5 and up. Other parents may feel differently.]
Favorite Fantasy Read Alouds
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Our family loves this five-book series so much that in the four years we’ve been reading chapter books aloud, we’ve read through it twice! Inspired by Welsh mythology, it tells the story of Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper, who bravely joins the fight again Arawn the Death Lord. This high fantasy series (which can get pretty intense) won a Newbery Honor (#2-The Black Cauldron) as well as a Newbery Medal (#5-The High King).
Want to know more about why the The Chronicles of Prydain is so awesome? Check out this article from Vox: The Chronicles of Prydain, which just got bought by Disney, is the greatest fantasy series ever written.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan is a silverback gorilla who has lived in a shopping mall menagerie for 27 years. He paints, watches TV, spends time with his friends Bob (a mouse) and Stella (an elephant), and tries not to remember his past. But when a baby elephant named Ruby arrives, Ivan is moved to take action in order to give Ruby a better life. Uniquely told by Ivan himself, this Newbery Award-winning book is an incredibly compelling story of friendship, hope, and creativity. It’s also inspired by a true story!
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. We’re actually just about to start this classic story, which inspired the popular 2014 movie. After leaving his home in (darkest) Peru, kind and marmalade-loving Paddington travels to London, where he’s adopted by the Brown family. As Paddington adjusts to life in England, he falls into a series of humorous misadventures–starting with his first visit to a bathroom. This is the just the first book in a whole series about the lovable, if accident-prone, bear.
The BFG by Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl is always a great choice for reading to kids, and The BFG is one of his best. Sophie appears to be in grave danger when she’s snatched from her orphanage by a giant, but she soon learns that her giant is actually a Big Friendly Giant, and the pair becomes fast friends. When Sophie learn that the not-friendly giants are headed to England to eat kids, she convinces the BFG to help her save the day. Like all Dahl’s books, The BFG is incredibly imaginative, from the whizzpopper-inducing frobscottle drink to the descriptions of the dreams the BFG catches.
Matilda by Roald Dahl. Another winner from Roald Dahl, Matilda tells the fantastical story of a girl who doesn’t fit in with her obnoxious family. When Matilda is sent to boarding school, she encounters a truly horrible headmistress and a wonderfully kind teacher. She also discovers magical powers that help her make a better life for herself. For more Roald Dahl, try Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. When I began reading this classic to my kids, I thought they might not like it. The writing style is relatively complex for a children’s book and the vocabulary can be challenging. But it turned out they were captivated by the story, from the coziness of Rat’s riverside home to the craziness of Toad’s many misadventures. The climax, when the animal friends retake Toad’s home from a gang of weasels, was also a big hit. We read the edition illustrated by Robert Ingpen (shown above) and I think Ingpen’s wonderful artwork significantly increased my boys’ enjoyment of the story.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. The Pevensey children step through a wardrobe to discover the magical world of Narnia, which has fallen under the control of the wicked White Witch. Though Edmund Pevensey collaborates with the White Witch, the other siblings join the fight against her–though ultimately it is the powerful lion Aslan who sacrifices himself to save both Edmund and Narnia. This magical story, the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia, has heavy Christian overtones, but it can also be enjoyed as a completely secular tale.
Where the Mountains Meet the Moon by Grace Lin. Minli lives with her Ba and Ma in a ramshackle house at the foot of Fruitless Mountain. Motivated by her Ba’s stories about the Old Man of the Mountain, who can answer any question, Minli sets off on a quest to find him and learn how to change her family’s fortune. Along the way, she befriends a dragon and meets of variety of intriguing characters, most of whom have stories to share. We’re just wrapping up this lovely book, which was inspired by Chinese folklore, and it’s been a big success.
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Fablehaven is a hidden refuge where magical creatures like trolls, fairies, and witches are protected from the world–and vice versa. Kendra and Seth learn the truth about Fablehaven when they visit their grandparents, Fablehaven’s secret caretakers, but when Seth breaks an important rule it’s up to the siblings to make things right before disaster strikes (courtesy of a demon). Owen managed to read this one on his own before we got to it as a family, but I’ve heard excellent reviews from other families who have read it aloud.
Spirit Animals: Wild Born by Brandon Mull. After Owen read this seven-book series on his own, we read the first book aloud to him and Sam. Four kids discover they’re linked to a spirit animal, which brings great power to both them and their animals. They begin training with their animals, but it’s not long before they join the fight against the evil Devourer. The books in this popular series are written by a variety of prominent authors, from Brandon Mull (author of Fablehaven, above) to Tui T. Sutherland, author of the Wings of Fire series (which Owen also loves).
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. It’s tempting to simply retire the Harry Potter series from this list because it’s so obvious–but what fantasy compilation could be complete without it? In the series opener, orphaned Harry discovers he’s a wizard and heads to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for training. Reading this series with kids can be tricky because the later books in the series are longer, more complex, and more mature. I’ve talked to many parents and some have read the entire series to their young children (ages 5-8) while others plan only to read the first three or so until their kids are older.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. People often don’t realize that The Hobbit is a children’s book–and it certainly doesn’t help that Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation was rated PG-13! My husband read this classic story to Owen when he was still quite young and Owen loved it. Bilbo Baggins, a home-loving hobbit, joins the wizard Gandalf and a group of dwarves on their quest to retrieve the dwarves’ treasure from the dragon Smaug. After experiencing many great adventures, Bilbo returns home…bringing a certain extremely dangerous ring with him.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Charlotte’s Web was the first chapter book we read to Owen (he was four) and this story of true friendship among barnyard animals was a great first choice. Wilbur the pig is rescued from slaughter by a kind girl named Fern, but it turns out his stay may only be temporary. It’s up to his new friend, an ingenious spider named Charlotte, to let the world know how invaluable Wilbur really is.
Our To-Read List
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Half-Magic by Edward Eager.
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George.
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald.
The Borrowers by Mary Norton.
A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.
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