Increasingly, I find I am helping parents find good books for sensitive kids. The popularity of Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid introduced two different but influential themes of darkness, for lack of a better word, into the realm of children's books. More and more, a work of fantasy will present themes of darkness and suspense with antagonists who are much more malevolent, sometimes brutal and detailed than those that came before. Just compare IT, the mind-controlling, bodiless being who refers to "ITself" as the "Happiest Sadist" from A Wrinkle in Time with Voldemort or the Styx from Roderick Gordon's fantastic Tunnels series. While they all seem pretty nightmare-inducing to me, to young readers the concretely described, complex characters of Voldemort and the Styx are much more real and scary than the voice of IT. These themes and characters are increasingly standard for middle-grade fantasy, making the need for fantasy books without evil protagonists even more necessary, especially for young children with high reading levels. While at work I have met plenty of second and third graders who were tackling books 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the Harry Potter series, books that are very long and increasingly dark but, increasingly, I find these young readers stopping at book three in the series, if reading them at all.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has introduced a whole new realm of disturbing to the world of kid's books with the uncomfortable and sometimes cruel social situations main character Greg finds himself in or enacting on others. Recently, my seven year old son visibly cringed while watching the preview for the movie version of the third book in the series and I know he is not alone in his reaction. The other dayI spoke to the parent of a high reading boy who refused to even consider reading the Wimpy Kid books because there was an image of one boy pushing another on the cover. In my article How to Find Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers I discuss the dilemma that sensitive readers face. Fantasy dominates the shelves and, when that is not an option, these young readers are left with reality based fiction that often makes family and social dramas central plot points, issues that most seven and eight year olds are uninterested in and most parents will find inappropriate. So, what's left for these kids?
I have created a new label, Good Fantasy - Harmless Bad Guys which features books with fantastical themes that have no antagonist or an antagonist that is more funny than frightening. These stories still have moments of suspense, which some readers are sensitive to as well, but they do not have the dark, malevolent themes or characters found in other works of fantasy. Also, these book represent a range of reading levels. I have to be honest - I am not the best judge of what might be scary to sensitive readers and you may want to pre-read, or at least read my full review of these books before giving them to your children. As this list grows and my skill at seeking out these types of books is honed, I will update and expand the label. This list is meant to represent books written at higher reading levels that are appropriate for sensitive readers, specifically the youngest readers.
I hope you find this helpful and your feedback is welcomed and essential to making this list valuable. Please, please don't hesitate to tell me if you disagree with a book given the Good Fantasy - Harmless Bad Guys label. And please, please let me know of books you have read that fit into this category, whether I have read them or not!
Books I am reading or planning to read that
I think might earn this label...