Fantasies That Refresh the Spirit

Where have all the hopeful fantasies gone? The fascinating folklore authority Maria Tatar, in today’s New York Times op-ed “No More Adventures in Wonderland, ” draws a clear and troubling contrast between the beloved fantasies of J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll with more recent ones such as those by Neil Gaiman,  Susannah Collins, and Philip Pullman. “Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time,” she writes.

Perhaps those of you who have precocious fantasy lovers in your home or in your classroom share my concern that children need not rush over to the dark side that modern writers are exploring so adeptly. Even the Harry Potter books, Rowlings admits, are “largely about death.” Where, then, can we gently nudge young ones to satisfy their cravings for imaginative fiction infused with a sense of wonder and optimism?

Fortunate are the children who find their way to the fabulous world of  Peter Pan, to Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or to Edith Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle! 

Another new — and old — possibility: The Flint Heart, which I recently reviewed for the New York Journal of Books  . Rarely do children today encounter fantasies crackling with good-natured humor and even wisdom. The acclaimed author Katherine Paterson and her husband John have rewritten a century-old novel by Eden Phillpotts and wrought a fine fantasy that will make for a spirited family or class read-aloud.

Hope lives on, my friends. These days, it’s just harder to unearth. Which recently published fantasies have you shared with your children?

Great Read-aloud Fantasies:




9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Story of the Treasure-Seekers – E. Nesbit / Karen « Stewartry
  2. Rolf Rykken
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 08:07:20

    Janice! I hope you stopped reading for awhile yesterday to enjoy your birthday! Hope you had a happy one (and sorry I didn’t look at my calendar — had to go to work!)


  3. Charlotte
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 17:52:03

    I read this as an ARC–I am looking forward to seeing the finished art!


  4. Joanne Rocklin
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 22:47:37

    Another interesting review! Thank you!


  5. Janice Floyd Durante
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 11:06:37

    Yes, Anne, the happy endings are forbidden, and the humor often has a nasty edge. Thanks for sharing the titles of books you and your family have enjoyed.
    You are such a talented artist and writer. Your work — including your fine blog — is an inspiration.


  6. Anne Nydam
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 17:24:29

    I agree that it’s really important for kids to have access to fantasy that teaches them about hope and redemption. It seems like nowadays happy endings are considered uncool. But we’ve still found some books that include looking for the best in others, and trying to do what’s right even when “wiser” more world-weary voices seem to imply that’s a waste of time. Recently we’ve enjoyed reading aloud “The Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones” series by Whitehouse, and “The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic” by Trafton. And I write books of hope and joy myself precisely because that’s the sort of book I most love and I think the world and its readers need more of them! Thanks for recommending “The Flint Heart.” I’ll definitely check it out.


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