Fantasy Books for Teens

A Wrinkle in Time

OPD: 1962

I read this book by myself and aloud with my family and found new creative fascination and spiritual insight with each read. L’Engle’s classic tale of the stubborn Meg, her abnormally intelligent little brother, and their gangly, gallant friend Calvin is an adventure tale to begin with, as the children travel galaxies in search of Meg’s scientist father who vanished in the midst of an experiment. Guided by the amusing and rather awe-inspiring Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which into the depths of the universe’s beauties, and its darkness, this is a story exploring the power of love to redeem, heal, and resist the power of evil. A book with humor, a tale rich in affirmation of the world’s beauty, this is a classic to be read again and again.


At the Back of the North Wind


OPD: 1871

“…though I cannot promise to take you home,” said North Wind, as she sank nearer and nearer to the tops of the houses, “I can promise you it will be all right in the end. You will get home somehow.” 
― George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind

One of my favorite fantastical children’s stories, Wind is the story of the little boy Diamond, and the night journeys he takes with the lovely and real North Wind. MacDonald, whom Lewis said was his “master,” imbued every story he wrote with his wonder in a God whose goodness will not leave us in the darkness. An exploration, through the adventures of a little boy, of suffering and pain and the promise of heaven, this classic tale is a fairy tale swift with the beauty of the marvelous North Wind woman, and rich with spiritual contemplation. One of my favorites.



Auralia's Colors


OPD: 2007

Jeffrey Overstreet (who I’m happy to say is a friend o’ mine), has created a fantastic, richly imagined novel about a world in which the glory of color has been dimmed and forgotten. Into this wintered land comes a girl named Auralia, gifted with the ability to find and weave color into a startling gift whose power could change the course of the kingdom.





OPD: 1895

This is one of George MacDonald’s later books, the story of a young, leisured man who discovers a world within (or beyond?) his own where he is challenged to “die indeed” by a raven who seems to be the first man, Adam. Plunged into a fantastical world of little children living at peace with their beasts in the forest, giants, dueling skeletons, and an evil princess attended by leopards who terrorize the land, the hero must face not only the terrors, but his own capacity to act, choose, and love. A MacDonald fairy tale is a world of spiritual realities made flesh. Not direct allegory, nor yet mere fantasy, Lilith is a journey into the regions of the soul, into grace, sin, suffering, and the fresh-sprung waters that come when we learn to lay down what keeps us from dying in order to live.





The Book of the Dun Cow

By Walter Wangerin

OPD: 1978

This story took me by surprise. Here is an opening from Wangerin’s site: “At a time when the sun turned around the earth and animals could speak, Chauntecleer the Rooster ruled over a more or less peaceable kingdom.  What the animals did not know was that they were Keepers of the Wyrm, monster of Evil long imprisoned beneath the earth.  And Wyrm, sub terra, was breaking free…” I didn’t expect to be engrossed by a farmyard fable, or moved by the story of a slightly arrogant rooster who must learn to protect his people from evil, but I found this to be a powerful tale of humble, workaday hearts encountering evil and resisting its dominance. Fascinating. Excellent for discussion.



The Cosmic Trilogy



Lewis considered this trilogy of space-travel adventures a “fairy tale for adults.” Don’t be put fooled by the space-travel nature of these books, in many ways they have a medieval flavor in keeping with Lewis desire to “re-enchant” the modern imagination with the wonders of, not cold, empty “space,” but the golden dance of the “heavens.” The first book finds a philologist named Ransom (based, according to several sources, on Tolkien) on an unexpected journey to “Malacandra,” (Mars), where he encounters the presiding spirit of that planet and discovers why earth is, in a universe of singing, dancing stars, called “the Silent Planet.” The second book follows him on his second planetary journey to Perelandra (Venus), where he must assist that planet’s Eve in resisting the temptations of the “unman.” The third book takes place right on earth, with Ransom and the planetary powers pitted against the dark machinations of the N.I.C.E. A strange, vivid, convicting story in which Lewis imagines what might happen if the principles of “scientism” were seriously applied to education and society, this book can offer an uncomfortable commentary on our own materialistic age. Great moral drama and fantastical travel all made with Lewis’ vivid imagination and vibrant prose.


