By Sarah Blackburn-Lancaster, Valparaiso Community Library, Circulation Assistant
It’s been two decades since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series took the world by storm with its school of wizardry, and its popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. New movies are continuing to be released. There’s a play on Broadway. In 2018, big-box retailers are selling newly released dolls. The genre is booming, and we, the library, are the best source for patrons to get their fantasy fix.
There’s a lot going on in the world of libraries today: technology changing at an exponential rate, budgets that have never fully recovered after the recession, and government officials who question our relevance to the communities we serve. With 3-D printers and virtual reality becoming as common on the shelves as copies of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Jane Eyre, why on earth would someone write a blog post about fantasy fiction for young adults?
In short: because it’s important.
Okay, so it’s not cancer research. Fantasy novels aren’t going to perform brain surgery or settle Mars, but they can open the mind to new possibilities, creating new neural pathways which can, in turn, open the door to creative problem-solving. Fantasy stimulates the imagination. And isn’t that what leads to colonies on new planets or inventive new treatments for the illnesses that plague humanity?
Another advantage to reading fantasy novels, especially for younger audiences, is that it takes difficult issues that seem insurmountable in reality out of the constraints of this world, making them less daunting. Xenophobia, racism, classism, sexism, and the like, seen through the lens of fantasy, without the political or societal systems that seem to tether them in place, can be called into question. A wizard who seeks to enslave non-magical beings because he views them as lesser is, without question, a villain who must be stopped. Parallels are then drawn in the minds of readers, and young people make connections in their own world. They then begin to ask the question that is the first step to change: Why?
Here’s the catch: it’s difficult to make these connections when the reader can’t relate to the protagonist. If young audiences can’t see themselves as the hero in a fantasy novel, how can they be one in the real world? We’ve all heard the phrase, “If they see it, they can be it.” That’s why toy companies are creating dolls and action figures of a wider variety of ethnicities and representing different career fields. And seeing other groups represented is helpful to young people who belong to the majority as well. They become more empathetic when exposed to the viewpoints of others and that, in turn, leads to more harmonious interactions. It, therefore, makes sense that representation in literature is incredibly important for young readers who belong to both minority and majority groups.
Here is a list of YA fantasy titles with diverse protagonists to add to your library’s collection (in alphabetical order by author’s last name, of course):
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
- The Reader and The Speaker by Traci Chee
- Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
- The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
- The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee
- When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
- Markswoman by Rati Mehrota
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
- Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
And these are just a few of the offerings out there! Do you know of an excellent YA fantasy novel or series with a diverse set of characters? Share in the comments! Happy reading!