Popular Middle Grade Fantasy Series

Kids banding together to help one another, particularly if the grown-ups are somehow unavailable = the biggest common denominator in middle grade fiction. Not every book fits this oversimplified definition, but many popular middle grade fantasy series certainly do.

Middle Grade v. YA Books

And what distinguishes a middle grade book from a teen (or YA/young adult) book? The middle grade books end up with kids and grown-ups reunited, or at least with more understanding of one another. Endings bring closure and satisfaction, security even. The protagonist usually ends up home in middle grade books, even if that home is a new place. Bonus if the book features a group of companions who are all supporting one another despite–or because of–their unique gifts and differences. Think of this as a child’s first community distinct from that of parents/grandparents.

In contrast, YA books feature protagonists coming-of-age and moving off on their own. The protagonist has more separation from nearly everyone around him or her as self identity becomes more critical.

Consider: in Anne of Green Gables, Anne and Diana support one another as kindred spirits and bosom friends, but the book ultimately brings Anne and Marilla together in Anne’s new home: Green Gables. The first volume is middle grades. The remaining books in the series grow progressively more “YA” as Anne herself matures; eventually, she leaves Marilla and Green Gables and starts her own home.

Or, Bilbo, in The Hobbit, is going “there and back again,” while Frodo ends up moving on to the Grey Havens at the end of the Lord of the Rings. Bilbo and the dwarves form an unlikely, but solid, companionship. Frodo, in contrast, grows to appreciate Sam more, but knows he is carrying a burden Sam cannot share.

When you start to think about middle grade books in these terms, the allure of such popular series as those listed below makes perfect sense: Protagonists must fend for themselves, figuring out how to survive and thrive without much direct intervention by grown-ups. Peers provide the biggest support network as they create a home and community together. The “kids” in the books often long to be more united to the “grown-ups” in their lives; they aren’t quite ready to fully leave home and be on their own.

Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland. Scholastic, 2013 (reprint). 336 pages.

Clay and the other four dragons of prophecy are each from a different dragon species and are destined to restore the dragon world to order. Unfortunately, not all the warring dragon rulers see this as a good thing. In volume one, Clay and his fellow dragons of prophecy manage to escape their controlling, protective shelter, seeking to act on their own. Alas, this only leads to deathly dangerous situations, dragon conflict, and run-ins with truly bloodthirsty types. Strong community and “helping one another” themes make this an irresistible book for many middle grade kids as a fast-paced plot and unique characterization hook them on page one. Note: this series is violent; when dragons fight, it’s dramatic. Each volume in the series is told from the perspective of a different dragon. This is only a review of book one. Ages: 10-12 and up.  Note: A graphic novel version of Wings of Fire: the Dragonet Prophesy is now available, with lots of fire, some dragon blood, and claws out! Note, too, the conversation in the comments below about some of the later books in the series.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. Aladdin, 2012 (reprint). 416 pages.

Dystopia for kids, the Unwanteds are the artistic, creative kids who’ve been culled from the, um, Wanteds. Instead of the anticipated death, however, the Unwanteds are preparing for the future battle with the Wanteds. Clever and a good introduction to dystopian fiction, this series has some interesting thematic elements (such as the importance of art and creativity). A community bands together, helping one another no matter what, against the evil government. For a more extensive review, see Janie’s Unwanteds review.  Note: the sequel series, The Unwanteds Quests appears to be more mature in themes; it changes the happy/satisfying ending of the first series. Ages: 8-12.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. HarperCollins, 2009 (reprint). 448 pages. 

The Magic Thief is a clever young man by the name of Connwaer (Conn, for short). After he tries to steal the magician Nevery’s locus magilicus stone without dying in the process, Conn ends up as Nevery’s apprentice. Clearly, he is no ordinary thief. Conn is not an ordinary magician’s apprentice either. He can talk to the magic that controls his city Wellmet; there are other magics out there, too, with which Conn can communicate. When disaster of a magical sort threatens to destroy Wellmet, Conn is key to the city’s defense, even though most of the city’s magicians think he’s trouble. No spoilers here, but the ending to the series is just sweet and satisfying enough to provide perfect closure. Distinctive characters, terrific world building, and enough intrigue to keep any reader’s attention make this series a sure winner with middle grade kids who enjoy magical stories. Ages: 9-12.