The Dark is Rising Sequence


OPD: 1965-1977

I include this series because, frankly, I was fascinated by it. Though Cooper writes from a decidedly dualistic view of the world rather than a theistic standpoint, I found this well-written, vividly imagined series to be a captivating portrayal of the struggle of the light against the powers of darkness, of love against the stronghold of hate. Richly woven with Arthurian legend, set in Wales, with characters straight from The Round Table, this series traces the adventures of Will, seventh son of a seventh son, last of the Old Ones, whose doom is to conquer the darkness for ages to come, or if he fails, to watch the world plunged into the powers of hate and death. Haunting, rich in a sense of ancient legend and old Welsh lore, these books captivate and open a prime opportunity for the discussion of worldview, while still affirming the goodness of Light.



The Giver


OPD: 1993

There has been a renewed interest in this book since the recent release of a movie based on its story. I haven’t seen the movie, but I know that the book is a quiet, unsettling exploration of a world in which people have chosen to abdicate choice and personal responsibility in return for a sanitized, colorless, controlled existence that guarantees them freedom from suffering and pain. Except for one person, the Giver, an enigmatic old man chosen to bear the memories of the world before the new system was imposed. When Jonas, a young boy, is chosen to be the next Giver, what he discovers, and tastes, and feels for the first time, threatens to change everything. Caution: this is a book for older readers who can handle discussions of euthanasia, death, and morally complex situations.



The Hobbit


OPD: 1937

This classic tale of Bilbo, a member of the the little-known race of garden loving, pipe-smoking, gentle-hearted Hobbits has the hominess of an English folktale combined with the high romance and epic drama that would mark Tolkien’s later work in The Lord of the Rings. An old fashioned fairy-tale centering on twelve dwarves intent on recovering their ancient home (and their gold, for dwarves are lovers of gold) from the awful dragon Smaug, this story of Bilbo, the “burglar” who comes along as a member of their party also examines the motives of the heart, the nature of greed, and the strength that comes in unexpected places.

Delightful, vivid, with sylvan elves and bear men and daughty warriors, no adventurous young reader should miss this story.

Further, in the words of the venerable C.S. Lewis:

For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbitmay well prove a classic.

-From a review published in the Times Literary Supplement (2 October 1937), 714.


The Man Who Was Thursday


OPD: 1908

This was the most discussed book of my teenage years. Several friends and I had an ongoing discussion regarding Chesterton’s topsy turvy, vivid, confusing story of a Gabriel Syme, a brave man plumbing the depths of an anarchist society and its dire plots in Victorian London. But all is not as it seems. For in a rollicking tale of pursuit and disguise with anarchist agents named after the days of the week, Syme finds he may not be hunting what he thinks he is after all. Not exactly allegory or fantasy, yet with the fantastical, symbolic elements of both, this dream, or “nightmare” (as Chesterton dubbed it) explores the confusing nature of a world so beautiful at times we cannot believe that evil is real, and so evil at others that we cannot believe that beauty will ever endure. Fascinating stuff.

Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front -” 


The Silmarillion


OPD: 1977

If you really loved The Lord of the Rings, then you have to read The Silmarillion. This is what Tolkien considered the “real” story behind the romance and drama of The Lord of the Rings. Presenting his own mythic version of the world’s creation (the whole book is worth the passage about the “music of the Ainur” when the world is sung into existence), the coming of the elves, the coming of men, and the fall of both, this collection of epic, often tragic tales reflects the ancient, Icelandic, and Old English mythologies that so captivated Tolkien’s imagination. The tale of the brave man Beren, and his beloved Luthien, the tragic history of Turin, the wars between Elves and Dwarves, every one of these stories is rich in ancient color, in the high language and beauty of older times, and a clear understanding of what goodness looks like, and what evil brings.



Tree and Leaf


OPD: 1964

For any Tolkien lovers, this slim book will be a gem. In this collection of essays and stories, readers will recognize Tolkien’s winsome style in tales like Leaf by Niggle or Farmer Giles of Ham, and also get treated to his famous defense of the fantasy genre in his essay, “On Fairie Stories.” Also included is the poem Mythopoeia, written for C.S. Lewis after a discussion of the truth-bearing power of myth.

Season 2, Episode #24 - Read for the Heart (Picture Books Edition)

Read for the Heart book image.jpg


To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

~ Victor Hugo

In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss the picture books chapter in Sarah Clarkson's book, Read for the HeartThe book describes how her parents, Clay and Sally Clarkson, decided that one of the primary gifts they would give their children would be a childhood shaped by great stories. Sarah writes from the perspective of one whose own heart, mind, and soul were formed by books, and in doing so, invites us into what she calls 'the reading life'. We share some of her picture book recommendations in this episode. But this is more than an invitation to get through a reading list; it's an invitation into a reading life.

