5 fantastic YA fantasy books to read as a family

The next time you’re looking for a good book as a parent, don’t skip the YA aisle! Once your child is a tween or teen, they’re old enough to read some of the same books you might enjoy. Besides being a bonding experience that encourages reading as a hobby, reading novels together as a family can lead to discussions that develop critical thinking skills — and some even give you launching pads for discussions about real-world issues as you explore the books’ deeper themes.

Even if you have your own mature novels of nonfiction books on the side, consider one of these fantasy books to share a reading experience with your child!

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass cover

The first book of His Dark Materials is a fantasy book with enough rich detail and character-driven plot twists to keep adults engaged, too. In an alternate world where everyone has a daemon — a living animal that represents their soul — young Lyra Belacqua is an orphan who spends most of her days running across the rooftops of Jordan College in Oxford where she lives. Her dream is to go to the North, a mysterious and savage land where her uncle Asriel often goes for research. But when her best friend is kidnapped, along with many other local children, she sets off to the North to rescue him.

Part of what makes The Golden Compass fun to read as a family is the language used. Many character talk in a subtle dialect, and reading these parts aloud to your children can help them understand the differences between characters through speech alone.

The world of adventure and mystery Philip Pullman paints here is sure to keep the entire family turning the pages. From airships to armored bears, witches to river-faring gyptians, you never know what fascinating new facet of the world you’ll dust off next.

And if you’re looking for a fun conversation to have as you read, try to come up with each of your daemons! In the book, children’s daemons can change form, but once kids hit puberty — as Lyra is about to — they choose just a single form for the rest of their lives. It’s almost impossible to read The Golden Compass and not find yourself daydreaming about what animal best represents you; it can be a fun discussion for you and your kids to share, as you know each other best!

Best for ages 10+

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes cover

If you’re looking for a fantasy book that feels historical, this is it. Set in a world reminiscent of ancient Sparta, you follow two characters trying to find their place in the Martial Empire. Laia becomes a spy and slave while trying to rescue her brother from the Empire; Elias is a trained soldier who is having trouble coming to terms with the Empire’s tyranny.

It’s fun to learn about ancient Greece, especially Sparta, as you read this novel. You can compare and contrast Sparta with the Empire in the book, and discuss whether you would want to live in a world where you’re expected to train as a soldier and wear a mask to carry out the orders of your government. How would a world like that look today?

Because this novel contains some violence and romance, it’s best for teens and can hold adults’ attention, too!

Best for ages 14+

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cover

The great thing about the Harry Potter series is that it provides lessons you can take with you for a lifetime. Adults can get as much out of the stories as children — and sometimes more. They’re also worth re-reading, and because it’s a long series, you can extend your family reading over several months.

As the books follow the adventures of Harry and his friends studying magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, they are easy for kids to relate to while also exploring deep themes. Harry starts out an orphan with a bullying family, then faces his nerves as he goes to a brand new school in a world of magic he never knew existed — and where he’s famous for tragic reasons. In later books, he learns complicated spells, gets his first crush (and girlfriend), and develops lasting friendships. He also faces his fears as he takes the initiative to fight the evil Voldemort, with whom he shares a dark history.

As a family, you can enjoy being whisked to a magical world. As a parent, the stories offer fantastical representations of issues like prejudice and depravity, making them fantastic as launching points for discussions with your kids. For young readers, Harry Potter offers insight into values we all strive for, including friendship, courage, and selflessness.

Best for ages 8+

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone cover

This best-selling book follows young Zélie Adebola, who fights to bring magic back after a tyrannical king kills her mother and her people’s magic. This book is special for taking genre tropes like princesses and the suppression of magic and doing entirely new things with them. Its West African influences also make it stand out among many other fantasy books.

Because the book explores darker themes and includes violence and mild profanity, it’s best for mature teens and adults. Reading as a family gives you the perfect opportunity to dissect the novel’s ideas and draw correlations to current events and issues, such as racially-charged violence.

If you’re looking to explore novel structure with your teens, Children of Blood and Bone is an excellent choice for the depth of its characters and the points of view it uses. Consider each character’s arc, discuss this world’s political history, and break down the unique magic system to compare it with other fantasy novels. It’s a story that can have you thinking and talking for hours.

Best for ages 16+

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

The Hobbit cover

Whether or not you’re already a Lord of the Rings fan, you can dive into this magical world with your kids in its prequel The Hobbit. Written as a book for young readers, it explores Middle-Earth in all the glorious detail you would expect from Tolkein, but with vocabulary and action scenes more appropriate for youngsters. It’s especially perfect for preteens, who should be able to understand the language and appreciate the depth of this reknown fictional world.

The Hobbit is an especially great read if you want to introduce your kids to traditional fantasy. While bookstore shelves are crammed with contemporary fantasy that can be beautiful and creative, there’s something special about sharing a good old-fashioned fantasy with your family. Reading The Hobbit can help your kids appreciate the origins of the genre and understand just how instrumental Tolkein was in paving the way for high fantasy literature.

Once your tweens become teens, the entire The Lord of the Rings series is equally fun to read together. Some preteens will be able to appreciate it, too — just keep in mind that the language and violence will be at a more mature level.

Best for ages 8+

We hope these ideas help you start your own family book club! Let us know what you think of these picks. Are there any fantasy books you’ve read with your kids that you would recommend to other families?

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