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Diana Wynne Jones Books for Gifted Teens
Review Diana Wynne Jones's Body of Work
Did you know there are classic fantasy books for young adults written long before J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series? Not just the well-known C.S. Lewis' Narnia series or J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books.
Diana Wynne Jones, a British author who wrote for decades before her death from cancer on March 26, 2011 at age 76, was another well-loved author of classic juvenile fantasy literature. Her books make perfect birthday, Christmas, Chanukah, or holiday gift for a bright, gifted and creative grade-school age child or teen.
Classic Fantasy Books for Gifted Teens
These days, there's a trick to getting a good fantasy book for a smart older kid/teen: choosing one that can compete with all the electronic distractions in the modern child's life. If you don't read children's books yourself, the choices can seem overwhelming, but there really are books that good. Since the craze of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, young adult readers have been looking around for more books "like Harry Potter." In other words, fantasy books about regular kids getting up to fantastic magical adventures.
Intelligent fantasy books that are also exciting, imaginative and addicting are especially appealing to gifted kids. Well, these books already exist, and they were written decades ago (but not too long ago to be accessible)! They were written by Diana Wynne Jones, a not-very-well-known-in-America British author of children's books. Jones happens to be my favorite author of all time - and can recommend specific books that will engross children no end. As a long-time fan of her work, I was devastated to hear that she passed away. The genre of fantasy children's literature has truly lost one of its greatest authors.
Howl's Moving Castle
Possibly the best-known book by Diana Wynne Jones because of the Japanese anime movie that was based on it, Howl's Moving Castle is a hilarious, thoroughly imaginative fairytale book for kids age 6 through, well, 100. It is not too young for a teenager, by any means. I read it first in my 30s and I'll certainly be re-reading my copy as long as I have my eyesight and the pages are intact.
You'd think that girls might like this one better than boys, since it's big on romance. But the adventure quotient is high, and Howl is a dashing role model, and boys won't be bored by any means.
A young woman gets cursed by a wicked witch into growing instantly old, and must seek out help. She ends up teaming up with the frightening Wizard Howl and his unusual sidekick--a ball of flames named Calcifer.
Jones pokes fun at fairytale tropes even as she succeeds in making those tropes come to life. A very realistic, believable fantasy world that ends leaving you wanting more...which is why she wrote the sequels, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.
The Lives of Christopher Chant--A Chrestomanci Book
When it comes to wizard-in-training books, Harry Potter simply doesn't hold a candle to Jones's The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988), a wonderful, sweeping, magical story.
Christopher travels through parallel worlds in his dreams and studies under an iconoclastic magician in order to learn magic--which he adamantly doesn't want to do, since his first love is cricket.
When he's taken into a dark castle filled with other students of magic, he meets a rather unusual girl...and the adverture gets underway.
This is a book in the extraordinarily appealing Chrestomanci series. Chrestomanci is a tall, dark, suave, humorous, and totally dashing sorcerer type of character who is basically a magical bureaucrat.
He's featured in all the books. Note that her earlier books in the series are better than the later novels and short stories. Other books include:
- Charmed Life (1977)
- The Magicians of Caprona (1980)
- Witch Week (1982)
- Mixed Magics (2000), an anthology of short stories
- Conrad's Fate (2005)
- The Pinhoe Egg (2006)
Although Archer's Goon features a male protagonist, I'm not a boy, and I found it wonderful, too. A schoolboy comes home to find a goon--a big, burly goon--sitting in his kitchen. The goon plainly holds something over his father, and he's got to figure out what. The mystery leads him to discover that his town is being ruled by some very strange characters.
There's time travel, there's parallel universes, there's space travel...there's enemies that become friends and friends who become enemies. And there are, as usual with Jones books, big surprises. Although the protagonist is young, nothing is quite as it seems, and this book has the potential to truly enchant older readers (no pun intended).
Hexwood for Young Adults
Warning: This book has some definitely dark, disturbing scenes and ideas. Precocious young adults will be amazed by Hexwood, which is partially fantasy and partially science fiction. A complex story that kids mysteriously seem to get--understanding the minds of kids is a rare talent to Jones's credit--Hexwood is an example of the power of brilliant prose to lead the reader on into a world that is not the world you think...a world that changes on each page and somehow, by the end, makes a crazy kind of sense.
The plot? A machine gone rogue called the Bannus poses a threat to the people who are currently ruling the universe. So they go to Earth to investigate what's going on...and it's the last thing they expect.
That's all I'll say, because almost anything you say about this book is a spoiler. Suffice it to say an intelligent teenager with a wild imagination, one who loves time travel, or one who likes stories of King Arthur and dragons will not be disappointed.
A Tale of Time City
A perfect book for pre-teen to young adult girls or boys, since it features a girl protagonist as well as two boy protagonistis, A Tale of Time City is one of the best time travel fantasy books for kids ever.
A British girl being sent via railroad to the country during the raids of World War II finds herself kidnapped by two very strange boys in odd suits. They take her to Time City, an enchanting city outside of time where people study the different time periods of history. Desperate to get home, yet finding herself getting caught up in trying to prevent a plot to destroy Time City, the girl gets sucked into the world and learns some very surprising things about time itself.