Topics Include: 

  • The value in reading good books to our children

  • Reasons for choosing Read for the Heart as your #1 resource for children's book recommendations

  • Hallmarks of a classic children's book

  • Picture book recommendations from Read for the Heart

Click below to hear the podcast

If you are enjoy listening to the podcasts, please leave us a star review and rating HERE

Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #24 - Read For The Heart (Picture Books Edition)

Favorite Architecture Books

blocks 2.jpg

By Jaime Showmaker

I've written before and spoken often on the Storyformed podcast of how my oldest son has been bitten by the architecture bug. Before he could even talk well, he was often attempting to build copies of famous buildings and landmarks using blocks, various toys, and even things like toast or marshmallows.  I have tripped over Lego castles, books stacked like pyramids, and cathedrals made out of cups more times than I can count.  After using various media to build his little landmarks, it wasn’t long before he came to me and said, “Mommy, how did they really build that?” Fortunately, award-winning illustrator David Macaulay has published an exquisite series of picture books that accurately answer his question and fit the bill perfectly!

Macaulay is a Caldecott medal winner with a background in architecture, and he showcases his talent and extensive knowledge through outstanding pen and ink drawings in his architecture-themed books. The first book that we acquired, and the first one that Macaulay published, was Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It chronicles the building of a fictional medieval cathedral in France, from its conception to completion.  It wasn’t long before we also collected Castle, which traces the planning and construction of a fictional castle in 13th Century Wales, and City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, which explains how a typical Roman city was designed and built. We also own and love Pyramid, where Macaulay unravels the mystery of how the ancient Egyptian pyramids could have been constructed. Mill and Mosque are on our wish list. All of these books are similar in style and are outstanding for so many reasons.


Each of Macaulay’s architecture books is exquisitely illustrated with black and white pen and ink drawings. The detail that he captures is extraordinary! He uses cross-hatching and other artistic techniques to produce an almost 3D effect in the architectural elements. The intricate pictures are realistic and often humorous (like a stereotypical culprit in the castle dungeon and a detailed drawing of a medieval toilet). Each page contains these large-scale illustrations, and my boys and I enjoy examining the drawings and trying to find details that we missed in earlier observations, like oxen in the field or a dog begging for table scraps. Although the book does contain text, the illustrations are so thorough and detailed, you can easily follow the progression of the story from the pictures alone. Macaulay has won several awards for these books, including a Caldecott honor, and it is easy to see why!  (Note: In recent years, Macaulay has released revised editions of Cathedral, Castle, and Mosque that contain color illustrations!)

Architectural and Technical Detail

Macaulay has an architecture degree and he showcases his knowledge with illustrations that almost resemble blueprints. Through his drawings, he thoroughly explains advanced architectural concepts at a level that even children can comprehend. From digging foundations and flying buttresses, to vaulted ceilings and archways, each architectural element is explained and the process is drawn in detail.  He explains technology, such as ancient measurement techniques and physics concepts such as levers and pulleys. My son’s actual scientific knowledge of the field of architecture is extensive and accurate based on Macaulay’s attention to detail and realism in this area. Although these books are technically picture books for children, I have also received a thorough education in architecture from the four books that we own.


Not only are these books beautiful to look at, they are filled with a detailed history of the various time periods that are covered. Although the narrative is fiction, it could be classified as historical fiction because of the accuracy of the accounts. Castle, for example, details such history as medieval military strategy and the societal customs of landlords. Pyramid describes life in ancient Egypt, including beliefs about the Pharaohs and the afterlife; and City has a similar treatment for ancient Rome. In all of the books, tradesmen, artisans, and historical tools are described in detail. The books detail how much human effort and ingenuity were required to build the various structures, which represent the actual castles, cathedrals, and pyramids still standing today. There is a glossary at the end of each book that explains the terms and names covered in the text. The narrative is short (the highlight of these books are, of course, the illustrations), but the text is informative, advanced, and entertaining.

Problem Solving

One of my favorite aspects of these books is how they give a detailed account of the problems that the builders of the various structures faced, and how they solved those problems. From technological limitations to geographical obstacles, the fictional characters encounter multiple engineering challenges. Macaulay explains these challenges, as well as the innovation that was required to overcome them. My son is learning how to anticipate problems when building his own structures, and compensate and innovate when he encounters problems in his mini building projects!

