10 YA Fantasy Books for Teen Gamers

I’m Rob Lockhart, the Creative Director of Important Little Games.  If you were to follow me on twitter, I’d be grateful.

Any adaptation from one form of media to another is bound to cause friction.  If you travel in the circles I do, you’ll come across people who greet the various adaptations of the stories they love with either love or hate (and very occasionally indifference).  You might meet someone who loves The Lord of the Rings films, but not care for the books, and disdain the mention of The Lord of the Rings Online MMO.  Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that a good adaptation is one that preserves the spirit of the work, rather than the specifics.

Recently, I’ve embarked on a project that combines two great loves.  It is an educational videogame which borrows tone and themes from some of the greatest YA fantasy novels I’ve encountered.  Researching that project has given me the opportunity to make observations about videogames, fantasy novels, and the commonalities between them.

In this blog post, I’ve undertaken to map some popular games to books which I feel carry the same spirit, if not the details.  And while Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones inspired games of their own, many great games and novels in the fantasy genre have never crossed media boundaries.  Lets take a look at some great games that might suggest some great books to read.  Basically, I think if you like the game on the left, you’ll like the book on the right.

A quick note: Some of the games on this list are pretty violent, and I’m not endorsing the violence in these games.  But, given the reality that teens are playing these games, I’m perfectly comfortable using them as touchstones for book recommendations.  Please consult the ESRB and PEGI ratings of a game to determine whether it is age appropriate.


Fable -> The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss


Both Fable and The Name of the Wind depict a young boy, adrift and nearly alone in a hostile city.  That is the lowest that the main characters get.  From there, the characters use their wit and their skills to escape poverty and the city itself.  After that, they learn to use magic, and to defend themselves against others who know magic, too.  They also share a frame story – that all of this is a tale being told of a legendary hero.

Even beyond the plot, Fable and The Name of the Wind share a fundamental tone.  There is, for example, an underlying optimism in both.  A layer of tension and dread coats it over at times, but is always scraped off to let the hope shine through.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft -> The Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill


Much has been written about this 10-year-old online gaming phenomenon, but there is much to learn just from the title.  Though you may choose to play otherwise, the primary occupation in the World of Warcraft is War.  War is also the subject of the Icemark Chronicles.  In both cases, the war is turned mostly by diplomacy, as treaties must be made between factions in order to tip the balance of victory.  In both cases the world is full of truly odd creatures (and you might be one of them).


Dishonored-> Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson


Dishonored is a fairly recent game about an assassin who gains magical abilities.  In Mistborn, Vin finds out she has magical abilities and uses them to become, in essence, an assassin.  Both have stealth and combat as major components of the experience, and the magical abilities wielded by the main characters are very similar in function.  From what I hear, Mistborn is also set to become a videogame of its own.  I can only hope they are as successful in portraying the power and the vulnerability of being Mistborn as well as Dishonored unwittingly did.


Bioshock Infinite -> His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass etc.) by Philip Pullman

In all the most superficial senses, these two have nothing in common.  The reason I paired them was because they both have a deep sense of–the word that comes to mind is brokenness.  Both of these tales introduce a self-consistent world, and then break it.  Only tiny cracks appear at first, but over the course of the story, the reality that the author has created comes away in shards and reveals a deeper reality beneath.

God of War

God of War -> Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

I haven’t seen the ‘Percy Jackson’ films, but two aspects of the books are, it seems, totally indispensable.  The first is the presence of aspects of ancient Greek mythology.  The second is the feeling of taking on an invincible enemy and, against all odds, winning.  Battling Gods in forms that are a hundred times larger than oneself and infinitely more powerful is an exhilarating feeling (with the safety and security you can only get by experiencing a work of fiction), and both of these works illustrate that feeling exceptionally well.


Minecraft -> Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Minecraft has certainly become a phenomenon.  You can hardly swing a pickaxe these days without hitting a grade-schooler playing Minecraft.  Narratively, there’s almost nothing going on in Minecraft.  Players fill that void with stories of their own, literally crafting their experience to taste.  So how, in his right mind, can someone recommend a book — a linear narrative — based on that?

Firstly, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is an excellent book, and I hardly feel I need a reason to recommend it outside of its own merit.  However, there is something I think that makes the link between them a logical one: The feeling of exploring a world anew and learning to shape that world, bit by bit.  In the game, that’s the virtual space you find yourself in.  In Ms. Clarke’s novel it’s the realm of the supernatural that Jonathan Strange dives into.  In both cases, that new realm is a hostile one, but after earning a measure of mastery one begins to delight in its strangeness.

Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy -> The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

An epic and well-loved series of games deserves an epic and well-loved series of books.  While there have been a few games set in the world of Narnia, none truly captured the feeling of managing a group of people with unique strengths and weaknesses.  Final Fantasy games are often chess-like in their tactical decision-making, and The Chronicles of Narnia, too, often feel like a game of chess being played against the White Witch.