Have you, or your kids, read any of these series? What did you think? Which is your favorite?

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Betsy

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.

7 Comments

  1. The Warren & The World Vol 6, Issue 46 on November 17, 2018 at 3:01 am

    […] Kids banding together to help one another, particularly if the grown-ups are somehow unavailable = the biggest common denominator in middle grade fiction. Not every book fits this oversimplified definition, but many popular middle grade fantasy series certainly do. Read more […]

  2. Stephanie on June 17, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    I would like to know how Redeemed Reader would rate the Wings of Fire series. My kids LOVE this series but Id like a real review. 🙂

    • Betsy on June 18, 2020 at 11:16 am

      Good question, Stephanie. I’ve only read book 1 because I felt like I had better things to do with my time than plow through the rest of the series 😉. That’s partly why there’s not a “real” review. I’d rate the books about a 3-3.5 overall–they’re pretty violent and not very elegantly written/crafted. My daughter says the third series (the third set of 5) introduces girl characters who fall in love with each other, and she says the characters as a whole aren’t as likable by that point. It’s the sort of series that hooks people for a quick, entertaining read, but doesn’t offer much more. Does that help?

      • Julia F on July 8, 2020 at 4:19 pm

        My daughter was very disturbed by the homosexual female dragons, because it was not just a brief mention, but delved into their feelings for each other. She said it was not necessary to the story at all and felt betrayed by the author for including it.

        • Betsy on July 8, 2020 at 5:27 pm

          My daughter didn’t like them either, but she said that’s in that last series–this is one of those series that sort of spawns all sorts of extras after the initial first few books. I think the first couple of books in the original series are more tame (but then again, I don’t think they’re very well written, so I only read book 1!). Sadly, we’re seeing more and more middle grade series start off in an acceptable area and then veer into more mature themes rather suddenly a few books into the series. Stuart Gibbs’s Panda Monium books did that, too. We wish we had time to read all the books in all the series, but there are too many books!

  3. Anna Jorgenson on September 14, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    I think it is critical to highlight that The Wings of Fire series falls into the Trojan Horse category after book 10 (at book 11, 12 and especially book 13). Parents will have no idea that the topic of a lesbian dragon relationship is one of the main themes in book 13. You really have a responsibility as ‘Redeemed Reader’ to give a heads up to parents – a warning so that they can make an informed decision. The problem in recommending book 1 without warning about books 11, 12 and especially 13, is that people will start book 1, kids will love it, many will plow through book after book after book with no warning about the lesbian female dragon relationship in book 13. My husband and a few other mothers have also flagged the language in the book as more of an erotica type of language – something that I would flag whether or not it was female-female or female-male. Please consider warning parents up front at book 1. It’s a critical point!! Don’t allow families to let a Trojan Horse book into their kids minds as early as 8yo (it is labeled for ages 8-12yo by Scholastic). Read the one and two star reviews on Amazon for book 13 – little boys in tears, granddaughters crushed, mothers angry. Please issue a warning. https://martymachowski.com/trojan-horse-on-your-childs-bookshelf-part-2/

    • Betsy on September 14, 2020 at 8:29 pm

      Thank you, Anna, for pointing out those details. We try to specify when reviewing any series books whether we’re speaking on behalf of the whole series or just a particular book of the series because this is becoming a trend, especially when a series is still being published/not yet finished (you’ll notice above that I said I was only reviewing book 1). We always encourage readers to be discerning because, unfortunately, there’s no way the four of us volunteers here at Redeemed Reader can read every book in every series, nor can we read reviews of every book in every series. At the time this review posted, the books you refer to were not yet published, so we couldn’t have specified details about their content. I also encouraged readers in the post to read these comments for more information just such as you provide, so I’m sure many will find your comment helpful! (I’ll put that part in bold so that readers will be sure to read these comments.)

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