We absolutely LOVE these books and highly, highly recommend them--not just for budding architects like my little guy, but for every child! They are beautiful, educational, and entertaining, and definitely worth the investment for a home library.


Season 2, Episode #23: Help! My Child Doesn't Love To Read!

reluctant child reading.jpg

In this episode, Holly Packiam and Jaime Showmaker discuss what to do when you have a reluctant reader. They discuss the different reasons for reluctance and how to be a detective to determine what is going on with your child or student.  

Topics Include: 

  • Specific developmental challenges to watch for in emerging readers
  • Reasons for reluctance in otherwise skilled readers
  • Strategies to apply to encourage a love of reading
  • Ways to build reading confidence

Click below to hear the podcast


If you are enjoy listening to the podcasts, please leave us a star review and rating HERE

Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #23: Help! My Child Doesn't Love to Read! 

Easy Chapter Books for Emerging Readers


By Holly Packiam

One of the questions we get here at Storyformed is, “What books should I give to my child who can fluently read picture books, but is not quite ready for difficult chapter books?”

It’s a great question! I have experienced the same struggle! It seems like so many of the books in this category didn’t seem worth reading. Feeling at a loss when my oldest hit this stage in her reading journey, I went to a trusted, wise friend who had older kids. I asked her what she gave to her kids to read in this phase, and she let me peruse the ‘easy chapter book’ section of her home library. I’m delighted to report that many books on her shelf are now on my list! I hope there are some on this list that your kids will enjoy too.



Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol

This series is a perfect one for young readers because of the way the story draws you in and practically forces you to pay attention. Children are invited to follow the trail of boy detective, Encyclopedia Brown. My five year old thoroughly enjoyed listening to my seven year old read these aloud to her! They both followed the story and tried to pick up on the clues hoping to solve the mystery before the end.


The Littles book cover.jpg

The Littles by John Peterson

My kids have giggled and giggled as they have read the adventures of these tiny people called the ‘Littles’ who live in the walls of the ‘Biggs’ home. They find everything they need living with the Biggs and hope to repay them by making sure everything in the home is in good working order. The Biggs go out of town for the summer and a new family, the Newcombs, stay in their home. The Newcombs are messy and their mess attracts mice! This story is the adventure of the Littles finding a way out of this dilemma. The Littles is part of a series. Here are a couple others in the series we have enjoyed: The Littles and the Big Storm and The Littles and the Trash Tinies.


Nate the Great image.jpg

Nate the Great by Majorie Weinman Sharmat

Nate the Great is a great choice for a beginning reader because of it’s length: it is only about 60 pages. It includes illustrations on most pages, and does not have an overwhelming amount of words on each page. Nate is a boy detective who "likes to work alone" to track down the culprit and solve the mystery. Nate also loves pancakes which made him immediately relatable to my kids. Nate the Great is part of a series. Here are a couple others we have enjoyed: Nate the Great Goes Undercover and Nate the Great and the Phony Clue.


Pioneer Cat image.jpg

Pioneer Cat by William H. Hooks (A Stepping Stones Book)

My seven year old recently read Pioneer Cat out loud to me. He was so interested in finding out how the story would unfold that he didn’t want to put the book down. We begin by stepping into the story of a nine-year-old girl, Kate, who is traveling with her family by a wagon train from Missouri to Oregon. There are no cats allowed on the wagon train except a special one, Snuggs, who found his way to Kate’s wagon. She made a spot for Snuggs to stay while he joined them on this long and difficult journey.  Stepping Stones has many great selections. I prefer the stories that are in the categories, ‘History’ or ‘Classics’. Here are a few titles we’ve enjoyed: Hannah, Next Spring an Oriole, Anna Maria’s Gift, Swiss Family Robinson, Anne of Green Gables, and The Secret Garden.


Boxcar Children book image.jpeg

The Boxcar Children - Gertrude Chandler Warner

What child doesn’t find living in a boxcar to be exciting and intriguing? Our family has immensely enjoyed reading and re-reading this book over the years! The Alden children find themselves without caregivers and are determined to stay together. In their search for a home, they come upon a boxcar. As they begin to build a new life together, a turn events bring them together with extended family. An entire series of adventures with the Alden children follow this book. Here are a few we’ve read: Surprise Island #2, The Yellowhouse Mystery #3, Mystery Ranch #4.

Please leave us a comment and let us know what easy chapter books you would add to this list.


