Fantasy in Schools

I read fantasy because I like the imaginative worlds, magic systems, adventures, and coming-of-age stories that usually go hand-in-hand with “fantasy.” I also grew up with a Christian librarian grandma who had to get rid of any literature that parents complained about, so anything with a unicorn or a dragon came flying into my hands after its swift rejection from her school library.

When I write my own books, I’m thinking about the enjoyment factor of the story and the character growth. I don’t think about whether it will be worthy of study in schools. But someone recently brought up in a Christmas party conversation that she wished she could have read sci-fi in school at some point, so she could have learned earlier than college how much she loved the genre.

That got me thinking: what fantasy has made it into schools? And what fantasy might I be able to bring into my classes eventually? What has been deemed “worth of study” in public education?

Some unofficial research (like Googling random high school literature lists) has suggested, with a loose definition of fantasy, the following books:

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Lord of the Rings” [series] by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“Harry Potter” [series] by J.K. Rowling

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“Watership Down” by Richard Adams

and that’s about it. So while what’s there is good, it’s not enough, and it’s at a fairly low reading level to boot (besides maybe LOTR and Handmaid’s Tale). What about fantasy for juniors and seniors? What fantasy book could best serve them? What story do I have inside me to write for these kids on the cusp of adulthood? There is so much independence and responsibility in fantasy that speaks to teens.

I don’t have any real answers for this post. I just wanted space to mull over the questions. If anybody has any thoughts, they are quite welcome to share! I hope I can work this out to reach students with good fantasy literature, whether that role ends up being me as a teacher or as a writer.



Filed under Reading

2 responses to “Fantasy in Schools

  1. That is why more good fantasy novels have to be written.

  2. Jayme

    I actually got to read LOTR in high school–lucky me!–and I also read Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. Also a book by Elizabeth Goudge called The Blue Hills. Oh, and Beowulf.

    That being said, I had a lit teacher who assigned WHATEVER SHE WANTED. If she was in to fantasy at the time, that’s what we read. It was awesome. I owe a lot to her. And she made us work hard and discuss and really get the meat out of whatever we were reading.

    Fantasy has such a wide range of ability to discuss relevant topics, and it has the ability to spark imagination. How is that not a good thing for young kids?

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