Jessica Teisch

Where can you turn after you’ve read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Or what could you read instead? Harry has been both the inspiration for readers to find like-minded books and a market behemoth that can drown out equally worthy titles. Bookmarks compiled its list of favorites. Most books in this genre are aimed at ages 9-12, but as we know, can be enjoyed by much older as well as slightly younger readers.


Standalone works—hot off the presses and well-reviewed.

The Merlin ConspiracyThe Merlin Conspiracy

By Diana Wynne Jones (2003)

In an alternate England on the islands of Blest, the sorcerer Merlin may have been murdered. Young Roddy and Grundo become aware of a conspiracy, but the adults around them pay no mind. In a parallel story, Nick Mallory, who seems to be from an Earth much like our own, finds himself on a journey between worlds and soon arrives in Blest to help.

". . . Diana Wynne Jones has delivered a thumping-good adventure yarn with dozens of twists and turns. . . . A novel as dense and complex as this one gives especially good value, as nearly all readers will want to go back to see what they missed the first time around." Alice K. Turner, Washington Post, 5/11/03.

The Wee Free MenThe Wee Free Men

By Terry Pratchett (2003)

The winner of last year’s Carnegie Medal for best children’s book in Britain returns. Though Pratchett has set 30 or so books on Discworld, this is only his second children’s work set in that universe and requires no prior knowledge.

"Despite its slapstick, wordplay and Simpsons-like comedy, The Wee Free Men teaches, slantwise like all good fiction, the importance of trust, kindness, determination and responsibility. And as in any good fantasy tale, the story ends with nothing changed and everything changed." Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 5/11/03.


If what you like about Harry Potter involves learning how to cast spells and harness magical powers try one of these:

So You Want to Be a WizardSo You Want to Be a Wizard

(Young Wizards Series)

By Diane Duane (1983)

Becoming a wizard is easier than Harry Potter lets on. When two lonely adolescents discover a book on wizardry, they begin casting spells. But things take a wrong turn when they encounter an alternate Manhattan, where all objects are alive.

The Lost Years of MerlinThe Lost Years of Merlin

(Lost Years of Merlin Series)

By T. A. Barron (1996)

When a young boy with no memory of his past washes ashore on the coast of Wales, a series of adventures leads him to discover his true identity. Some readers will notice some similarities between this series and the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (described on the following page), as both draw on the same body of Welsh myth. We’d opt to explore Prydain first.


Although dragons, ghosts, and wizards abound in Harry Potter, there is a notable shortage of witches. Still, readers who enjoy the special powers conferred to those special few will enjoy these series about witchcraft:

Witch WeekWitch Week

(The Chrestomanci Quartet)

By Diana Wynne Jones (1982)

Several boys and girls in England discover that they possess special powers. But law decrees that all witches are to be burned at the stake. Who are the real witches? Also try The Dalemark Quartet and The Dark Lord of Derkholm, about a family of human and griffin sorcerers.

The Worst WitchThe Worst Witch

(Worst Witch Series)

By Jill Murphy (1974)

This is the first in a series about Mildred, a young witch, who bumbles her way through Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. When she disgraces her school, she runs away—only to get caught up in a plot that spells doom for the Academy. The series makes witchcraft (and reading) a whole lot easier than Harry Potter, but shares much resemblance to it with its cursed broomsticks and mean classmates.


It’s not often that Muggles (non-magical people) enter magical spheres. And yet it does happen. For readers who like the mix of Muggleness and magic, fantasy and realism in Harry Potter, these books and series about ordinary children acquiring special powers or magical experiences will surely entertain:

Artemis FowlArtemis Fowl

(Artemis Fowl Series)

By Eoin Colfer (2001)

A 12-year-old villain, Artemis Fowl, plans to hold a leprechaun ransom. Yet his plans go awry when he kidnaps Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Unit), and Holly fights back. The latest release is The Eternity Code (2003). The series might do for fairies what Harry Potter did for wizards.

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted

By Gail Carson Levine (1998)

Award StarNewbery Honor

Ella struggles against a childhood curse that makes her obey any order given to her. In a magical world, Levine reinvents the story of Cinderella.

The Secret of Platform 13The Secret of Platform 13

By Eva Ibbotson (1994)

The door between London and an enchanted island opens for only nine days every nine years. When the infant prince of the island is kidnapped in the last minute before it closes in 1983, the king and queen plan his rescue. Readers who enjoy Harry Potter’s Dudley will enjoy the spoiled boy featured in this novel.

"Ibbotson’s fantasy pits the good guys against the forces of wickedness in a perfectly funny, perfectly delightful romp." Kathleen Karr, Washington Post, 3/1/98.