Season 2, Episode #22: Learning to Love Poetry (A Conversation with Sally Clarkson)



In this episode Holly Packiam speaks with Sally Clarkson about encouraging our kids to love poetry. The ability to participate in God's presence through the reading and listening of beautiful poetry is a gift of being created in His image.

Topics include:

  • Practical ways to capture our childrens' interest in poetry
  • The value of putting great works of poetry before our childrens’ eyes
  • The importance of presenting a feast of poetry to our children
  • Books to inspire a love of poetry

Click below to hear the podcast

If you are enjoy listening to the podcasts, please leave us a star review and rating HERE


Books From Today's Show - Storyformed Episode #22 - Learning to Love Poetry 

Connecting With Our Children's Hearts Through Story


By Jaime Showmaker

It was a typical Wednesday morning. We were driving to our homeschool co-op and we were discussing The Princess in the Goblin, the book we had been reading aloud over the past few days. We had come to a particularly adventurous part in the tale, and my boys were eagerly trading “well I would have…” stories, trying to best one another in courage and imagination. As I often do, I made a comment about how I knew they were all going to be heroes someday, and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of adventures God had planned for them in the story they were living. As my two younger boys continued to laugh and describe increasingly gruesome encounters with hypothetical goblins, I noticed my oldest son looking thoughtfully out the window. I drove on, thinking his quiet was due to sleepiness in the early morning hour. But after a moment, he spoke up.

“Mommy...I think God might have made me a hobbit.”

I caught my breath because, in an instant, I realized exactly what he was trying to tell me. But I was struck, not just with his actual confession, but with the manner in which he chose to share his heart with me. He chose to reveal himself to me through the character in a story.

I’m always grateful for the time that I get to spend reading with my children, but in that moment, my heart was completely flooded with gratitude as I contemplated the way in which a story had just given me a glimpse of my son’s secret heart.

My son is only eight years old. He doesn’t quite have the self-awareness to express that he is what one would call a “homebody.” He’s a rule-follower--the practical, down-to-earth, cautious one, who would rather sit under a tree and read architecture books than climb it. And, although I do know this about him, I still frequently try to gently stretch him out of his comfort zone and encourage him to take a few more risks. And one of the ways that I try to inspire him is through literature. I want my boys to see themselves as characters in a grand story, so I fill their hearts and minds with pictures and tales of courageous men and women, who do the hard things and go the extra mile. I want them to relate to the characters that they encounter and emulate them. And my sweet son did exactly that. He saw himself in the story. But it wasn’t in the way that I expected. Yet, he was able to use the character in Tolkien’s tale to express to me something that he longed for me to understand, but didn’t yet have the vocabulary to convey: he may not be built for THAT kind of adventure. And, perhaps, my constant words of glorious feats and daring escapades may put undue pressure on him to be something that he just is not. I’m not sure how or when he would have been able to tell me this truth about himself without the shared experience of story. And so, because of the power of story to connect my child with a truth he couldn’t express otherwise, I am reminded that there are many kinds of heroes; and I have been spared the regret of trying to inadvertently make my precious child into a character that God Himself didn’t write him to be.

Just like my son’s confession that he is more hobbit than hero, stories give our children the ability to convey things that they are not quite developmentally ready to express. They allow us to connect with their hearts on a very profound level when they express that they, like Edmund, probably would have eaten the Turkish Delight too. Or when they shyly admit that they like Caddie Woodlawn much more than the fairy tale princess. They cheer when the underdog beats the bully or when the minor character steps into the spotlight for just a brief moment.  And if we listen carefully to what they are telling us, we realize that they aren’t always talking about the story, but are sometimes telling us a bit about themselves. What a precious, precious gift.

So, from now on, I’m going to be more careful about the way I try to speak to my boys about the immeasurable potential that they have. I’m going to continue to lay out a feast of adventure stories before them, of course--full of heroes and dragon-slayers and mountain climbers and kingdom conquerors. But, be assured, I am also going to give them an array of tales that include quiet heroes--men of wisdom and contemplation, who are full of moral courage and fortitude. Less David, and more Solomon. And I will continue to love and encourage my sweet “hobbit” son. Because if the greatest risks he ever takes are in the death-defying heights and configurations of the structures he longs to build, I will rejoice in the truth that he is living the exact story that God meant for him to live. And that makes him a hero too.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

"Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Psalm 106:1

From all of us here at Storyformed, we would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. As you gather, we pray that this day will be a wonderful chapter in your family's story and in the ongoing story of God's love and faithfulness. Have a blessed day.