16 July 2005

Pottered

I suspect this is tired desperation on my part, but here are some obligatory Harry Potter links:
"18 Fantasy Authors to Read Instead of J.K. Rowling" by Ed Champion

"18 More Fantasy Authors to Read Instead of J.K. Rowling" by Gwenda Bond

"Adults Who Read Harry Potter: Yea or Nay?" by Scott Esposito
Alright, that's enough.

I actually don't have anything against the Harry Potter books, as long as they're not touted as the greatest things to ever be printed. I've read the first four, and found the first three of those quite entertaining, particularly the third. The fourth I thought was tedious, but I know 12-year-olds who were riveted. I'll get to the fifth one of these days.

It's fun to see kids excited by books, to see them enchanted by stories and characters. There's something unsavory about scoffing at it all and being a Great Big Grump saying, "Well, child, one of these days you'll realize how much of your life you have wasted on those silly things when you could have been reading a real writer, like Harold Bloom."

Adults are a different story. Nothing wrong with adults reading books aimed at kids (just this week I read Thirsty by M.T. Anderson, which Kelly Link had kindly sent me a while ago, and which is a remarkable book in many ways, with quite a lot more bite than Harry Potter [ugh, sorry]), but I have been frustrated by some friends of mine who've read the Potter books avidly and have then gone on to associate all fantasy novels with kidlit. I gave one a copy of Jeff VanderMeer's Secret Life, because I thought she'd appreciate the variety of stories, the language, the playfulness with form, the seriousness of intent -- and her response was to think the book was for her 13-year-old son. Her loss.

There have been times when I've been asked by people what their kids might like if they like Harry Potter, and the question usually puts me at a loss, because I don't know much about children's literature, and so end up saying things like, "Well, there's always Dante," and getting horrified looks. So here are a few links gathered by Googling the phrase "If you like Harry Potter":
Links to various librarians' lists of books for kids who like Harry Potter

Salt Lake County Library list

Waterboro Public Library list

Neutral Bay Public School list
I'd love to know what people would recommend as the very next book a child or teen should read after they've read all the Harry Potters (adults should just go to Ed and Gwenda's lists). Put ideas in the comments below and in a few days I'll make a list of them all and put it up as a post. (I can just imagine what some people will suggest: Bleak House ... 120 Days of Sodom ... The German Ideology...)

28 comments:

  1. The German Ideology should be read before Harry Potter, actually.

    I like those Diane Duane "So You Want To Be A Wizard" books for post-Potter stuff.

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  2. Some post-Potter suggestions:

    The Lord of the Rings
    Terry Pratchett, possibly his YA books (the Nomes trilogy, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, the Tiffany Aching books) or just the regular Discworld books
    Watership Down
    The Last Unicorn
    Bridge of Birds
    Neil Gaiman's lighter stuff - Coraline or Stardust
    Jeff Smith's Bone
    Michael Ende's The Neverending Story or Momo

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  3. I was a strange kid & my friends were just as strange, and we read a lot of adult books in elementrary school, so I guess any of my suggestions wouldn't be right.

    [quote]
    I gave one a copy of Jeff VanderMeer's Secret Life, because I thought she'd appreciate the variety of stories, the language, the playfulness with form, the seriousness of intent -- and her response was to think the book was for her 13-year-old son. Her loss.
    [/quote]

    That is one lucky thirteen year old.

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  4. Pratchett and Watership Down would be on my list as well, as well as Tolkien. Less obvious perhaps is Asimov. I just witnessed a "Son of mine, why don't you read real literature instead of reading that Asimov shit" scene at my local library, so I can testify that it's a frowned upon forbidden pleasure to lots of kids.

    Also, as a kid I was hopelessly in love with Verne, although I have to admit that at seven I was actually given the kid's bowdlerized edition of "Twenty Thousand Leagues" and "Mysterious island".

    Italian kids have access to the wonderful glorification of rebels at the wrong end of history that is Salgari, but alas English-language kids don't have this resource for the formation of their political identity.

