Written by Aidan, #6, and Kathleen, #7
A well-placed Narnian quote is not out of place in most conversations. Keegan can still be drawn into a long conversation about Bartimaeus, the snarky djinn. Certain books, especially those in the ‘young adult’ age range, are sometimes the ones that leave the biggest impression.
While we love The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter is certainly a family classic, most of our favorites are somewhat off the beaten track. Here are some personal favorite books, plus the clan’s uncontested #1.
Aidan’s Top 5
5. Gregor the Overlander
Although the Hunger Games is Suzanne Collins’ most famous series, Gregor the Overlander provides another great offering from the author. The majority of the five-book series takes place in an alternate world accessed through several places in New York City, including Gregor’s laundry room. Gregor is the oldest of three siblings living with his mom; their dad was lost years ago. One day, Gregor and his toddler sister ‘Boots’ find their way into this thrilling world of talking animals, prophecies, quests, and battles. The series is flush with action and comedy, as the humans form alliances with the bats, while the rats terrorize the mice. Meanwhile, the cockroaches adore Boots and honor her as a princess. Readers join Gregor, Boots, and their friends, human and animal alike, as they quest through jungles and deserts and much, much more. It’s an exciting read for both boys and girls!
4. Ranger’s Apprentice
This was my favorite series for a long time. John Flanagan is one of my favorite authors, and his other series, The Brotherband Chronicles, only just missed the cut for this list. Ranger’s Apprentice is a twelve-book series, so it will keep a kid busy for a couple of months, depending on how fast they read. It’s set in a kind of medieval world, and the main character is Will. Always a bit of an outcast with kids his age, Will is chosen to be a Ranger; part of a highly selective group who help enforce the law and pride themselves on their subtlety, great horses, and amazing archery and knife skills. Will, with the help of his sarcastic mentor Halt, becomes one of the best Rangers around.
From the theft of Will’s beloved horse to when Will and his best friend are kidnapped to when Halt is poisoned, the series is filled with heart-stopping moments. Combined with the witty humor shared among the Rangers and other characters, all twelve books are a great read. Flanagan comes up with a plethora of creative villains and plotlines throughout the series, keeping readers entertained throughout. My personal favorite is #9, Halt’s Peril, but each book is worth reading and enjoying!
3. Artemis Fowl
There’s a little less physical action in this series. Instead, this series appeals to those who enjoy master criminals…especially because the main character is a main character…and he’s twelve years old at the start of the series. Boy-genius Artemis Fowl discovers the realm of fairies, trolls, and many other magical creatures in the first book of the series. He combats with Holly, a member of the fairy police, and others throughout the series. In some books, Artemis finds himself matching wits with other master criminals. From the thrilling magical and ingenious adventures to the comical, tech-genius centaur Foaly, this series penned by Eoin Colfer is a thrilling tale. Eight books long, the series gets more captivating and more complex as each book passes. Filled with thieving dwarves, criminal masterminds, and battles between humans and magical creatures, this series is well worth your time (and some of your brain power).
2. The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins gets her second rep on my list, appearing with her famous series, The Hunger Games. This is easily the most well-known series on my list, but it’s still a spectacular read. Set in a dystopia, The Hunger Games involves a government who keeps its twelve districts under control by conducting an annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death involving two young members of each district. The trilogy focuses on Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers for the Games to save her sister. Along with fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, her actions during the Games spark a rebellion among the districts that lasts the entire trilogy. Attempting to overthrow the tyrannical President Snow, Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion: the Mockingjay. With tragedy, action, and a dash of humor, the Hunger Games is a captivating series.
1. The Bartimaeus Trilogy
This is one of my all-time favorites. The trilogy takes place in magical London, where a young boy summons a djinni, similar to a genie. Although he meant to do it, the boy, Nathaniel, is rather shocked that he succeeded and inexperienced when dealing with hilarious but sly genies. The djinni, Bartimaeus, does everything he can to trick Nathaniel into setting him free. Shifting from form to form, Bartimaeus carries out Nathaniel’s bidding throughout London, taking the reader through countless magical adventures with plenty of action and a healthy dose of sarcasm, mostly from Bartimaeus himself. I don’t want to say too much more because this series is simply too good to ruin for anyone. Check it out, and you won’t regret it! (And make sure you read the footnotes, they add a whole new level of comedy to the trilogy).
Kathleen’s Top 5
5. Lockwood and Co.
Written by the same author as my brothers’ much-beloved Bartimaeus Trilogy, Lockwood & Co. takes place in futuristic London. The main character is Lucy Carlisle, one of many child-agents tasked with ridding the country of its ghost epidemic. She works with the charismatic Anthony Lockwood and their friend George Cubbins to stop hauntings and uncover the mysteries behind them. The results are always the perfect balance of exciting and gruesome. Mixed with hilarious banter and a fast-paced plot, Lockwood & Co. is a great pick for dark, stormy nights. If you’re a flashlight-under-the-covers kind of reader, all the better.
