Lesser-Known Fantasy Novels for Children and Teens

Immerse yourself in magic, fantasy, and other worlds with this detailed list of obscure and lesser-known fantasy read-alouds, middle grade chapter books, and YA novels. You’ll find plenty of variety here in setting and tone, with a blend of high fantasy and low fantasy.

Stack of middle grade and Young Adult fantasy novels, with a tea cup and candle in the foreground

This post is brimming with fantasy novel recommendations from Tasha Kazanjian, an expert in the genre. Tasha has published several fantasy short stories of her own, and her debut novel, A Trick of Spades, released earlier this month! I’ve read the book and highly recommend it (you can read my mini review on Instagram here).

I hope you’ll enjoy this list of children’s and young adult fantasy novels, which includes many books and authors that aren’t as widely known!

Guest post by Tasha Kazanjian

 J.R.R. Tolkien will always be my favorite fantasy author. I love Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, and no matter how many times I reread them, I always discover something new in Middle Earth. However, I also love discovering hidden gems of the fantasy genre, both classic and modern.

Fantasy was always my escape as a child, and I still enjoy reading books meant for children and teens. They have a unique way of reawakening my imagination—and sometimes, I just need a happy ending. So here’s a list of some of my favorite lesser-known fantasy novels, both old and new, pure fun and bittersweet, and all brimming with magic.

Lesser-Known Fantasy: Read Aloud Recommendations

Of course we all know Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but she was also a prolific short story writer. Flower Fables, a collection of original fairy tales, has shades of Hans Christian Andersen, Cicely Mary Barker, and George MacDonald. My family owned an illustrated edition, which I read over and over again as a child. Each story is definitely a fable, with an obvious moral lesson to be learned, but I loved the characters—especially Thistledown, a trickster who must learn to be a hero in order to save his best friend. The edition I grew up with is sadly out of print, but you can still find used copies here. If you’re looking for something a little more modern, Emily Rodda’s Fairy Realm series also explores a magical world full of elves, pixies, and mermaids.

A delightful collection of mixed up fairy tales, Leaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire features Cinderelephant, Rumplesnakeskin, and my personal favorite, The Three Little Penguins. Each story reimagines a classic story with animal protagonists and a few zany twists. It’s a fun pick for a read-aloud, or for a young reader who loves animal puns, or for an adult who loves dry humor and never grew out of fairy tales. If you’re looking for something a little less silly that still turns classic tropes upside down, try M. M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess.

Eoin Colfer might be best known for his Artemis Fowl series, but he’s also written many excellent standalone books. Three Tasks for a Dragon, a novella illustrated by the incredible P. J. Lynch, has all the wit and bittersweet wisdom of Celtic myth, told in Colfer’s distinct voice. Lir, a young prince, must choose between exile or a quest after he fails an ancient test of kingship. He takes the quest and sets off to rescue a damsel from a dragon—much to the delight of his elder stepbrother, who has already paid the dragon to murder Lir. However, Lir isn’t a typical questor, nor is the dragon a typical dragon, nor is the damsel a typical damsel. P. J. Lynch also illustrated Mary Heaney’s beautiful collection of Irish myths, The Names Upon the Harp.

Book open with twinkle lights and a glowing blue orb nightlight in the background

Lesser-Known Fantasy: Middle Grade Recommendations

The historical fantasy subgenre has gained recognition and momentum in the last few years, but Marie Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles arrived on the scene about a decade early. The Cabinet of Wonders takes Renaissance Bohemia and adds talking spiders, glass swords, and a cruel prince who can steal the eyes of an inventor in order to learn his secrets. Petra Kronos vows to steal her father’s eyes back, enlisting the help of a young thief, and along the way must learn to control her own magical gifts. The series balances fantastical excitement with a rich historical backdrop, and each book just gets better.