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  5. The Borribles Trilogy by Michael de Larrabeiti. It's nasty, vicious, funny-as-hell kids' fantasy with snot-nosed, thievin', Peter-Pan-meets-the-Artful-Dodger-style urchins running wild on the streets of 1970's London.

    And the second book has a decapitation by shovel (it has a nice theme about greed and corruption too, but it's the decapitation by shovel that matters). All kids in their right mind will love it.

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  6. The Borribles is a fantastic recommendation. And easily found in used bookstores.

    Diana Wynne Jones would be the most obvious, as evidenced by all those articles right after Harry Potter became a phenomenon about her books. Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy and the Garth Nix books I think would be high on the list, especially for boys.

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  7. I looked through those big fat lists, and so I'm assuming that one unasked question is really what is missing from them. I didn't notice Alan Garner and Leon Garfield--FSG recently reprinted a number of Garfield's books, including the great "Smith," a book that is not exactly a fantasy but would appeal to fans of fantasy--or even E. Nesbit. Among American writers, I particularly missed Franny Billingsley. "The Folk Keeper" is a lovely book (the 'folk' are satisfyingly cruel, weird, and insatiable); an older reader may see some curious submerged parallels with du Maurier's "Rebecca."

    Just after Harry Potter?

    Well, Rowling's influences are many, but I think one of the most notable ones (for a complex backtracking-in-time plot, magical candies and other magical objects, overpowering figures who must not be named, etc.) is Diana Wynne Jones. I'd suggest the Chrestomanci stories as a start, along with "Howl's Moving Castle."

    For Rowling readers who love Fred and George Weasley in particular, a great place to go would be P. G. Wodehouse. His mischievous twins, eventually thrown out of school on the heels of a prank, are troublesome and full of mirth--always wisecracking and joke-playing. I have a teenage son who adores Wodehouse, but I think boy or girl would revel in Bertie Wooster's reaction to Claude and Eustace's adventures. While not called fantasy, Wodehouse's Edwardian world is in a magic bubble of its own.

    "The Wee Free Men" and its sequel, "A Hat Full of Sky," are my favorite recent reads in children's books. They have the Prachettian humor and gusto in spades.

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  8. After HP&tOotP? John leCarré, clearly. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Little Drummer Girl. Maybe A Perfect Spy, since the early chapters have that English boarding school thing going on.

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  9. Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness. And Tonke Dragt - she's marvellous, but I don't know whether she's been translated from Dutch into English, but if she is please do search her out. ah, I see on Amazon that The Towers of February is available. Sadly, none of the rest are.

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  10. I found a stack of Harold Robbins books when I was twelve. That might explain some things.


    As for the life after Potter question: Dahl.

    Laird

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  11. I second a lot of what's above, particularly Marly Youmans' post: Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, Terry Pratchett's recent YA books. Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy is amazing. Eva Ibbotson is a genius but her books are perhaps better suited to girls than boys (The Star of Kazan, The River Sea); Robin McKinley ditto. There's some grownup fantasy fiction that will suit younger readers as well--I am particularly thinking of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong trilogy. I am surprised Philip Pullman isn't looming larger here--I think the His Dark Materials trilogy is unbelievably good. The first of Stroud's Bartimaeus books was excellent, the second perhaps not so much to my taste. Tamora Pierce is very widely enjoyed by young teenage girls but isn't as good a writer as Rowling, they're pretty formulaic. Suzy McKee Charnas's books are great. As are those of the New Zealand YA fantasy writer Margaret Mahy. Oh, I should just stop here, there are SO MANY great books in this vein! But let me also recommend a little-known novel by Eric Linklater called "The Wind in the Moon."

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  12. Tom Holt's "the Portable Door" and its sequel "In Your Dreams." It shares a similar tone with the earlier Potter books except that it's infinitly more clever than Rowling's good versus evil plot line. Not the best thing ever written, but enjoyable and interesting.

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  13. Bowen Mendenhall7/17/2005 2:16 AM

    When I was ten I found a pile of Heinlein in the attic, and I was absorbed all summer; at the bottom of the box there was a copy of the first book in the Illuminatus! trilogy, and I'm eternally grateful that I had that in fifth grade to contrast against the Heinlein. I think Perdido Street Station could provide the same kind of counterpoint to Harry Potter.

