Field Guides to Fantastical Worlds

by Anne Davies

Upper elementary school through middle school

Is there more to life than just being a Muggle? Might any one of us wake up one day to find a letter addressed to us arriving by owl post? Might we find a book outlining the rules that guide the faerie world, a tome that teaches hypnotic powers,a photograph that allows us to hear voices, or a laundry-room grate that leads to another world? It’s an inviting idea––that there’s more to this world than meets the eye, that we may not be as ordinary as we sometimes feel, that we may even have special powers and a vital mission to fulfill.

The success of the Harry Potter series in the last few years has meant that publishers are especially eager to

publish and children are especially eager to read stories that feature young protagonists who discover they have extraordinary powers, or who happen upon books full of magical knowledge and ways into other worlds. While

any of the books below would work well in a fantasy unit at school, they’re also wonderful out-of-school reading:

most are page-turners with lots of action and, in many cases, a good helping of humor. Quite a few belong to series, and though many are imported from and set in the United Kingdom, there are also books set in New York, San Francisco, and India.


Black, Holly, and Tony DiTerlizzi.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide. 2003. 128p. Simon & Schuster, $9.95 (0-689-85936-8).

Gr. 3–5. In this first book in the Spiderwick Chronicles series, Mallory, Simon, and Jared Grace arrive with their newly divorced mother at their great-aunt Lucinda’s Victorian house and there discover a boggart named Thimbletack and a hidden library filled with esoteric books, including great-great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World around You. As Jared struggles to control the anger that sometimes sweeps over him since his parents’ divorce, the Grace children are drawn deeper and deeper into the world described by their great-great uncle. Although quite short in comparison to many fantasies, this book and the four that follow it are very satisfying.

Bode, N. E.
The Anybodies. Illus. by Peter Ferguson. 2004. 288p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-055735-4).

Gr. 4–7. As a toddler Fern shook real crickets out of a picture book and caught snowflakes that read, “Things aren’t what they seem, are they?” She isn’t a bit like her parents, the exceptionally ordinary Drudgers. That makes sense once she learns she’s a changeling with a down-on-his-luck hypnotist father and a mother who died and left a book in code, The Art of Being Anybody, which her father and his archenemy are both after. There are quite a few mysteries to solve––and hearts to mend––but Fern is just the heroine to navigate it all in this warm, wise story.

Brennan, Herbie.
Faerie Wars. 2003. 368p. Bloomsbury, $17.95 (1-58234-810-3).

Gr. 7–9. Henry Atherton’s world has been turned upside down: his parents are splitting up, and, as if that weren’t enough, while cleaning out a shed he discovers a tiny faerie. The faerie, who turns out to be a prince, needs Henry’s help to return home and untangle a web of intrigue that involves a civil war in the Faerie Realm and the murder of the prince’s father. The book’s length and complexity, as well as the cruelty of the faerie world villains, make this a novel more appropriate for middle-school readers.

Byng, Georgia.
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism. 2003. 384p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-06-051406-X); HarperTrophy, paper, $6.99 (0-06-051409-4).

Gr. 4–7. When 10-year-old Molly Moon happens upon a rare copy of a how-to book on hypnotism, her drab orphanage life is over. No longer a powerless and unwanted child at the mercy of petty tyrants, she’s instead an adored star in complete control of her Broadway audiences. The only problem is the power-hungry criminal after both Molly and her book. In
Molly Moon Stops the World (HarperCollins, 2003), Molly faces even more evil, avaricious criminals (in L.A. this time).

Colfer, Eoin.
Artemis Fowl. 2001. 280p. Hyperion/Miramax, $16.95 0-7868-0801-2); paper, $7.99 (0-7868-1707-0).

Gr. 4–8. Many people think of goblins, trolls, and fairies as creatures of the past. Lieutenant Foaly, the brilliant, paranoid centaur in charge of technology for the Lower Elements Police, would be deeply offended. Foaly can and does run circles around humans––at least he does until the boy genius Artemis Fowl arrives n the scene. Colfer’s series opens with Artemis tracking down a book outlining fairy rules in order to win some of their gold. In
Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (Hyperion, 2002) and
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (Hyperion, 2003) the action-oriented adventures continue with Foaly’s James Bond–worthy gadgetry and humor that appeals to young and not-so-young readers. Also see
The Artemis Fowl Files (Hyperion, 2004), a guide to the series, with interviews, puzzles, a map, and more.

Collins, Suzanne.
Gregor the Overlander. 2003. 320p. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-43536-6).

Gr. 4–8. This story of an ancient prophecy, a quest, and alliances made and broken starts with a two-year-old and her brother playing in the laundry room of their New York City apartment. Eleven-year-old Gregor, who comes to be known as Gregor the Overlander after he falls with his sister through a grate that leads to the dark and dangerous Underland, doesn’t set out to be a hero. But in an alien world of oversized cockroaches, vicious rats, and enigmatic humans––and with his sister’s life, his own, and even his father’s life at stake––Gregor has little choice but to try to fill that role. Also see the sequel,
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Scholastic, 2004).

