Modern Fantasy

Modern fantasy is a genre of literature that is closely related to traditional literature. The biggest difference is the fact that the books that fall into this genre are not originally told orally. This works are written down by known authors who can be identified, unlike traditional literature where the original author is unknown. While this is the biggest difference, readers of this genre will notice that there are still many similarities between the two. For example, much like traditional literature, modern fantasy sometimes uses talking animals as characters. In addition to this, readers will still encounter magical realms or spells and mythological figures, like gods and goddesses. In essence, modern fantasy borrows from the tales of old, sometimes uses ancient mythologies and folktales to create a new and original tale that may be set in the present or in the past, depending upon the preferences of the author.

Aside from magic, mystical realms, and monsters, this genre is also most remembered because of its "mythological" structures and the monomyth of the hero's journey. As Joseph Campbell pointed out in his Hero with a Thousand Faces, there are often specific archetypes (or symbols/motifs) that arise in this type of literature. In addition to this, the hero in these works of fiction are often called to experience some form of quest where he/she needs to not only reach a goal (or boon), but also develops and learns about him/herself as a character.

The final point to be made about modern fantasy is the role that science fiction plays in the genre. Science fiction is often grouped with fantasy even though it explores scientific concepts in our world versus magical concepts in an imaginary world. To be clear, however, the big difference between the two is that science fiction explores scientific concepts that are in our real or pseudo-scientific based on the technology we have in the world today. It then attempts to illustrate for readers the potential (or potential horrors) of that technology based on the different ways it might be used. 

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon*
Grace Lin
Publisher: Little Brown, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-11427-1
Grades: 3-6
Awards: Newbery Honor Book 2009, Horn Book Award 2010

When Minli sees how hard her mother and father work in their Chinese village at the bottom of Fruitless Mountain, she impulsively purchases a goldfish to bring fortune to her family. Minli soon learns that she must seek out the Man of the Moon in order to ask him how her family can obtain fortune. With her friend dragon, she travels a mythical land meeting several individuals who have discovered happiness in its simplest form. Due to these encounters, she is led to wonder whether Ma, Ba, and she already have all of the fortune they need and that it can be found within each other.

The Graveyard Book*
Neil Gaiman; Illustrated by Dave McKean
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-053092-1
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Newbery Winner 2009 

After his family is murdered by the man Jack, Nobody, or "Bod" wonders into a graveyard. The ghosts who live there take him in and raise him as their own. They become the only family Bod will ever know. As he grows, however, he must struggle with staying safe in the graveyard or going into the world of the living and facing the man Jack, whose sole goal is to kill him. Accompanied by David McKean's vivid black and white illustrations this book will be a great read for anyone who loves fantasy.

The Lost Hero*
Rick Riordan, 2010
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
ISBN: 978-1-42311-339-3
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Horn Book 2011

The Lost Hero is the first book in Rick Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus series, as well as a spin-off of his bestselling Percy Jackson series. In this new adventure, readers follow Jason, Piper, and Leo (three demigods) on a journey to fight the next great war of the gods. They soon discover that the war is more serious than it seems, as the children of the Greek gods are about to battle with the children of the Roman gods and Percy Jackson is no where to be found. Filled with action and humor new readers, lovers of mythology, and the Percy Jackson series will enjoy this novel.

  The Adoration of Jenna Fox*
Mary Pearson
Publisher: Henry Holt, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8050-7668-4
Grades: 8-12
Awards: Horn Book 2008, Kirkus Review Starred 2008, School Library Journal Starred 2008, and others

In the near future biotechnological advances have allowed for the creation of synthetic bodies and brains, though they are technically illegal. After nearly dying in a car crash, Jenna’s scientist father uses the illegal technology to help her. Much of her brain is lost, but her father creates a synthetic one and uploads her high school curriculum to it. As the story unravels, Jenna must discover who she really is. An interesting read in our modern day age of technological advances and genetic miracles.

The Underneath*
Kathi Appelt, Illustrated by David Small
Publisher: Atheneum, , 2008
ISBN: 978-1-41695-058-5
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Newbery Medal Honor 2009, Horn Book 2008

A blood hound helps to protect two newborn kittens from their evil owner, Gar Face. When one of the kittens, Puck, ventures out into the wild and leaves the comfort and safety of the "underneath," readers are shown how mighty a thing like love can be. While illustrations in this work might entice young readers, readers may become confused with the novel's complex plot and need help with understanding it.

