Towards a Readers Advisory for Fantasy

I named this blog Teaching Transition because I am fascinated by the process in which children somehow become teens.  And just like children become teens physically, socially, and emotionally through some tremendous process none of us care to remember, their reading lives follow strange patterns, too.


I can “level up” kids who are interested in realistic fiction, suspense, and sci fi into challenging yet appropriate (I mean that in all ways) books pretty easily, because it’s such a large share of my reading life and my observations of other readers.   But where I continue to struggle is for readers who like fantasy.


It dawned on me recently that not all fantasy stories are alike: what is alike is my tendency towards disdain for them.  When I do pick up a fantasy book, it’s usually because I’m attracted to something cerebral about the story (Bone Gap by Laura Ruby) or because I have an established relationship towards the book.  


So when a reader asked me for a challenging fantasy story …. I drew a blank.  This reader was looking beyond heroes and dragons and quests and the sort of bread and butter of middle school fantasy fare.  But I wasn’t really sure which books to recommend — yes, specific titles came to mind, but nothing jumped out at me in the usual way it does when I do Readers Advisory and can translate student language into book recommendations.


I don’t understand the pleasure of the genre or the joy of series reading well enough to know what a reader of the genre might want to read next.   Maybe it’s track-every-detail Lord of the Rings?  Would Philip Pullman’s series be another joy?  Or is it historically inspired The Blackthorn Key?  Or conceptually sophisticated The Lie Tree?


I have to learn this genre better!



Books that stuck: The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

No twelve year old in the history of ever is going to come up to me and proudly announce that a family member is dealing with substance abuse issues and they want a book to go along with it.


And yet.


And yet we need books that discuss these issues, that don’t sugarcoat, romanticize, or distance what it means to struggle with addiction.  It’s easy to assume that addicts are homeless uneducated city dwellers who commit violent crimes or destitute rural types who are just looking for something to do.


Because substance abuse issues are our issues too, and pretending it doesn’t exist only silences those who are suffering.


This is only one of the reasons I love, love, love love, Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish.  It’s the reason I have bought it for adults.  It’s not the reason I hand it off to kids.


The Seventh Wish is also about Irish dancing and fate and sisterly love and Vermont and “good enough.”


In reading over my initial review of The Seventh Wish from Goodreads, I notice how I spent half of the review talking about Kate’s other books, which are, I’ll repeat the term, a little after-school special-y in the ways they incorporate science, history, and morals.  I wrote: “ I thought that [All the Answers by Kate Messner]  was kind of safe, there was plenty of moralizing to be had, and that the ending was so twee I thought we were going to cut to a commercial break for low-calorie fruity snacks.”


The Seventh Wish is a good-natured book about good-natured kids, but it’s also so much more.  It’s the kind of book I wish I saw more in middle grades literature these days.  Two years after my first review I can still say that The Seventh Wish is a one of a kind book.