CS Lewis’ classic Chronicles of Narnia is one of my all time favorite fantasy stories. I love Aslan and how the children interact with him. Besides Aslan and Lucy, my favorite character is Jewel the unicorn from the final book. I love how he fought for and relates with the king. The last several weeks I have had the privilege of introducing the series to high school students as we study my Narnia unit. I use two chapters of the book in Spanish, a section of an audio book sample, and adapt character lesson plans from Narnia to the public school setting interspersed with watching the movie in Spanish. We compare and contrast the movie with the book. I use my knowledge to share how the movie actually does follow the book in some areas, and in others goes way off track. It has been fun to introduce students to more than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As questions pop up or a student wonders aloud about a backstory, I share from my knowledge of the series. Their eyes brighten as they realize how much is available out there.
Another of my favorite fantasy books is Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. My sixth grade teacher read it to us. My imagination was captured with Milo’s adventure through the tollbooth. He must bring Rhyme and Reason back to the realm. He has to get the two brothers (leaders of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis) to agree. Through it all he has the Watchdog to help him stay on task and not waste time. Naturally, when I heard of a book that was in the same vein, I wanted to read it. I wondered if it would live up to the original and was delighted to find it did. The King of Average by Gary Schwartz follows James, a boy who’s told over and over again that he won’t amount to much and decides he’ll be the best average he can be. Suddenly, he finds himself in a new land and meeting new friends. His constant companions are Optimist with a pocket buddy Killjoy and Mayor Culpa, the scapegoat. As he searches to find the king of Average, he realizes that he himself might be more than average.
Another classic fantasy is Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy. My daughter is currently taking a college course on Tolkien literature. A friend of the family that I babysat when he was little showed up as Dawnya and I began to argue over how a certain scene from Two Towers played out. Finally, I had to give in to her “I know, I just read it!” I had mixed up the movie with the book. Granted, the last time I read it was just before the movie came out, and have watched bits and pieces of the movie repeatedly since then. Meanwhile, our friend stood dumbfounded that we were geeking out like that. When he discovered Dawnya actually was taking a class, it made more sense to him.
This though goes to prove one of my soap box themes–read to and with your kids! It builds memories and shared experiences. You’re able to talk about characters as if they are family friends. You can have teachable moments instead of you lecturing them. Just pause and discuss the situation the main, or side, character finds him- or herself in and ask your child, “What would you do?” It becomes a natural way of teaching. Need some ideas for good books besides these? Check out my top 10 plus three list of children’s books or my list of other great books.