No Passengers Beyond this Point
Gennifer Choldenko
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3534-7
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Horn Book 2011, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 2011, Publisher’s Weekly 2010

Finn and his two sisters are told that their mother has lost their house and that they will be moving to Colorado to live with an uncle. When their airplane touches ground they discover that they are in a strange land and they are greeted by cheering crowds. Each is given a dream house with a clock that is ticking down the time. What ensues is a fast-paced and mind boggling adventure.

Alan Armstrong, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Publisher: Random House, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-375-92864-2
Grades: 3-6
Awards: Newbery Medal Honor 2006, Horn Book Starred 2006, Kirkus Review Starred 2005

A cat named Whittington seeks to be a part of a community of outcast animals who live in Bernie's old barn. Once he is accepted, Whittington entertains the other animals daily with the tale of his ancestor cat, owned by Dick Whittington. Within this tale the animals learn how Dick Whittington rose from nothing to become a prominent British merchant and adventurer. An excellent selection for young readers who love animals in fantasy fiction and for those who would like a little history interspersed with what they read.

Troll Blood
Katherine Langrish
Publisher: EOS, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-111674-2
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Horn Book 2008, Kirkus Review 2008

The third and final installment in a Nordic fantasy adventure. Peer and Hilde are placed aboard a Nordic ship with a haunted captain. Eventually they are set on an adventure where Peer must free Hilde from the Vikings and protect her from future confrontations. Langrish draws heavily on Norse and Native American mythology, making this a must read for those who enjoy adventure and other forms of mythology, like that of the Greeks and Romans.

Rapunzel's Revenge
Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59990-070-4
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Horn Book Starred 2008, School Library Journal Starred 2008

Rapunzel is locked in a tall hollow tree for climbing a castle wall and seeing the ruins that lie beyond her home. She soon discovers that the woman she believed to be her mother is a witch and she vows to bring down her mother's cruel empire. With the help of Jack, she sets out on an adventure to do just that. Reader's who enjoyed the original Rapunzel will delight at the modernized version of the tale in graphic novel form.

The Navigator
Eoin McNamee
Publisher: Yearling, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-385-73554-4
Grades: 3-6
Awards: Kirkus Review Starred 2007, Horn Book 2007, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2007

When Owen's father dies suddenly and his mother sinks into a deep depression, he accidentally catapults into a time vortex where he meets Cati and her boy friend Wakeful. They then enter into an eternal task to fight the Harsh, a powerful ice people who upend time, running it backwards so that humans no longer exist. While some readers may struggle with inconsistencies in the turning back of time, this is still a selection that many young readers will enjoy.

Charlie Fletcher
Publisher: Hyperion, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-42310-176-5
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Horn Book 2007, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2007

The first book in the Stonheart Trilogy. When George gets in trouble at the Natural History Museum in London, he becomes angered and breaks the head off of a dragon carved on the museum's wall. He soon learns from Gunner, a walking, talking statue, that he has entered into another layer of reality. His entrance into this realm has sparked a new war between good spirits and evil taints. With the companionship of a girl named Edie, George sets out on an adventure that is almost terrifying. Readers will be entertained by the original plot, scary creatures, and the novel's chase scenes.

The Book of Time
Guillaume Prevost, Translated by William Rodarmor
Publisher: A.A. Levine Books, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-439-88375-7
Grades: 5-8
Awards: Horn Book Starred 2008, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2007

Sam's father has been missing for 10 days. After searching an old bookstore for clues, he discovers a hidden room with treasures that send him back in time. Sam is then taken on a journey where he travels to Medieval Ireland, Ancient Egypt, and Renaissance Bruges to find his father. The cover of this book will entice readers and the fast-paced story will keep them hooked throughout.

The Scarecrow and His Servant
Phillip Pullman, Illustrated by Peter Bailey
Publisher: Yearling, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-440-42130-6
Grades: 3-6
Awards: Horn Book Starred 2006, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2005

In this tale, a scarecrow and convinces Jack to be his servant and the two set out on an adventure to claim stakes to Spring Valley. In the process, scarecrow's egocentric attitude winds up getting the two into trouble and some pretty humorous situations. Along with the pencil and pen black and white illustrations, young readers will enjoy the escapades of this fantastic duo.

Frank Cottrell Boyce
Publisher: Walden Pond Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-183683-1
Grades: 5-8
Awards/Reviews: Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011, Horn Book 2010, Kirkus Review Starred 2010

Liam is very tall for his age and is often mistaken for an adult. Irritated, he decides to volunteer himself to take a group of kids into space for the first moon mission since Apollo 17. However, what he discovers is that there are no adults. He and the other children must work together in order to save themselves and return safely to Earth.