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  14. I'd add Neverwhere to the Neil Gaiman sub-list. I would have read and reread that book obsessively as a kid. I'll also second Roald Dahl -- The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, in particular.

    How about short story collections? My sister and I shared a volume of short-short sci-fi/fantasy stories that eventually fell to pieces because we read it so often. Not remembering the name of it now, of course....

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  15. Clive Barker's Abarat books and The Thief of Always. The latter succeeds fully as a story for kids and adults, the former series is less compelling as a story than for being a "catalog of the weird" (Mieville's phrasing), and from the Amazon reviews it seems that kids love them.

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  16. L'Engle's books, and a second for the Tery Pratchett and Tolkein recomendations. My Grand father gave me the Hobbit when I was about 10, and the L'Engle books right after. I have been reading every since.

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  17. Fun stuff, folks. It's particularly interesting to see what books grabbed people when they were young.

    But if you'll indulge me a little bit more, I want to make the request more specific. What I'm particularly curious to find are what books are similar enough to HP that they would be satisfying to somebody who was just blown away by HP and wanted more, more, more. (Of course, it would be different for just about every reader, and all depends on what qualities of HP are defined as appealing, but this is a thought-experiment, not a careful scientific study....)

    So let's try to get more specific than those librarians' lists (which are useful -- I'm not slamming them). What's a good bridge book between HP and other books worth reading, if our goal is to keep kids interested in reading books, not just reading HP.

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  18. If you're looking for books like HP, I suppose you could start with EarthSea. It has some of the wizard school/chosen one stuff, but it might seem slight after the weight (I mean physical!) of the HP books. I definitely think that Pullman follows well on HP because it has the kids-in-danger-but-working-as-a-team thing going, though it is a bit more harrowing if you ask me.

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  19. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. The Narnia Chronicles by Lewis.



    Laird

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  20. What I'm particularly curious to find are what books are similar enough to HP that they would be satisfying to somebody who was just blown away by HP and wanted more, more, more.

    That's a tall order, Matthew, since if people knew what the ineffable component was that makes the HP books so popular, we'd already be inundated with similar works. As it is, the publishing industry has been trying to recreate the Potter success for nearly a decade, with very mixed results.

    My experience has been that different people appreciate different things about the books. As a genre reader who picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when I was 18, I wasn't particularly impressed with the fantasy elements of the books (I wasn't unimpressed either, but apart from admiring how sure-footed Rowling was when she created her world, the fantasy elements don't do much for me), but I adored her humor, her gentle satire of the English school system, and her clever mysteries. In the later books, I've admired the casual way Rowling introduces complex concepts, and how none of her characters are completely good or evil. Other readers that I've spoken to have admired other qualities about the books - even those elements that I found particularly weak. I suspect the secret of the books' appeal may be that while they are rarely brilliant, in almost every respect they are very very good - there's something for everyone.

    I wouldn't necessarily recommend Le Guin's Earthesea, which I found cold and uninvolving, to follow the HP books. Rowling's careful attention to her characters makes Le Guin's faint pencil sketches seem quite pathetic. I rather despise the Pullman books, which I found didactic and poorly characterized, so I wouldn't recommend them either.

    If I had to recommend something to suit Matthew's narrower criteria, I'd probably stick with Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky). They have a lot of elements that might be familiar from the Potter books (young child discovers she has magical powers, is forced to shoulder a great burden) but with some interesting twists (caustic, level-headed Tiffany is probably the anti-Harry, and both the books' broad humor and their infatuation with Tiffany's native country and the memory of her powerful grandmother aren't something you'd find in Rowling's series).

    But, again, it depends what the child in question appreciated most about HP.

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  21. quoted from above:

    wouldn't necessarily recommend Le Guin's Earthesea, which I found cold and uninvolving, to follow the HP books. Rowling's careful attention to her characters makes Le Guin's faint pencil sketches seem quite pathetic


    I'm not sure I follow- all of the characters in every Earthsea book are extremely complex and well thought out. I thought Harry Potter and his gang to be pretty cliche and cardboard.