Crilley, Mark.
Billy Clikk: Creatch Battler. 2004. 240p. Delacorte, $10.95 (0-385-73111-6).

Gr. 3–5. The fantastical world here isn’t a world of magicians or faeries— it’s a world of skark-weevils, narmfs, and orfs. To begin with, Billy doesn’t know any more about this than we do. But when he spots his parents in a parade on a foreign-language cable station, he discovers they’re agents of the Allied Forces for the Management of Extraterritorial Creatures––and they’ve been battling rogue creatches, none of whom are too friendly. As much science fiction as fantasy, Billy’s story will appeal to readers in search of an adventure, humor, and a hero with a


Dale, Anna.
Whispering to Witches. 2004. 304p. Bloomsbury, $16.95 (1-58234-890-1).

Gr. 4–7. On his way to Canterbury to spend the Christmas holidays with his mother and stepfather, Joe Binks becomes entangled with Twiggy, a novice member of the Dead-nettle coven of witches, and learns that the original copy of Mabel’s Book (of potions and spells) has been stolen from the National Museum of Witchcraft. Their task is to recover it before an evil witch manages to cast a diabolical spell. Set in an English countryside where magic coexists with reality, the tightly plotted story has enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes.

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee.
The Conch Bearer. 2003. 272p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.95 (0-7613-1935-2).

Gr. 5–8. The crowded streets of Kolkata, India, and the soaring Himalayas are the compelling backdrop for this classic quest tale. Twelve-year-old Anand is already a quiet hero as the story opens, working hard at a tea stall to help support his mother and troubled sister. When a mysterious old man comes to the stall, Anand must decide whether to leave his family to help the Brotherhood of Healers by returning a precious and powerful conch shell to the Brotherhood’s Silver Valley. The journey and the tale that result are not to be missed.

Gliori, Debi.
Pure Dead Magic. 2001. 208p. Yearling, paper, $4.99 (0-440-41849-6).

Gr. 4–7. Despite the Dramatis Personae at the beginning of each book in Gliori’s Pure Dead series, it can be hard to keep track of The Family (three children, two parents, and one cryogenically preserved ancestor), The Good Help That Was Hard to Find (including a newly hired nanny with magical powers), The Beasts, and others in these madcap

stories, which include
Pure Dead Wicked (Knopf, 2002) and
Pure Dead Brilliant (Knopf, 2003). Here you’ll find greedy villains, sibling rivalries (some dangerous, some not), parental tiffs and reconciliations, bathroom humor, and an unusual family that will win your heart in the end.

Nimmo, Jenny.
Midnight for Charlie Bone. 2003. 416p. Orchard, $9.95 (0-439-47429-9).

Gr. 4–7. For a long time it seemed as though Charlie was quite ordinary. But when he hears arguing voices inside a photograph, it’s clear he is endowed. His grandmother packs him off to Bloor’s Academy, a school for artistically gifted and magically endowed children. Bloor’s is the last place Charlie wants to be, but he quickly sees that his abilities bring responsibility. There are obvious parallels with Harry Potter, but the differences, including Charlie’s

ambivalence about magic and his friendships with unendowed children, add to the interest of this novel as well as
Charlie Bone and the Time Twister (Orchard, 2003) and
Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy (Orchard, 2004).

Prue, Sally.
Cold Tom. 2003. 192p. Scholastic, $15.95 (0-439-48268-2); paper, $5.99 (0-439-48269-0).

Gr. 4–8. Most of the novels included here explore what happens when characters find their way into a magical world. This fast-moving, thought-provoking story turns things around and asks what would happen if a magical boy were forced to leave his world and come into our own. Cold Tom’s life is in constant danger, from those he has left behind

and perhaps from the inhabitants of our own world as well. Who can be trusted, and where can safety be found for someone who is a little different?

Yep, Laurence.
The Tiger’s Apprentice. 2003. 192p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-001013-4).

Gr. 4–7. In this first book in a planned series, seventh-grader Tom Lee lives in San Francisco with his unusual grandmother, the guardian of a magical phoenix egg. When she is killed, Tom finds himself—along with a shape-changing tiger, an ostracized dragon, a rat, and the famous Chinese hero Monkey—fighting to protect the egg.


• Drake, Dr. Ernest. Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons. Illus. by Wayne Anderson and others. 2003. 32p. Candlewick, $18.99 (0-7636-2329-6).

Gr. 4–7. In more than one fantasy novel a nonfiction book is at the center of the story: there’s Uncle Arthur’s field guide in The Spiderwick Chronicles, the fairies’ book of rules in Artemis Fowl, and Molly Moon’s discovery of Dr.

Logan’s book on hypnotism. Fans of these novels will no doubt be happy to get their hands on a copy of Dragonology. This thoroughly engaging book, which purports to be a facsimile of an 1895 limited-edition tome on the little-known natural science of dragonology, offers readers maps, classifications, common and scientific names,

explanations of dragon biology and physiology, useful spells and charms, a detailed list of the requirements of a

dragonological laboratory, and more.

