The View from Under the Fantasy Umbrella

timeofthefireflies_cover01finalftp1Hello Mixed-Up-Filers!

During the last 10-15 years Fantasy has **exploded** in children’s literature with hundreds, if not thousands, of marvelous and exciting titles. But each book we describe as “fantasy” actually fits within a sub-category under the Umbrella of Fantasy.

the little white horse miss-peregrineHerewith are the definitions of all those genres and a book list with suggested titles to explore.



Definitions of Fantasy Sub-Genres:

Fantasy: Stories where supernatural phenomena is a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. The stories take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common.

High Fantasy: Hero’s Quest or Big, Epic Fantasy with many species of creatures, and fully realized worlds (like Middle Earth) with its own particular history. Dragons and Knights-in-shining-armor usually abound.

Paranormal: Stories with fantastical creatures or situations that give you the creepy crawlies. i.e., vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, angels, demons, to name a few.

WinterfrostDystopian: An alternate timeline or future in which modern day society has crumbled and is in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being a utopian. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states with unlimited power over the citizens. Includes end-of-the-world scenarios.

Science Fiction: A genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings with futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction.

Urban Fantasy (or Gothic fantasy): descriCinder-the-lunar-chronicles-34174401-842-1271bes a work that is set primarily in a city and contains aspects of fantasy. These matters may involve the arrivals of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence between humans and paranormal beings, conflicts between humans and malicious paranormals, all set in a big city somewhere in our own world, such as London, San Francisco, Vienna, or Prague.

Myth: A traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and ex-plains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.

Legends & Fables: These terms usually refer to stories that are handed down by tradition. Legend denotes a story (sometimes involving the supernatural) usually concerned with a real person, place, or object, as in the legend of the Holy Grail. A fable is specifically a story (often with animals or inanimate things as speakers or actors) designed to teach a moral.

Lumiere-Jacqueline GarlickSteampunk: incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction. Steam power is widely used in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain, Wild West America, or a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of science fiction or fantasy. Steampunk features anachronistic technology based on a Victorian perspective.

Ninth WardMagical Realism: A style of fiction which firmly takes place within the regular world in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” as equal or the same.

SinisterSweetnessFairy Tales: A story that features folkloric fantasy characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants, mermaids or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments.


Examples of Each Sub-Genre:

(Basic) FANTASY:
Howl’s Moving Castle by Dian Wynne Jones
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

the false princeHIGH FANTASY:

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
The Chronicles of Prydain (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The High King) by Lloyd Alexander

URBAN FANTASY (or Gothic fantasy):

Tantalize (Series) by Cynthia Leitich Smith
The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti
The Painted Boy by Charles de Lint
Vodnik by Bryce Moore
The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My Haunted Library (Series) by Dori Hillestad Butler
The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little

picture deadDYSTOPIAN:

Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien (same author as Rats of N.I.M.H.)
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Giver by Lois Lowry


Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith
Invisible Sun by David Gills
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner


When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
You Will Call Me Drog by Sue Cowing
Bigger than a Breadbox by by Laurel Snyder
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker-Rhodes

When the Butterflies Came Cover Art  from ErinMYTH:

Seven Wonders (Series) by Peter Lerangis (Greek Myths)
The Mermaid’s Mirror by L.K. Madigan
Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline Cooney
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin


The Brixen Witch by Stacy DeKeyser
Tyger, Tyger (Series) by Kersten Hamilton
The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Richard Yancy
Avalon High by Meg Cabot
Goose Girl by Shannon Hale


Clockwork Angel (Series) by Cassandra Clare
The Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Lumiere by Jacqueline Garlick
The Mesmer Menace (Gadgets & Gears Series) by Kersten HamiltonCinderskella Cover


Beauty by Robin McKinley
Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
Cinderskella and Little Dead Riding Hood by Amie & Bethany Borst

In the comments, please tell us some of your favorite fantasy genre titles. We’d love to add more to our list!

Kimberley Griffiths Little’s best ideas come when taking long hot baths, but instead of a sunken black marble tub with gold faucets and a dragon-shaped spigot, she has New Mexico hand-painted tiles in her adobe home along the Rio Grande. She makes a lot of chocolate chip cookies when writing/revising.

Her four Middle-Grade novels with Scholastic have won several awards and Forbidden, the first of a Young Adult trilogy recently published with Harpercollins. Find Kimberley on Facebook. and Twitter:@KimberleyGLittl Teacher’s Guides, Mother/Daughter Book Club Guides, and fabulous book trailers “filmed on location” at Kimberley’s website.


Kimberley Little
  1. Love the breakdown, but you left out my problem child – time travel! He’s traveling to frontier times, through a pottery shard that, although he doesn’t know it, has been imbued with a mother’s love and her cry for justice.

    Not true fantasy – the only magic or paranormal is the time travel itself. Not true historical, because while the setting and happenings are accurate, he comes from a future world. Not a ghost story, because justice for her is only one element – there are bad guys to thwart and the key to the time travel to find.

    I call it a middle grade time travel adventure, but the lack of a standard category makes it really hard to categorize it for an agent or bookseller. What would you call it?

    • Jennifer, yes! I forgot that I forgot Time Travel! 🙂 Definitely a fantasy subgenre, even though it might be in the real world as we know it. Adding a category to my Fantasy Umbrella Educational PDF, which will be on my website later today. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. What is the title of your time travel?

  2. This is really great resource for teachers and school librarians, especially for a genre lesson about fantasy/science. Thanks for the many great examples!

  3. I always say I don’t really read fantasy, but sometimes I do. I loved the Inkheart series and Winterfrost was one of my favorite books of 2014. I also really liked Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities books and I have Kimberly Griffiths Little’s books high on my TBR list.

  4. Though I don’t write it, I always seem to gravitate toward middle grade and young adult fantasy books for pleasure reading. Robin LaFevers (who goes by RL LaFevers for her middle grade books) is one of my all-time favorite fantasy authors. My latest fantasy read is Becky Wallace’s The Storyspinner, which is AWESOME.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jessica. And Robin LaFevers is one of my FAVORITE writers. I love her MG and her YA books so much. I’ll have to check out The Storyspinner!

  5. Fantasy is my all time favorite to read. And I love all the sub genres and the fact that fantasy always seems to be a genre that is popular with readers. Great post, Kimberley. You do a great job breaking down the genres and listing awesome book choices.

    • Thank you for the kudos, Natalie. So glad this is helpful. And yes, Fantasy seems to be 90% of what is written/pubbed these days! But so many kinds to choose from! 🙂