Genre Gateway Books for Kids

by AK Nevermore
published in Reading

I’ve stated before that I’m a voracious reader. My love of books was definitely inherited from my mom, I mean, I pretty much grew up in a library, but it was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Janovik who allowed that love to blossom. While the rest of my class was running around at recess or whispering about the ghost in the school boiler room, I was reading and totally getting sucked into genre gateway books.

I’m not sure how our agreement came about, but whenever I finished my work, I was allowed to go to the library nook. And let me just say, my academics were stellar that year. I discovered a love for all things Aurthurian, Greek mythology, and Beverly Cleary. Classical, fantastical, and the absurdity of a mouse on a motorcycle. That trifecta still defines my literary tastes and they were definitely my gateway books into science fiction and fantasy.

So when my kids hit that golden age, I was beyond excited to introduce them to SFF with some solid reads.

It did not go as planned.

Do things ever with kids? They thought Ralph was cool, and were sad when his trilogy ended. I was stoked. No, not that it ended, that they liked reading a series. Totally indicative of epic fantasy fans. Bring it on! I had just the wizard for them to meet…

And guys, I didn’t think it was possible, but every last one of them hated Harry Potter.

I know, I know! They’re seriously not normal, but let’s be honest, considering who their mother is, their odds at pulling off normalcy were never very good to begin with. They fight over who gets the last brussel sprout for cripes’ sake. Yup. totally bizarre, especially because we all know that sprout belongs to me.

Anywho, after the aforementioned Potter debacle, I left them to their own devices while I recovered from the shock of their betrayal. That took some doing, but Mr. Nevermore was adamant we couldn’t disown them for the offense. I mean, technically we could, but he wouldn’t sign his portion of the paperwork. In the end, I suppose that was for the best, because you know what? All of them redeemed themselves by settling into genre fiction.

So what do they read and what was their gateway book?

The teen

My eldest loves to test my limits. She began as a Pollyanna / Heidi fan, which, I’m not gonna lie, kind of made my eyes bleed. Thankfully, some voodoo I don’t know what happened during her tween years, and her taste morphed into a gothic horror. Don’t ask me how or why, I’m not complaining, and FYI, that pretty much sums up her personality and our relationship.

I am happy to report she’s also way into fairy tales (the original gruesome ones) and mythology (for the exact same reason.) 

When I asked her what gateway book got her hooked on horror, I was thrilled to learn it was also one of my very favorite authors as a kid, Mary Downing Hahn. I remember being totally freaked out reading Wait Til Helen Comes, and my eldest had the same experience. 

And if your kids like that, then check out Jane Emily by Patricia Clapp. It’s a gothic YA horror that’s like the kids’ version of reading Shirley Jackson.

The tween

My middle raven has inherited my appetite for books and can be caught reading well past his bedtime. He’s all about Star Wars, Marvel, and those weird fact books. I don’t anticipate his tastes doing a 180 like his sister’s and will be strewing some classic Asimov around his haunts. Pretty sure he’d be down with Lucky Star

But he didn’t start out reading that stuff. His gateway books were all courtesy of Jane Yolen, one of my all-time favorite authors. Her Commander Toad series is frickin’ brilliant and hilarious to boot. I mean, how can a cross of Star Wars, Star Trek, and amphibians not be? My personal favorite? Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes. Yup, it is as epic as it sounds.

Not for nothing, but my kids burnt through her How do Dinosaurs…? series when they were younger, too.

And the little

Right, my youngest? She’ll read anything featuring a cat. This ranges the gambit of fiction to nonfiction, though I did draw the line at getting her that book on felting with cat fur. Yes, apparently that’s a thing, and not to yuck anyone’s yum, but no. Just no.

Her very favorite cat books all feature Jenny Lindsky, heroine feline of the Cat Club series, written by Esther Averill. It’s a super cute series about a shy little cat making friends and doing good deeds. I highly recommend it. There’s also the Cat Wings series by Ursula K. Le Guin… which is by Ursula K. Le Guin. Nope, that wasn’t a typo. That’s all the reason you need to read it.

Kids’ books have changed.

So, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that the majority of those gateway books aren’t recent releases. I said it above, and I’ll say it again. Kids’ books have changed, and if you have kids, you know how true it is. Especially if you’re reading them first.

That’s not to say good kids’ books aren’t being published now, but to me, the plots seem simpler, pacing faster, and—oh, my head—the sass. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good comeback, but not out of an eight-year-old’s mouth. Especially not my eight-year-old’s mouth.

Shocking, I know. 

And yeah, I’ll own the fact that I’m a book snob. The books I’ve recommended above are ones I feel promote good family values. As far as some of the older books having mindsets or themes not currently embraced, (as many classics do), I find that’s a great opportunity to discuss tough subjects with my kids.

Don’t have time to read everything cover to cover? There are plenty of places to help you decide what is appropriate for your kids, like Common Sense Media, and Reshelving Alexandria. The latter of which I’ve used for years to build my kids’ homeschool library. 

And don’t forget the best resource out there, your public library. Most have librarians dedicated to the children’s sections and would be thrilled to hook you up with some awesome reads!

AK Nevermore's headshot

AK Nevermore writes science fiction and urban fantasy with spice. She enjoys operating heavy machinery, freebases coffee, and gives up sarcasm for Lent every year. Unable to ignore the voices in her head, and unwilling to become medicated, she writes about dark worlds, perversely irreverent and profound, and always entertaining.

You can find her on her website or follow her on her sadly neglected Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.

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