4. Septimus Heap
With titles like Magyk, Queste, and Fyre, how could we not be sucked in?
The story begins in the Castle, a huge city that features not only a luxurious palace and Wizards’ Tower but all sorts of shops and nooks. That’s not to mention the marshes, Port, and dark forest (a necessity for every fantastic adventure) that the colorful cast of characters find themselves in throughout the series. These characters include Jenna, the secret princess turned adopted daughter; her eccentric family, the Heaps; Marcia, the Extraordinary Wizard of the Castle; and a mysterious Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The Heaps and Marcia find themselves on an amazing adventure involving a murdered queen, messenger rats, and a long-lost brother.
My siblings and I loved the Heaps’ characters and the strange situations they sometimes find themselves in. This makes an especially good tenth-birthday present; trust me.
3. The Inheritance Cycle
This one is for a slightly older crowd. The battle scenes are more violent and the characters are deeper than you’ll find in Septimus Heap. The plot follows Eragon, the nephew of a poor farmer. While hunting, he comes across a dragon’s egg. This leads to him becoming one of the fabled Riders and beginning a quest to defeat the evil Emperor Galbatorix. On his journey, he meets elves, dwarves, shades, were-cats, and even dragons other than his own. The world of Eragon, Alagaesia, is as beautiful and complex as its characters. I’d recommend this to kids at least 12 and older.
Fun fact: the first book, Eragon, was written when the author was 15 years old. It’s certainly inspiring to any kid who dreams of being published.
2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Definitely a family favorite, Percy Jackson has long been a classic for those of us just entering the strange world of juvenile fiction. It’s a modern twist on Greek mythology; the main characters are demigods (half god, half human). Percy is the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. Each book, he goes on a quest with friends from ‘Camp Half-Blood’. These include retrieving Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt, saving a friend with the Golden Fleece, and making their way through Daedalus’s Labyrinth alive. The journeys seem unconnected, but each builds up to the climax in the final book, The Last Olympian, in which the heroes face down the lord of the Titans, Kronos.
While the books may seem dark, they’re actually laugh-out-loud funny and very clever. The author, Rick Riordan, weaves in countless myths in ways that hook readers who’ve never even heard of Olympus. According to Riordan, Zeus wears a pinstripe suit, Cerberus is a Rottweiler, and the Furies of the Underworld disguise themselves as pre-algebra teachers (I knew I hated math for a reason).
Riordan has also written several other series involving Egyptian mythology, Norse mythology, plus books that take place after Percy Jackson, featuring the clash of Greek and Roman gods. All of these are worth checking out!
For someone who has always wanted to actually enter her favorite books, the Inkheart trilogy was a dream put onto paper. I loved reading about how the main character, Meggie, had a father whose amazing reading voice actually brought stories to life. When he accidentally reads a villain to life and sends his wife into the book instead, he and his daughter get sucked into an adventure like none other. Meggie meets characters such as Dustfinger the fire-eater and Capricorn, the villain with ‘a heart as black as ink’.
I found that the world rivaled Tolkien’s Middle-Earth with its vibrancy and details. More characters are introduced as the series goes on, and the plot gets thicker and thicker. While there are certain undercurrents of darkness (I found the Piper sinister, but maybe I’m just easily scared by people with silver noses), the books are overall enchanting and hard to put down. They are also filled with lovely gems of wisdom:
“Books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.”
Our Unanimous Favorite
The Chronicles of Narnia
We’ve written before about the coming-of-age ritual that is reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Not every family has such a special meaning associated with this series, but it is still to be enjoyed by every crowd! The series follows different children through their adventures in Narnia. Some are siblings, such as the famous Pevensie children; some are friends, such as Polly and Diggory; others are natives of the world of Narnia, like Shasta and Aravis. Each child learns much on their journey and forms their own relationship with Aslan, the Great Lion. Although the showdowns with each book’s villains are engaging, the real lessons are often to be found elsewhere: in sacrificing one’s life for a traitor, in staring into the face of something both terrifying and wonderful, even in a box of Turkish Delight.
Traces of our love for Narnia are visible throughout our crazy life. One of our computers might have a The Last Battle quote as the screen’s background; Dad’s desk features a mug with the words “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen”; each of us, upon our departure to college, is given a boxed set of all seven books.
We advise beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then Prince Caspian, and proceeding from there.
Every person’s experience with Narnia is different. We strongly encourage you to take a look for yourself and start your own journey now.
“There I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”