Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Books for Imaginative Children

A friend asked me recently for book recommendations for her son who enjoys fantasy books. I find the fantasy genre to be difficult since I want to avoid any books that hint at the occult. But I have found that most children have active imaginations and enjoy books with talking animals, secret wishes, and magical feats. I don't think my children have a problem discerning between truth and make believe. They know that spiders don't write letters in their webs to save their friend the pig. 

This list of books is for my friend Becky and anyone who want books for the imaginative child. Not all of them would be considered fantasy, but all definitely stretch realism and will require some imagination.

As always, these are books that I personally enjoyed when prereading for my children. If I start a book and find it hard to pick it up again, I assume that the book probably isn't worth my children's time either. I enjoy finding books that will delight their imagination while still meeting my personal book standards. If your standards differ from mine, then skip this list.

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The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers
Imagine the story of David and Goliath mixed with Tom Sawyer and some American Tall Tales and dumped into a Georgia swamp. Only a skilled author with a great imagination could pull off this story. Don't expect a Bible story retelling, or even a "Christian" book. This is great story telling depicting some truth. Even my reluctant reader was drawn into this story of alligators, caves, and, of course, giants. The violence isn't graphic though still may be too much for a sensitive child.

The Bark of the Bog Owl begins the Wilderking Trilogy. I didn't think the sequel could be better than the first, but The Secret of the Swamp King managed to excel the first, in my opinion. The third book, The Way of the Wilderking wasn't my favorite of the three but gave a satisfying conclusion.

Half Magic by Edward Eager
On a boring summer day Jane finds a coin on the sidewalk and wishes something exciting would happen. Jane and her siblings soon find their wishes granted. Almost. Only half their wish comes true which makes some crazy escapades for the whole family. I love books like these with solid family relationships that were written in the 1950's. Eager's books have been delighting children for half a century. I've only read this one, but you might want to try his others books if you like Half Magic.

A lonely girl, an evil nanny, and a talking rat – all the ingredients needed for a delightful tale. Both boys and girls will enjoy in imagining what it would be like to be a few inches tall on a mission to save their parents. Don't miss the fun drawings across the top of the page. If you like Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, you'll like this story of super-smart rodents.

Recipe for Adventure: Naples by Giada De Laurentii

Alfie's aunt insists homemade pizza is better than take-out, and Alfie and his sister soon discover real pizza in Naples, Italy. These are short chapter books perfect for food loving children who are just beginning to read chapter books. Look for other books in the series for more food discoveries in other parts of the world as this chef/author cooks up a food adventure story. Note: the children do sometimes lie to keep from being found out on their make-believe adventure.

Eddie’s aunt is missing. He might only be a small green bug, but he is willing to brave the long school halls to find his aunt. Maybe he can even save the school library from the evil librarian. A fun easy chapter book for anyone who loves books.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
This is a story that proves that nothing is like it appears at first glance. Four twelve-year-olds are competing in the national candy making competition. Logan is expected to have an advantage since he lives in a candy factory. As the story switches to the perspectives of each of the other contestants, surprising secrets are uncovered and soon the children are in a contest to save the candy factory itself. I loved this story combining yummy treats and suspense. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Four gifted children respond to an unusual ad in the newspaper and are chosen to infiltrate a secret school. They find riddles, danger, tunnels, and an evil man who wants to rule the world. My children loved this book though it is a little darker and scarier than the other books on this list. You might want to discuss the Whisperer and telepathy with your children if they read this book. Don't be surprised if they fall in love with this creative bunch and want to read more books about the Benedict Society.

If you want more stories to build the imagination, check out my other list of fantasy books.

I'd love to hear about your favorites.


  1. Gina, How do you find your books? Are these at your local library?
    On another note--how fun to see "Emily and the Incredible Shrinking Rat" on your list. The illustrator (Jonathan Bean) is my nephew. He is the author of "Building Our House" and is based on my sister and brother in law (his parents) building their own home. A fun read. Check out his other books. :)

    1. I love Jonathan Bean's books - especially his picture book about homeschooling! I could so relate to that book. And Building Our House was a favorite at our house too. How fun that you know that author/illustrator.

      About finding books - I spend a lot of time searching online and reading book reviews. And yes, I love our local library system. I usually have about 30 books on reserve.

  2. I want to thank you for putting these lists together! I've ordered quite a few of the books you have recommended over the last couple years and have never had to throw one away because of questionable content. Thank you so much for keeping your standards high!

  3. If you like mouse stories, The Tale of Despereaux is about a mouse who lived in a castle and fell in love with the princess. I picked up a copy recently and gave it away, so I never really read through it but I read enough that I am looking for another! It is written by Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie. I love your book reviews. I just wish I could keep up with them better!😉 Lovina Baer

  4. These are some good fantasy series and some stand alones, occult-less

    THE BATTLE FOR THE CASTLE#2 by Elizabeth Winthrop

    THE MAGIC TUNNEL by Caroline Emerson

    MOUSENET #1 (mice and computers)
    MOUSE MISSION #3 by Prudence Breitrose

    Dick King-Smith wrote many many books. BABE is only
    one of about 100, almost all of them animal stories.

    OVER SEA, UNDER STONE #1 (the Dark is Rising series)
    SILVER ON THE TREE #5 by Susan Cooper

    This series does have some scary parts, too much for
    younger children. It is very strong fantasy, much
    like the Narnia series, and is a battle over the
    5 books between the Dark and the Light...good and evil.
    My children read these, more than once. I first read them in library
    school...THE GREY KING is also a Newbery Medal winner.

    TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN by Phillipa Pearce
    This is a lovely book, one of my favorites.

    THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin

    1. Thanks for all the suggestions. I have read a few of these but some are new to me.

  5. Thank you for all of these good book suggestions. I have an imaginative 8yo girl who loves to read and it’s often hard to find appropriate and entertaining books for her to delve into. These are all great!

  6. Good books for children, thanks for sharing all of these. Keep it up.

  7. thanks so much for sharing Gina-I was able to find them at my library in Canada (often I have a hard time finding the ones on your list). Hurray!

  8. I'm usually just a reader, but I wanted to pipe in. I love books, and often find myself in the children's section even as an adult. I'm looking forward to my 8 month old being old enough to read stories with.
    Some books I've especially enjoyed:
    - The Wingfeather Saga (4 books) by Andrew Peterson. He's also a Christian singer/songwriter. My husband and I loved reading these together. There are some dark themes, so maybe not for very young children. The characters are flawed, yet admirable making them easy to relate to.
    - The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois. A fun fantastical tale.
    - Watership Down by Richard Adams This one is about rabbits. There is some violence.

  9. Some of these we already know, but I'll be looking up the new ones, too! Thank you.

    We love The Borrowers series by Mary Norton. Also Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH which has some violence, but not gratuitous and this book really makes my kids think and ask questions.

  10. This list has been well received here at our house. Thanks for sharing! I hear peels of laughter while they are reading and feel so happy.


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