The Dark Is RisingThe Dark Is Rising

By Susan Cooper (1965-1977)

Award StarNewbery Honor: The Dark is Rising (Book 3)

Award StarNewbery Medal: The Grey King (Book 5)

When the young hero, Will Stanton, turns 11, he realizes his magical powers and heritage. He’s immortal, an Old One, who must save the world from evil. The series, filled with Celtic and Welsh legends, includes Over the Sea, Under Stone, The Dark Is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree.


If the unicorns, giants, and other fantastical elements in Harry Potter excite you most, take a look at these series-pure fantasy:

The Wind SingerThe Wind Singer

(Wind on Fire Trilogy)

By William Nicholson (2000)

Award StarNestlé Smarties Gold Award

After Kestrel Hath escapes from the repressed Amaranth society, she, her twin brother, and a classmate follow an ancient map in search of a magical wind singer in an attempt to heal the Amaranth people.

"The sheer inventiveness of Nicholson’s fantasy will thrill boys of nine and upwards in particular." Amanda Craig, The Times (London), 5/18/02.

The Book of ThreeThe Book of Three

(Chronicles of Prydain Series)

By Lloyd Alexander (1964)

Award StarNewbery Honor - The Black Cauldron (Bk 2)

Award StarNewbery Medal - The High King (Bk 4)

In the magical, princess-filled kingdom of Prydain, Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, embarks on a series of valorous and humorous adventures. A classic work based on Welsh mythology.


(Redwall Series)

By Brian Jacques (1986)

When Cluny the Scourge—an evil, one-eyed rat warlord—threatens the peace-loving mice of Redwall Abbey, the mice must defend their kingdom. The latest in the 16-part series is Loamhedge (2003).

"The Redwall Abbey series are like Lego toys. They’re either your child’s favorite toy and played with constantly, or they never catch his or her interest." Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy, The Plain Dealer, 6/20/00.

Talking to DragonsTalking to Dragons

(The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Bk 4)

By Patricia C. Wrede (1984)

When the young Daystar begins a quest for his heritage to find the lair of the King of the Dragons, he becomes involved in a war between dragons and wizards.


Some of these older books preceded Harry Potter by a century. They aren’t easily categorized, since some created a lineage for different genres of modern fantasy. Each stands on its own as a classic, and is just enjoyable today as it was for you and your parents (and their parents?).

The HobbitThe Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

When one day a wizard named Gandalf knocks on the hobbit Bilbo Baggins’s door, Bilbo embarks on a journey with dwarves, goblins, elves, and dragons. (Certainly appropriate for ages up to adults.)

Tom’s Midnight GardenTom’s Midnight Garden

By Philippa Pearce (1958)

Award StarCarnegie Medal

Tom, forced to stay with his aunt and uncle over the summer holidays, expects to be bored. But one night, after an antique grandfather clock strikes thirteen times, Tom discovers a secret door and embarks on a magical, amazing adventure with his new friend Hatty.

Phantom TollboothPhantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster (1961)

Young (and bored) Milo opens a package that turns out to be a tollbooth. He drives through in his toy car and finds himself in the Lands Beyond. Milo visits the city of Dictionopolis, meets King Azaz and the Count of Connotation, and must rescue Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air. Funny and clever.

The Magic FingerThe Magic Finger

By Roald Dahl (1966)

This shorter Dahl book tells the story of an 8-year-old girl with a temper—and a magic finger that turns her family into birds.

The Last of the Really Great WhangdoodlesThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles

By Julie Edwards (1974)

Three children and a professor travel to the fantastic land of the Whangdoodle, a fantastical creature that roamed the earth until everyone stopped believing in its existence. Only the most brave and imaginative people have a chance of seeing him again.

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story

By Michael Ende (1976)

When a lonely boy named Bastian steps through the pages of a book, he gets caught up in a noble adventure in the magical kingdom of Fantastica.

Haroun and the Sea of StoriesHaroun and the Sea of Stories

By Salman Rushdie (1990)

More recent, but we’re calling it a classic. Adults will recognize many of Rushdie’s themes from this book written while he was in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa for Rushdie’s assassination. Haroun is the son of the world’s greatest storyteller; together he and his father must battle the Prince of Silence, Khattam-Shud, who is poisoning the Sea of Stories. Khattam-Shud says "The world, however, is not for Fun. The world is for Controlling."

"Parents will read it to their children for their own pleasure. It is a new fairy tale for a new age, but it encapsulates traditions from The Arabian Nights to The Wizard of Oz. It awakens memories in adults and opens doors to new worlds for children." Lee Lescaze, Wall Street Journal, 11/27/90.


Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll (1865)

When the young Alice falls down a rabbit hole, she enters a kingdom ruled by the Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, Ugly Duchess, Mock Turtle, and Cheshire Cat. Each adventure is more nonsensical than the last. Sequels: Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.

