Traveling to Strange New Worlds
I enjoy reading all sorts of fiction, but my favorite has always been about anything not real—which now goes by the much more imposing term of speculative fiction. And within this subset of fiction, I most enjoy the ones that start out in the real world—where life is normal (maybe not great, but familiar and ordinary and perhaps even a bit dull)—and suddenly you look around to find the world has changed.
I always remember getting lost when I was reading. I lived in my books, even the ones my head told me weren’t real. I just wanted to believe that other magical worlds were out there, because if others had gotten from this world to another, why couldn’t I?
Writers of speculative fiction have divulged many ways one can find and travel to someplace other. (They call it “world-building,” but I prefer to think of it as giving directions.) A piece of furniture can be the doorway (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), requiring a step inside, but sometimes one just falls in through a closet (Falling In) or an air duct (Gregor the Overlander). One can be invited—by mail (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) or on-line (Ready Player One). The new world can be up in the hills (The Blue Sword) or inside a hill (The Hollow Kingdom). One can go there voluntarily, traveling with witches to rescue a loved one (A Wrinkle in Time), or by accident—after a nip from a school pet (Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat) or by getting lost (Interworld) or by toddling across the street into the cemetery (The Graveyard Book).
Both of the new books below are set in imaginative worlds and can be recommended to speculative fiction lovers in upper elementary and middle school.
In Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, Jack is bored with his wealthy life and the indifferent care of his parents. So when he sees Lorcan, a spiritualist, go through a secret door in London’s Big Ben, Jack follows. Lorcan has disappeared. But when Jack steps outside the tower, he finds himself in Londinium, a dark and sooty city inhabited by metal fairies and robots and people with metal implants and prosthetics. And he discovers that Lorcan was actually in London to kidnap him, because the Queen of Loninium wants a child, a real child, not these metal creatures—and she’s chosen Jack. As Jack begins to realize that he is in mortal danger, he finds that the way out through Big Ben has been destroyed…and the only escape depends on a legendary bird—a bird that may or may not have ever existed, and that if it is real, it may not be alive any longer.
In The Glass Sentence, everyone is affected during the Great Disruption of 1799, when the world’s continents and countries were thrown into different time periods. Neighboring countries could be thousands of years apart. Now it is 1891, and Sophie’s uncle Shadrack, a famous cartologist, has been kidnapped and his mystical maps ruined or stolen, but not before he was able to write a secret note to Sophie. While following his instructions, she meets a runaway boy, pirates, and legendary creatures, and as she runs from the same criminals that captured Shadrack, she tries to figure out why they wanted him. Did he find a map that will help him heal the time rift? Or does he know the secret of preventing a future rift? The world of The Glass Sentence, first in the Mapmakers Trilogy, is a unique place with intriguing characters and a different way of looking at maps and time.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. 9780688009380. 1982. Gr 7-12.
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell. 9780805081503. 2007. Gr 3-6.
Falling In by Frances O’Roark Dowell. 9781416950325. 2010. Gr 4-7.
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne. 9781442498778. Gr. 5-8.
The Glass Sentence (Mapmakers Trilogy) by S.E. Grove. 9780670785025. 2014. Gr 6-9.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. 9780439435369. 2003. Gr 4-7.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. 9780060530921. 2008. Gr 5-10.
Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. 9780590353403. 1998. Gr 4-9.
The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle. 9780805073904. 2005. Gr 6-9.
Interworld by Neil Gaiman. 9780061238963. 2007. Gr 7-10.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. 9780027581201. 1950. Gr 4-8.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. 9780307887436. 2011. Gr 10-Adult.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. 9780374386139. 1962. Gr 5-8.