I personally love finding books that portray big families as both fun and normal, and Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway does just that. Abby, the youngest of five, doesn’t know what to do when she’s branded as an “ord,” a person with no magic at all. In a world full of goblins and quests and flying carpets, ords are considered worthless, except to the adventurers who kidnap them and use them to retrieve enchanted objects. Luckily for Abby, her big sister knows about a school for ords. Away from home for the first time ever, Abby must make new friends, struggle over essays, and fend off adventurers. My one objection to this book is that there isn’t a sequel—but if you’re looking for a complete fantasy duology that also features sibling dynamics, check out A Pocket Full of Murder and A Little Taste of Poison by R. J. Anderson.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw always does her research. Every single one of her books has a strong historical setting, complete with all the little details, and her fantasy novel The Moorchild is no different. Saaski never quite fits in with the other children of the village, not with her strange eyes, light feet, and gift for music. The moors call to her, even though her parents warn her to stay away from the fickle, impish creatures who live there. Once she discovers that she’s a changeling, Saaski decides to rescue the little girl she replaced, even if it means returning to the dangerous world of the moorfolk. Whenever I read McGraw’s books, I’m struck by her ability to create complex characters. Her protagonists often start out as unheroic—maybe even unlikeable—but change significantly over the course of the novel. If you’re looking for more of a straight fairy tale retelling, try Straw Into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt.

Lesser-Known Fantasy: YA Recommendations

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy doesn’t start out as a fantasy. It begins in sunny California, a few years after the end of World War II, where Janie Scott lives with her screenwriter parents. At least, until they’re accused of communist sympathies and must move to London. Janie initially hates it there, but soon befriends Benjamin, a boy whose father runs a very curious apothecary. After his father disappears, Benjamin learns that the apothecary doesn’t just sell aspirin—in fact, his father’s remedies can transform humans into birds, cause invisibility, and maybe even counteract an atomic bomb. I really enjoy how the novel uses a blend of science and magic to explore the particular challenges of that historical period. Also, it has lovely illustrations.

R. J. Anderson’s No Ordinary Fairy Tale series is everything I want from YA fantasy—plenty of magic and romance, but also powerful themes of grief, healing, and redemption. The first book, Knife, follows a young faery determined to bring magic back to her dying world. She finds help in an unlikely place after meeting Paul, a human boy grappling with his own kind of loss. Their friendship, though forbidden by faery law, leads them to uncover an old mystery that might save Knife’s home. There are six books total in the series, and happily, they’re all back in print. My personal favorite might be Nomad.

I really wish Elizabeth Marie Pope had written more books, because I love the only two she published. The Perilous Gard, which received a Newbery Honor in 1975, retells the ballad of Tam Lin in Tudor England. Kate, a disgraced lady-in-waiting, arrives at Elvenwood Hall and quickly realizes something is wrong—a child is missing, and the servants claim that fairy folk took her. When Christopher, the brother of Elvenwood’s master, trades himself for the child, Kate decides to rescue him, only to be taken by the Fae herself. Together, they must overcome the mind-numbing magic of the fairy folk before time runs out. For another book with lots of history and a bit of magic, try The Sherwood Ring by the same author, and if you want another excellent Tam Lin reimagining, Diana Wynne Jones’ offers her own spin on the ballad in Fire and Hemlock.

What are your favourite underrated fantasy books and authors?

Black and white photo of author Tasha Kazanjian

About the author

A lover of old books, history, and theology, Tasha writes fantasy inspired by very real places and times. She can’t resist adding a bit of magic to her worlds, but her stories primarily focus on how characters interact with those worlds, wrestling with ordinary human conflicts and emotions. 

Like every other author out there, Tasha unapologetically loves tea, coffee, autumn, rainy days, candles, and everything cozy. She can typically be found listening to 80s music and scrambling to meet a deadline.

You can find her on Instagram or at her author website.

Lesser-Known Fantasy Novels for Children and Teens

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  1. Love this! Is anyone familiar with the graphic novels The Lightfall Series by Tim Probert? I heard about it but am reluctnat to recommend it to my neices without some more info – and I can’t read everything even though I try, I really really try 😉

  2. This was a VERY helpful and super fun post. I bought two of the book suggestions already. Can’t wait to read them and with my kiddos as well!! 🙂

    1. I know! I loved learning from Tasha! So many good things I hadn’t read yet. I found The Apothecary at a used bookstore last week, and snapped it up!

  3. Oh wow I had not seen the screening post but that is so, so helpful!! That has been one of my challenges with finding books that won’t be hard on them or age innapropriate. I could have used it for myself to be honest. Thank you for steering me to that info.

  4. I just read The Moorchild and The Perilous Gard – both were good but I (as an adult) really loved TPG!! I really liked everything about it, from characters, lore, settings, and overall quality of writing. I also am sad Elizabeth Marie Pope didn’t write more, but I have the other book on hold at my library.

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