The best young adult and middle grade fantasy books for readers of all ages

Who am I?

I’ve been reading middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy books via visits to local library branches (thanks, Mom!) and bookmobiles (anybody under 40 remember those?) since I was in grade school and writing in those same genres since 2005. That was when I tapped into my love of MG/YA fantasy novels and began writing about dragons between gigs as a professional animation writer.


I wrote...

Dragonfriend: Leonard the Great, Book One

By Roger Eschbacher,

Book cover of Dragonfriend: Leonard the Great, Book One

What is my book about?

If you think it's all good deeds and stuffy politeness over at Camelot, you're wrong! Most people don't know this, but things are pretty bad right now. King Arthur's in jail, Merlin's gone missing, and there's a cruel demon in charge. Seriously! Now it's up to young Leonard, a page to a poor but kind knight, to set things right—even if that means going on a dangerous quest, outsmarting hungry monsters, or risking his life to make friends with a bunch of grumpy dragons.

Filled with dragons, magic, and irreverent humor, Dragonfriend is an epic YA Arthurian fantasy novel in the spirit of The Princess Bride, The Sword in the Stone, and Excalibur.

The books I picked & why

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The Sea of Trolls

By Nancy Farmer,

Book cover of The Sea of Trolls

Why this book?

The Sea of Trolls is an excellent and satisfying read that immersed me in the fascinating Norse/Saxon world of 793 A.D. It’s the first book in one of the best series I've read in a long time—featuring rich world-building, magic at all levels, bold deeds, and a dry sense of humor. 


The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Why this book?

Neil Gaiman is one of the most innovative and imaginative authors writing today. A fan of his work since Sandman, I picked up this book knowing I was in for a storytelling treat. Nobody Owens was tragically orphaned as a toddler, then adopted by the ghosts of a nearby graveyard and protected by an enigmatic guardian. "Bod" grows up learning the ways of the dead and with the knowledge that the man who killed his family relentlessly searches for him outside his graveyard sanctuary. The Graveyard Book is a charming, darkly funny read.


The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Book cover of The Hobbit

Why this book?

No list with a title remotely similar to mine would be complete without The Hobbit from J.R.R. Tolkien. This was the book that hit me squarely between the eyes in my early teen years in the 1970s and compelled me to “pleasure read” YA/MG high fantasy from then until now (and, no doubt, beyond!). This wonderful introduction to the world of The Lord of the Rings contains a reluctant hero, a dragon, a wizard, bold dwarves, hungry trolls, fierce orcs, and a magic ring—all tied together in a grand adventure filled with humor and action-packed derring-do. What more could a fantasy reader of any age want?


The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan,

Book cover of The Lightning Thief

Why this book?

Set in the modern world, The Lightning Thief explores the always fun premise of “What if the old gods never really went away?” Young Percy Jackson is a boarding school student who’s having a hard time figuring out who he is and why all these strange and mostly dangerous things keep happening to him. Percy doesn’t have much time to reflect when his true identity is finally revealed as he’s quickly thrown into an epic quest to recover Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt before god-level total war breaks out on Mount Olympus. This book (the whole series, for that matter) has everything I like in a good fantasy read—mythical creatures, good humor, and an action-packed story that keeps you guessing until the end. 


The Amulet of Samarkand

By Jonathan Stroud,

Book cover of The Amulet of Samarkand

Why this book?

The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in one of the best young adult fantasy series I've read in years. Bartimaeus is a smart and delightfully sarcastic djinni working for (he’d say he was "enslaved by") magical wunderkind, John Mandrake. Well-written and laugh-out-loud funny, these books explore a wonderfully odd yet familiar world full of scheming, usually malevolent spirits, often loathsome, backstabbing practitioners of magic, and exciting action. The first book (Amulet) got me hooked, and I quickly went on to devour the entire series.


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