The Sword in the Stone The Sword in the Stone

By T.H. White (1938)

An old wizard named Merlin undertakes the education of a curious young boy called Wart, who is destined to become Britain’s King Arthur in medieval England. (The sequels are aimed at teenagers and adults.)

The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

(The Chronicles of Narnia)

By C.S. Lewis (1950)

Four English children—Peter, Lucy, Susan, and Edmund—step into their wardrobe and into another world of magical, mythical creatures like the golden lion, Aslan, and encounters with the White Witch. Not to be missed.

Half MagicHalf Magic

By Edward Eager (1954)

A magical coin that grants only half a wish leads four children on many entertaining summertime adventures. Sequels: Knight’s Castle, Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden, Magic or Not?, The Well-Wishers, and Seven-Day Magic.

The Wolves of Willoughby ChaseThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase

(Wolves of Willoughby Chases Series)

By Joan Aiken (1962)

When Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage, her evil governess sends her and her cousin Sylvia to an orphan school. They soon escape, but how will they ever reclaim their home from Miss Slighcarp?

A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

Award StarNewbery Medal: A Wrinkle in Time (Bk 1)

Award StarAmerican Book Award: A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Bk 3)

When Meg Murry and Charles Wallace meet Mrs. Whatsit and Charles O’Keefe, they travel through space in the shadow of an evil power.

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Roald Dahl (1964)

Chocolatier Willy Wonka is about to open his factory to the public—that is, to five lucky Golden Ticket winners. For the young Charlie Bucket, it’s a dream come true. But when he and four other children enter the door to the world’s most fantastic chocolate factory, Charlie discovers the truth about his repulsive companions. Sequel: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.


The Bad BeginningThe Bad Beginning

(A Series of Unfortunate Events, Bk I)

By Lemony Snicket (1999)

We love this series with its witty attitude and style. After the sudden death of their parents, the three Baudelaire children—Violet, Klaus, and Sonny—must try to thwart the attempts of a distant relative to steal their fortune. The latest in the series is The Slippery Slope (2003).

FOR YOUNG ADULTS (Ages 12 and up)

A Wizard of EarthseaA Wizard of Earthsea

(Earthsea Series, Book I)

By Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

A reckless but smart young boy named Ged becomes a wizard's apprentice after the wizard tells him his true name: Sparrowhawk. Great challenges await him, including battling dragons and casting spells. The latest in the series is The Other Wind (2001).

"… the big question is: Who is your favorite wizard? Gandalf? Dumbledore? Merlin? The Wizard of Oz? . . . My favorite is not as famous as the ones I just mentioned. He is Ged, the hero of Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin. He may be less well known, but to anyone who would actually think about ranking wizards, he would be near the top." James Gorman, New York Times, 1/11/02.

The Golden CompassThe Golden Compass

(His Dark Materials Trilogy)

By Philip Pullman (1995)

Award StarWhitbread Literary Award: The Amber Spyglass

The heroine, orphan Lyra, is just like any other 12-year-old-except that her personal daemon, Pantalaimon, accompanies her at all times. When her friend disappears, she determines to find him in the Far North, where other kidnapped children are the subjects of horrible experiments. Older readers and adults might find this trilogy more rewarding than Harry Potter; the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, won Britain's Whitbread Literary Award, both in the Children's Fiction category and overall Book of the Year.

YOUNGER READERS (Ages 5-8 and up)

Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell

By Patricia Coombs (1968)

This is the 6th book in the 20-part series on Dorrie, a little witch who encounters goblins and ghosts.

Peter PanPeter Pan

By J. M. Barrie (1904)

The three Darling children—John, Wendy, and Michael—live a very proper life in Edwardian London. Then Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up, takes them to the magical kingdom of Neverland.

The Hidden Stairs and the Magic CarpetThe Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet

By Tony Abbott (1999)

The first in a new, 19-part series, The Secrets of Droon, from the publisher of the Harry Potter books, tells the tale of Eric, Julie, and Neal, who discover a secret staircase in Eric's basement. It leads to Droon, a magical world filled with strange creatures and wizards. Many of these are easy chapter books under 100 pages. (Ages 7-12)

The Wizard of OzThe Wizard of Oz

(Oz Series)

By L. Frank Baum (1900)

A little girl named Dorothy travels to a mysterious place called Oz and meets the wizard who rules from the Emerald City.

Five Children and ItFive Children and It

By Edith Nesbit (1902)

While digging in the sand, five children discover a Psammead, or sand fairy, who can make wishes come true. Thus begins their summer of adventure and excitement—until an accidental wish puts their magical powers to the test. Also try The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet.