The best books about legendary creatures

14 authors have picked their favorite books about legendary creatures and why they recommend each book.

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By Andrew Root, Erin Kraan (illustrator),

Book cover of Nerdycorn

Fern the unicorn likes fixing and inventing more than prancing and dancing, a fact that gets her teased. When things fall apart at the party, her friends learn to see the value in her gifts. But will she want to help them after they call her names? 

I love this book because it pushes back on the idea that feminine can’t mean smart. Even better, it honors Fern’s reaction to the bullying rather than pushing the normal narrative of easy forgiveness. I admire its emotional honesty.

Who am I?

No one would ever describe me as a unicorn. I’m not graceful. My mane of hair is half an inch long. And I rarely (if ever) prance. I’m a donkey in a party hat and that’s perfectly okay with me. But sometimes it can be kinda rough in a world that tells you that you must be gorgeous instead of goofy, fabulous instead of funny. So I love stories that make me feel a little less alone in my awkwardness – that remind me that all of us, from the most beautiful unicorn to the weirdest little goblin, are not quite what they seem.  

I wrote...

First Day of Unicorn School

By Jess Hernandez, Mariano Epelbaum (illustrator),

Book cover of First Day of Unicorn School

What is my book about?

Milly is incredibly excited to go to Unicorn School, a school that accepts only the best and the brightest. There's only one problem: she isn't a unicorn! She's a donkey in a party hat. Milly first feels uncomfortable but eventually learns that she and the others at the school have more in common than it might have seemed.

Monster Hunter International

By Larry Correia,

Book cover of Monster Hunter International

I found this book so much fun! Great action and humor when an accountant and total supernatural skeptic wakes up in a hospital with no memory of murdering his boss-turned-werewolf in self-defense. Turns out all the monsters are real! He gets a job offer while in the hospital to work for…  Monster Hunter International.

Who am I?

My true passion is ultimately the supernatural version of The Hero’s Journey so well described by Joseph P. Campbell in his book of the same name. I’m inspired by the world’s legends about men and women who are forced by fate and destiny to a greater purpose against powerful demons and gods. The price is their normal life. Their first enemies are their own fears. The first sacrifice is the death of the old self, as they discover who they truly are meant to be. I feel this is ultimately the challenge we all face. The world is waiting. Live your dream… just without the 20ft. demon-forged ribbon sword and rescue hellhound.

I wrote...

M in the Demon Realm

By Mark William Hammond,

Book cover of M in the Demon Realm

What is my book about?

A Hell Gate is opening under City Hall in Manhattan. Ancient demons hunt in the dark tunnels under the city. The only person who can stop Hell on Earth is a young waitress in Korea Town. What could possibly go wrong?

Dragon Rider

By Cornelia Funke,

Book cover of Dragon Rider

I am a huge fan of Cornelia Funke, whose children’s fantasy novels have a deliciously dark, dangerous element. Dragon Rider is a thrilling, magical adventure and if you enjoy it, why not try Inkheart and The Thief Lord next! 

In Dragon Rider, dragons are dying out and Firedrake, a young silver dragon, is picked to go on a quest to find their ancient mythical home. In the company of his friend Sorrel, a brownie; and Ben, a lonely orphan, Firedrake sets off on a long and dangerous journey to find the dragons’ home and defeat Nettlebrand, the evil golden dragon.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish writer and have an interest in Scotland’s many mythical creatures. My home country is inhabited by a myriad of mythical creatures, including kelpies, bogles, and mysterious Highland merfolk and I’m sure the natural environment plays a part. The inspiration behind my children’s fantasy novel Guardians of the Wild Unicorns was the fact that the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal. It seemed bizarre that Scotland opted for a mythical creature as a national animal, but when I started to do research into why, all became clear. People in the past believed unicorns were real. Unicorns have a long and proud history in Scotland and were chosen as a symbol of strength, independence, and dignity.

I wrote...

Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

By Lindsay Littleson,

Book cover of Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

What is my book about?

In Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, Lewis and his best friend Rhona find themselves caught up in a dangerous adventure to save the world's last herd of wild unicorns. Fighting against dark forces, battling the wild landscape, and harnessing ancient magic, can they rescue the legendary creatures in time?

Guardians of the Wild Unicorns was described by Book Trust as "an adventure thriller for middle-grade readers that mixes mythology and suspense in a contemporary page-turner." The novel was nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the 2019 East Sussex Children’s Book Award.

Dragonwatch, 1

By Brandon Mull, Brandon Dorman (illustrator),

Book cover of Dragonwatch, 1: A Fablehaven Adventure (Dragonwatch #1)

Jurassic Park meets Lord of the Rings. Need I say more? Fablehaven, and its sequel series, Dragonwatch, draws upon centuries of mythology to create a wildlife haven—or, rather, a "monsterlife" haven—protected by a kindhearted cast of rogues. The series’ biggest strength is that author Brandon Mull understands there’s something sinister lying behind most fairytales, and he brings that danger to every scene. 

Who am I?

I’ve been an avid reader of fantasy since before I can remember—and to this day, from reading to writing to gaming, fantasy worlds remain my favourite places to stay. I’m the author of six books so far, five in the Blackthorn Key adventures; my latest series is Thieves of Shadow

I wrote...

Children of the Fox

By Kevin Sands,

Book cover of Children of the Fox

What is my book about?

Five kids with unusual talents must commit an impossible crime in a thrilling new fantasy heist series.

Lured by the promise of more money than they've ever dreamed of, five young thieves are hired to steal a heavily guarded treasure from the most powerful sorcerer in the city. But as every thief knows, it's best to stay away from magic. It can turn on you at any moment, make you think you're running the con game, when in reality you're the one being fooled. Faced with insurmountable odds, can the new friends pull off this legendary heist? Or has their luck finally run out?

Josephine Against the Sea

By Shakirah Bourne,

Book cover of Josephine Against the Sea

Josephine Against the Sea was a new find for me since it debuted in 2021, but I instantly connected with the trouble-maker main character. Josephine is desperate to keep her father from finding love after her mother dies, but when a vengeful sea creature tries to steal her father's heart, she must use her talent to save him before it's too late. 

I loved learning about Josephine's Caribbean culture living in Barbados. It was also intriguing to read how Shakirah Bourne tackled a mother's death and its effects on the father, as this is a struggle my own characters face in my book.

Who am I?

The first time I realized I'd fallen in love with the sea was when I was seven years old watching Flipper. Growing up in Canada, I longed to trade my snow shovel for a snorkel. Years later, I received my Bachelor’s in English and moved to the Florida coast with my Marine-Biologist husband, where the humidity curled my hair, iguanas blocked my parking spot, and real dolphins swam beside our boat. I wrote Sea of Kings so kids could take home the magic of the Caribbean. You can find my free writing tutorials on YouTube under HopeFullHappenings.  

I wrote...

Sea of Kings

By Melissa Hope,

Book cover of Sea of Kings

What is my book about?

Perfect for Pirates of the Caribbean fans if the pirates were dysfunctional twelve-year-olds, Sea of Kings is the action-packed middle-grade Newberry Award winner Andrea Wang described as "everything a kid could want."

Prince Noa hates the sea for causing his mother's death, but when a vengeful pirate lays siege to his island kingdom, Noa and his brother, Dagan, narrowly escape with their lives. Armed with a stolen ship, a haphazardly assembled crew, and a magical map that makes as much sense as slugs in a salt bath, the brothers sail for help. Can Noa solve the map's confusing charts and confront the one-eyed pirate, or will he lose the very people he means to protect?

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant

By Jack Prelutsky, Carin Berger (illustrator),

Book cover of Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems

As an example of just how inventive poetry can be, this book is hard to top. The subject of each poem is a fictitious animal created by combining two dissimilar words that share common sounds. For example, umbrella + elephant = umbrellaphant. The rhythm in Prelutsky’s poems is always smooth, making them fun to read out loud. This book makes me want to drop everything and play with words, which for me is the essence of poetry. Here’s an excerpt from "The Ballpoint Penguins":

The Ballpoint Penguins do not think,
they simply write with endless ink.
They write of ice, they write of snow,
for that is all they seem to know.

Who am I?

Many people are intimidated by poetry. For a big part of my life, I was too. So much of the poetry I had been exposed to was either indecipherable or irrelevant to me. Then I discovered some poems that I loved—accessible poems about subjects I related to. I started collecting poetry books, by both adult and children’s poets. Eventually, I was inspired to write poetry of my own. Today, I’m a poetry advocate, recommending my favorites to anyone who shows interest. The satisfaction I get from poetry boils down to this: When I read a good poem, I think to myself, “Wow, I didn’t know words could do that.”

I wrote...

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

By Bob Raczka,

Book cover of Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

What is my book about?

I don’t remember when I saw my first concrete poetry (also known as shape poetry), but I was hooked from the get-go. I remember reading all the concrete poems I could find, and realized there was room to push the boundaries of this form. So in this book, not only does every poem have a shape, but every title as well. For example, in my poem "Dominoes", the letters of the title are shown on the page falling into each other liked stacked dominoes, while the lines of the poem itself are shown the same way, stacked vertically and falling into each other.

Wet Cement was a long time in the making, so when it received five starred reviews, I was thrilled.

I'm a Unicorn

By Mallory Loehr, Joey Chou (illustrator),

Book cover of I'm a Unicorn

As a child, we loved to read a Golden Book story before bedtime every night and this book is just as inspiring. Children will fall in love with the little unicorn who is magical, brave, and strong. They will enter a fantastical world of magic and fantasy where everything is possible, all you have to do is believe!  

Who am I?

My only granddaughter and her love and fascination with unicorns is the reason why I dedicated Mysty the Mystical Unicorn to her! I hope that Mysty inspires children everywhere to focus on their imagination, creativity and to always believe in themselves! My desire to write a children’s picture book started at a very young age, reading is a passion of mine that my own children inherited and now my grandchildren too! My wish is that all children will love Mysty and enjoy her adventures as well as the five books that I have recommended. Always keep on believing in magic, miracles, and yourselves!

I wrote...

Mysty the Mystical Unicorn

By Kimberley Paterson, Ava Jahani (illustrator),

Book cover of Mysty the Mystical Unicorn

What is my book about?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit a magical, mystical universe surrounded by rainbows, moonbeams, and shooting stars? How would you like to visit a mythical land where anything is possible? What if this beautiful, enchanting universe was the home to a mysterious, magical, and very beautiful unicorn as well, would you love to visit now? Come along with us as we share in the magical adventures of the amazing unicorn named Mysty, where the fun is never-ending and your imagination can soar to new heights! Mysty would love for you to join her! Will you?

The Guardian Herd

By Jennifer Lynn Alvarez,

Book cover of The Guardian Herd: Starfire

The pegasi characters in this story are a lot like humans, but they’re also a lot like horses. Their personalities are as unique as their names! I love how this highlights a young animal’s life in a really relatable, playful way that adults can enjoy, too. This book reminded me of the joy of horse foals in real life, but it also made me think a lot about what it means to be true to yourself and your calling.

Who am I?

I’ve always been a horse-crazy girl (going on nearly 20 years now)! Horses are excellent teachers and even better friends. They never lie, and they always treat you fairly. I’ve been teaching lessons for the past five years as a PATH Intl. certified instructor, and it’s been such a joy to share my love of horses with others. Here’s to all the great real-life horses in the world that inspire such great books.

I wrote...

Chase: The Promised Guardian

By Sydney Scrogham,

Book cover of Chase: The Promised Guardian

What is my book about?