Audio Connections

Many of the books in this bibliography are also available in an audio edition. See below for more information.

• Black, Holly, and Tony DiTerlizzi.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: Books 1 and 2. Read by Mark Hamill. 2003. Listening

Library. 2 cassettes (2 hrs.), $23 (0-8072-1651-8); 2 CDs,$24 (1-4000-8619-1).

• Black, Holly, and Tony DiTerlizzi.
The Spiderwick Chronices: Books 3 and 4. Read by Mark Hamill. 2004. Listening

Library. 2 cassettes (2 hrs.), $23 (0-8072-2311-5).

• Black, Holly, and Tony DiTerlizzi.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book 5. Read by Mark Hamill. 2004. Listening Library. 1 cassette (1½hrs.), $15 (1-4000-9061-X).

• Byng, Georgia.
Molly Moon Stops the World. Read by Kate Burton. 2004. HarperAudio. 6 cassettes (9 hrs.),

$34.95 (0-06-059760-7).

• Byng, Georgia.
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism. Read by Kate Burton. 2003. HarperAudio. 6 cassettes

(9 hrs.), $34.95 (0-06-054273-X).

• Colfer, Eoin.
Artemis Fowl. Read by Nathaniel Parker. 2004. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (6 hrs.), $32 (0-8072-

0890-6); 5 CDs, $40 (1-4000-8591-8).

• Colfer, Eoin.
Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident. Read by Nathaniel Parker. 2004. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (6

hrs.), $32 (0-8072-0893-0); 5 CDs, $40 (1-4000-8593-4).

• Colfer, Eoin.
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code. Read by Nathaniel Parker. 2004. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (7

hrs.), $32 (1-4000-8595-0); 6 CDs, $45 (1-4000-8597-7).

• Dale, Anna.
Whispering to Witches. Read by John Curless. 2004. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (6¼ hrs.), $35


• Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee.
The Conch Bearer. Read by Alan Cumming. 2003. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (6½

hrs.), $32 (0-8072-1960-6).

• Nimmo, Jenny.
Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy. Read by Simon Russell Beale. 2004. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (6¾ hrs.), $32 (0-8072-2364-6).

• Nimmo, Jenny.
Charlie Bone and the Time Twister. Read by Simon Russell Beale. 2003. Listening Library. 4 cassettes (6¾ hrs.), $32 (0-8072-1899-5).

• Nimmo, Jenny.
Midnight for Charlie Bone. Read by Simon Russell Beale. 2003. Listening Library. 5 cassettes (7¼ hrs.), $36 (0-8072-1663-1); 7 CDs, $50 (1-4000-8614-0).

• Prue, Sally.
Cold Tom. Read by Paul McGann. 2003. BBC Audiobooks/Chivers North America. 3 cassettes (3½ hrs.),

$24.95 (0-7540-6423-9).

• Stroud, Jonathan.
The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Read by Simon Jones. 2003. Listening

Library. 8 cassettes (13 hrs.), $50 (0-8072-1954-1).

• Stroud, Jonathan.
The Golem’s Eye: The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Read by Simon Jones. 2004. Listening Library. 10

cassettes (15 hrs.), $55 (0-8072-1979-7).

More Students at the School of Magic

• Coville, Bruce.
The Dragon of Doom: Moongobble and Me. Illus. by Katherine Coville. 2003. 80p. Simon & Schuster, $14.95 (0-689-85754-3). Gr. 2–5.

• Luckett, Dave.
The Girl, the Dragon, and the Wild Magic. 2003. 128p. Scholastic, paper, $4.99 (0-439-41187-4). Gr. 3–6.

• Stroud, Jonathan.
The Amulet of Samarkand: The Bartimaeus Trilogy. 2003. 544p. Hyperion/Miramax, $17.95 (0-7868-1859-X); paper, $7.99 (0-7868-5255-0). Gr. 6–12.

There’s something wonderful about juxtaposing the familiar routines, trials, tribulations, and pleasures of school with the idea of studying magic, and, happily, Harry Potter and Charlie Bone are not the only fictional characters to

undertake a formal study of this art.

The Girl, the Dragon, and the Wild Magic, Rhianna seems at first to be a complete failure at magic school but soon proves to be the opposite: she is a Wild Talent, and Luckett’s ideas about how wild magic can be cultivated, used, and hijacked are engrossing. In
The Dragon of Doom, Edward, Moongobble, and Urk––a boy, an aspiring wizard, and a toad––are determined to master magic together. Older readers will be intrigued by
The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the planned Bartimaeus Trilogy. Told in part by a 5,000-year-old djinn and in part by an omniscent narrator, this is the story of Nathaniel, a highly ambitious young wizard apprentice, and Arthur Underwood, his self-important tutor. The story continues in
The Golem’s Eye (Hyperion, 2004).

Anne Davies, a former children’s book editor, now teaches at Weber Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa.