Booklists: Touchstone children’s/YA fantasy and science fiction

I’m working on my talk at the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Writers’ Day. In preparation for it, I’m doing a personal review of touchstone children’s and YA fantasy and science fiction titles from, say, the late Victorian period forward. Science fiction is tougher—I’m not going to cover pulp novels from the 30s or anything. Perhaps we might start with the 70s or 80s in SF (though I tossed Jules Verne and Robert Heinlein on the list because they do stand out—please advise me of others of similar caliber). I’m heading to the library tomorrow to grab a number of books, and trying to think if I’ve missed any.

Now, “fantasy” in children’s books has a pretty broad definition. I’m going to narrow the focus down to prose novels with human or humanoid main characters. That is, I’m not interested in animal stories (Redwall is awesome, but not the point of what I’m going for) or graphic novels or toy/doll stories (Winnie the Pooh, lovely as he is, doesn’t count here, though he does play into the whole British tradition; but no matter, that’s not what I’m looking for today). The Wind in the Willows is iffy–it’s anthropormorphized animals running around in frock coats and talking in British accents; for our purposes here today I’m going to say we’ll leave it off, though I reserve the right to change my mind later. Of course, so is Redwall (without the frock coats), so that helps make my decision in identifying their similarity.

I’m looking for books that a large number of readers would consider a touchstone—not obscure. “Touchstone,” as I’m using it here, is a title that’s either so popular practically everyone would probably have read it (like Harry Potter) and/or has great literary merit—something with great importance. Hence my list becomes more thin as it comes closer to the present day because I feel like we’re a little too close to those books to really be able to pick out that many books (right now) with lasting merit; those will manifest over time. But some do stand out, and I’ve included them.

Here’s my list. Anything you might add? Surely there are more pre-WWII era that I’m forgetting, and I’m sure I’m overlooking something obvious altogether. I’ve never (gasp) read Andre Norton, for example—hence my request on Twitter & FB for title suggestions—and could use some prompting about what her most memorable/important titles are.

Late Victorian Era (1850–1901)

  • The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley (1863)
  • The Light Princess, George MacDonald (1864)
  • A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne (1864)
  • The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald (1872)
  • The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald (1882)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Louis Carroll (1897)
  • Through the Looking-Glass, Louis Carroll (1897)
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum (1900)—its sequels cross my arbitrary dateline of 1901, which is the end of the Victorian era because that’s when Queen Victoria died

Pre-World War II (1901–1940)

  • Five Children and It, E. Nesbit (1902)
  • Peter and Wendy (or Peter Pan), J.M. Barrie (1911)
  • Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers (1934)
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

Post-World War II, including Vietnam Era (1940s—early 1970s)

  • Bedknob and Broomstick, Mary Norton (1943 & 1946)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (1950) and of course its sequels
  • The Borrowers, Mary Norton (1952)
  • The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy M. Boston (1954) and its sequels
  • Half Magic, Edward Eager (1954)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien (1955) and The Two Towers and Return of the King
  • Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Robert Heinlein (1958) and other Heinlein juveniles
  • James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl (1961)
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl (1964) and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972)
  • The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander (1964) and its sequels, especially The Black Cauldron (1965)
  • The Dark is Rising series, Susan Cooper (1965-1970s): Over Sea, Under Stone (1965), The Dark Is Rising (1973), Greenwitch (1974), The Grey King (1975), Silver on the Tree (1977)
  • Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey (1968)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)
  • The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Pope (1974)

Gen Xers’/Millennials’ growing-up years (late 1970s–2001)

  • Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt (1975)
  • Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey (1976)
  • Chrestomanci Chronicles, Diana Wynne Jones (1977–2006, with perhaps more to come? DWJ is seriously ill, so it depends on her health)
  • Beauty, by Robin McKinley (1978)
  • The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley (1982)
  • Alana: The First Adventure, Tamora Pierce (1983) and its sequels
  • The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, Virginia Hamilton (1983)
  • The Witches, Roald Dahl (1983)
  • The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley (1984)
  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1985)
  • The Hounds of the Morrigan, Pat O’Shea (1985)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones (1986)
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen (1988)
  • Matilda, Roald Dahl (1988)
  • Dealing with Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede (1990) and its sequels
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, Nancy Farmer (1994)
  • Sabriel, Garth Nix (1995), and Lirael (2001) and Abhorsen, its sequels
  • The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (1995) and its sequels
  • Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling (1997) and its sequels (though that also cuts across past Sept. 11th)
  • Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine (1997)
  • The Folk Keeper, Franny Billingsley (1999)

Post-September 11th (2002–present)

  • Harry Potter sequels, J.K. Rowling
  • Feed, M.T. Anderson (2002)
  • The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer (2002)
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi (2003)
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (2008)

15 thoughts on “Booklists: Touchstone children’s/YA fantasy and science fiction

  1. How about Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) by Ray Bradbury? Or if you include short story collections, how about The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951) or October Country (1955)? I spent my tween and teen years reading Bradbury.

    1. Something Wicked This Way Comes was published for young adults (or, in the case of something that early, at least consumed by a large proportion of young adults)? If so, yes. I know I watched the movie based on it as a teen. (Spooky movie, even if it is Disney!)

  2. Honestly, I don’t know if Something Wicked This Way Comes was published for young adults. I just know that’s how old I was when I read it. Generally speaking, Ray Bradbury was/is very accessible for the YA set. Many young main characters in his stories, even some diversity.

  3. Well, there wasn’t really a young adult market per se in the 60s when it was published. A Wizard of Earthsea was published for children, and many books now considered solidly YA were published for adults. Which is why I asked abt being consumed by a large number of teens. I think it probably was, but I haven’t read it myself to really have a good sense. Huge hole in my reading!

  4. Andre Norton’s best-known books are the Witch World books (first one published 1963). I haven’t read all her books by any means, but when I was a teen I especially liked the color magic books (Steel [or Grey] Magic, Octagon Magic, Fur Magic, Dragon Magic, Lavender-Green Magic, and Red Hart Magic [1965-76]). I think the Time Trader books were popular, but I never read them. Hopefully you got more suggestions through Twitter.

  5. I’m not sure if I, Robot is considered YA but a lot of people at my school read it. There’s also The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (although that one is debatable), the Charlie Bone Series and Eragon. All of this is based on what I’ve seen kids borrow at my school library so I’ll probably find more tomorrow.

  6. I skimmed the list pretty fast. Did I miss Narnia? More recently, Fablehaven has been very successful. I echo some of the suggestions above. I also see a lot of my high school students reading the Mistborn books. Perhaps Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian Trilogy should be included (it might fit into your exclusion of pulp novels, though).

    1. Thanks, Dave. I think I might have missed Narnia. It’s on my own list, but somehow didn’t make it in the post! Thanks—good catch.

    2. …And then I realized I didn’t miss it at all—I listed it under The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and its sequels. In my booklists, I try to name the first book in the series, but sometimes I’m lazy and don’t look them up. I should probably just call them by the series name—it’s probably more recognizable that way.

  7. I am looking for information about word counts for various types of children’s literature and any other guidelines that would differentiate one type of writing from another..

    1. Bee Gee, if you look through my archives, I’m sure you’ll find the information you’re looking for. Try searching through the keyword tags on the right, or using a site search with Google.

  8. hi, Stacy–

    Much to mull over from your presentation at Writer’s Day! I wanted to follow up the resource list you mentioned for writers attempting to broaden their fictional horizons… Is that posted here, or available via e-mail? (heather at tomlinson dot com)

    Thanks again– Heather

    1. Hey Heather,

      I emailed it to Alexis, who said she’d email it out to the SCBWI listserv, but I might as well post it here too. Look for it Monday.

Comments are closed.