    Compare, esp, the Tomb of Atuan to any HP book. The princess who guards the unnamed ones is very well drawn, an interesting character that is very complex.

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  22. I love the Earthsea books, but I think they are much more challenging than Harry Potter, and might be off-putting to a kid who isn't already an enthusiastic reader. Aren't you asking about sort of junkier or at least more immediately gratifying stuff? The Pratchett ones are probably the best fit, esp. since they're jokey in a similar (OK, much better) way. I love Pullman and his main characters, Lyra and Will, are on the verge of adolescence in a way that will resonate with some if not all readers. Diana Wynne Jones, though, is the closest fit. The Chrestomanci books are the obvious place to start. Again, the combination of magic, strange Englishness and humor is what will make them feel familiar to a Potter reader.

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  23. I'm not sure I follow- all of the characters in every Earthsea book are extremely complex and well thought out.

    That wasn't my impression at all (although I've only read the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, so I don't know the character you mentioned). Ged, the first book's main character, should have a fascinating emotional arc - he's a callow, arrogant boy who does something foolish and terrible that costs a life and changes his own forever. I should have felt something, both before and after that act, but what I got from the book was very formal and stilted. I didn't get the sense that I was reading about a real person so much as a mythical account of a real person - all the interesting details that might have made the story come alive had been lost.

    The thing I love about the characters in the HP books is how fallible they all are, especially the good guys. Sirius Black is impulsive, childish, and vindictive. Remus Lupin is so eager to be liked that he turns a blind eye to the misdeeds of his friends. Harry's father was a bully and a braggart. Hagrid is a drunk whose emotional growth stopped some time in his early teens. Dumbledore is an utter failure as a leader of men. Alastor Moody is warlike and inclined to be cruel. Molly Weasley is shrewish and overbearing, her son Percy values his career over right and wrong, and the behavior of her younger sons Fred and George quite often verges on bullying. And, of course, Hermione is bossy and not too good in a crisis, Ron never uses his head, and Harry is so passive it's a wonder he manages to get out of bed in the morning.

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  24. Aren't you asking about sort of junkier or at least more immediately gratifying stuff?

    Not necessarily -- it depends how you define what you think would appeal to a kid who read HP and wanted more. Harold Bloom criticized Rowling because he thinks her books will only lead kids to liking her work, or things like Stephen King, but I don't think that has to be true at all. And, of course, it's an entirely subjective exercise, and if there really were such a book, as somebody pointed out above, then it would be the hottest thing in PublishingLand. But that doesn't mean it's not interesting to see what people come up with.

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  25. i gave my little sisters Earthsea as soon as they finished every Harry Potter book that had been out since and they absolutely loved them. they've since moved on to read smarter and hipper stuff than me.

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  26. I think Bloom is perilously close to the truth--although one person's junk, etc.... I work in the school system and see a whole lot of kids reading HP and the YA Star Wars books with no interest in gravitating to anything more sophisticated. Some kids read HP and moved on to bigger and better things, however I suspect they were the adventurous ones,the ones predisposed to greater intellectual creativity. That's why I'd suggest erring on the side of substantially upgrading these reading lists, not spoon-feeding an HP grad more of the same, "only better." It won't reliably accomplish much in the way of enabling the resistant kids and it does the more precocious readers a disservice.

    Laird

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  27. I can't get this thread out of my head! It's such an interesting set of questions--I have an endless fascination with the "what I think people should read" versus "what I think they will really love" divide. My final words: Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" sequence. Beautifully written--really impeccably thought out and executed--could have been published as novels for adults, but happen to be about children. I can't imagine someone not liking them unless they have absolutely no tolerance for fantastical elements in fiction.

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  28. Continuum (Melbourne, Ausrtalia convetnion) just finished, and the day that Harry Potter was released a teenage girl sat for about two hours just outside the dealer's room her attention fixed on Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

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