She'll do anything to keep her horse. He's never met another human. Together, they're destined to end the world. If you like portals into new worlds, clean reads with magical creatures, and young love, you’ll like Book #1 in the Guardians of Agalrae series.

Imaginary Animals

By Boria Sax,

Book cover of Imaginary Animals: The Monstrous, the Wondrous and the Human

I love this lavishly produced 2013 book. It overarches my other recommended “best books for following mythical beasts through time.” Titles of early chapters—“What is an Imaginary Animal?” “Every Real Animal is Imaginary,” and “Every Imaginary Animal is Real”—encompass the book’s interplay between nature’s animals, imaginary ones, and human beings.

Open Imaginary Animals anywhere to get a glimpse of its variety and scope. Boria Sax’s interdisciplinary, learned, and conversational text sweeps across folklore, legends, myths, and natural history of worldwide cultures from antiquity to today. Accompanying art, much in color, spans a Lascaux cave painting and a photograph of a human-looking robot; throughout are fantastic creatures in paintings, early natural history engravings, and other pictorial forms.

As Dr. Sax writes, “Imaginary creatures can be overwhelming in their multiplicity.”

Who am I?

Ancient mythical animals are all around us in words and images. Following the transformations of such animals through literature and art across millennia has been my passion since the early ’80s. It was then, after years of writing and teaching, that I became intrigued by a winged and fishtailed lion figure on an antique oil lamp hanging in my study. That hybrid creature led me to the eagle-lion griffin and my first published book, The Book of Gryphons. I have followed a host of mythical beasts ever since. My most recent book, The Phoenix: An Unnatural Biography of a Mythical Beast, was published in a 2021 Chinese translation.

I wrote...

The Book of Fabulous Beasts: A Treasury of Writings from Ancient Times to the Present

By Joseph Nigg,

Book cover of The Book of Fabulous Beasts: A Treasury of Writings from Ancient Times to the Present

What is my book about?

This illustrated collection of writings about fantastic animals, from the Babylonian epic of creation to The Hobbit of J. R. R. Tolkien, spans millennia. More than a hundred primary sources in multiple literary genres chart imaginary animals’ classical and medieval rise, post-Renaissance fall, and return to the world on the other side of belief. 

Getting permission to reprint texts and art from international libraries and museums was, of course, the final stage of research for this book. The most surprising art permission I finally acquired was for the Scandinavian Midgard Serpent. After a thousand years, the manuscript had recently been returned from Denmark to Iceland. A joy to produce, Fabulous Beasts provided a body of research for my later books.

Space Unicorn Blues

By TJ Berry,

Book cover of Space Unicorn Blues

I don’t even know where to start with this one. Our lead sapphic is married to a tree lady (dryad), captain Jenny, who once kept half-unicorn man Gary prisoner aboard her ship so she could harvest his horn for fuel. Gary’s out for revenge but the mystical Sisters of the Supersymmetrical Axiom have had a vision that involves Gary and Jenny working together. Also, Jenny’s wife has been kidnapped, which is never great. 

Space Unicorn Blues is another sapphic space book that doesn’t rely on romance for the plot, but does allow lesbians to simply exist. This book is a delight more for its absolute refusal of tropes than anything else, and constant weird fairy tale references thrown in throughout.

Who am I?

In my day job I’m a professor in a hard science and, unsurprisingly, a lesbian. I love sapphic fiction, especially speculative sapphic fiction, but it can be hard to find as the books are seldom labeled as such. Because I write in this genre I’ve been able to ferret out a lot of them, and have made it a mini mission to read as many as possible. I’m particularly drawn to those that get science right (bad science to a science professor is like nails on a chalk board), and those that have at least a little bit of kissing.

I wrote...

Ardulum: First Don

By J. S. Fields,

Book cover of Ardulum: First Don

What is my book about?

Neek makes a living smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams she is haunted by Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.

Neek does not believe—and was exiled for her heretical views. Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a child whose telepathic abilities are reminiscent of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?

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