The Legend of Zelda -> Redwall by Brian Jacques

The Legend of Zelda is one of the longest-running game franchises, created by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto (who also created Donkey Kong and Mario).  The franchise stands apart in its depiction of a high fantasy world with an innocence that few others match.  It’s fairly unique to have a hero who wields so many deadly weapons and yet commits so few acts of actual violence.  I think Redwall shares that innocence, not because it casts the characters as field rodents and other small animals, but in the manner of adventures they have.  Freeing, unambiguously righteous, and always more about love than hate.


Skyrim -> Beowulf by Anonymous

Admittedly, Beowulf was not written as a work of Young Adult Fantasy.  However, there are several modern translations which bring the prose into a similar milieu as The Wizard of Earthsea or Juniper.  It is clearly a fantastical tale of heroism, with a healthy dose of Messianic prophecy.  It’s also a sprawling tale, involving travel to the bottom of a lake and across Scandinavia.  Both are also primarily concerned with the business of kicking butt, including Dragon Butt.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls -> The Abhorsen Trilogy (Sabriel, etc) by Garth Nix

Behind enemy lines,the main character must use unique abilities to defeat hordes of undead enemies.  The fate of the world depends on the ringing of a few magical bells.  At this point, I could be talking about either Dark Souls or The Abhorsen Trilogy, which is why I think fans of Dark Souls will enjoy Garth Nix’s fantastic series.




App of the Week: Wattpad

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 2.30.06 PM
Title: Wattpad
Platforms: iOS and Android, also web-based
Cost: Free

This spring, a student asked me if I knew about After, the One Direction fanfic “everyone was reading on Wattpad.” Then I saw Clive Thompson looking for people who were publishing on Wattpad… and I fell into the rabbit hole that is the reading/writing/commenting site.

After had already landed author Anna Todd a three-book deal, but that wasn’t the only interesting thing about Wattpad.
Probably not surprisingly based on its fanfiction roots, YA is especially strong on Wattpad. The influences are somewhat predictable. One young writer named daven whose “story” (as all narratives as labeled) December I particularly liked, had a profile pic featuring her with Rainbow Rowell.
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Virtual Road Trip: Texas, Part 2

You know that saying “Everything is bigger in Texas”? It’s true and when we talk about literary events for young readers and book lovers the saying couldn’t be more fitting. Devoted fans travel across the country, and teachers and kids pack in school buses at too-dern-early o’clock to spend the day with their favorite and soon-to-be favorite authors in Texas. There are more than just a few opportunities to discover new authors and series. Texas hosts a multitude of events throughout the year. Some are YA focused while others bring a mix of YA, middle grade, and picture books that are loved at every age. Continue reading

2014 Popular Paperbacks For Young Adults: All’s Fair in Love, War and Humor

by Lisa Goldstein Chair, 2014 Popular Paperbacks For Young Adults Committee

Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults has released its 2014 lists. PPYA creates three to five themed booklists each year of paperbacks with wide appeal to teens. The 2014 themes are Conflicted: Life During Wartime, GLBTQ: Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, Intersex, Asexual Individuals, and Their Allies, and Humor Me: Funny, Fantastic and Witty Reads.

When deciding on this year’s topics, the committee was struck by the fact that our teens have lived most of their lives in a country at war. Conflicted subcommittee chair Shilo Pearson realized that organization was key in creating a balanced list, working from a spreadsheet of locations and time periods: “Since, unfortunately, there have been so many wars, we wanted to make sure that we covered as many different times, places and perspectives as possible.” Continue reading

Virtual Road Trip: New York

“Read It Forward” is Moving Forward!

One of the most popular tables at the Youth Services Section’s Table Talks Workshop [during the 2013 NYLA Annual Conference] was the “Read It Forward” table.  This presentation was given by Deena Viviani, a Young Adult, Programming, and Circulation Services Librarian for the Brighton Memorial Library in Rochester, NY.  Deena credits the idea to a presentation she attended at the YALSA Symposium in St. Louis, MO, in November of 2012 – given by YA Librarian Carrie Dietz – so it appears that this idea has quite a bit of forward momentum already!   ny

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Virtual Road Trip: Nebraska

One of our successes in Nebraska has been to find ways librarians can share their accomplishments with other librarians.  NCompass Live, a weekly one-hour webinar sponsored by the Nebraska Library Commission, is one way to do so. Nebraska Recently, Teen Librarian Rachelle McPhillips of Columbus Public Library presented an NCompass Live session on January 22, 2014.  Titled “Passive Programming for Tweens and Teens” she shared a number of ideas for reaching out to youth in the library.

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Book Awards and Booklists Give Librarians a Leg Up

YALSA has a wealth of resources, including lists of award-winners and other selection resources, available for librarians. One of these go-to is Teens’ Top Ten. Since 2003, teen groups across the country help narrow down the vast number of books published for young people each year into a short list. Then teens across the country vote on their favorites to form the Top Ten list. What makes this a fantastic resource for librarians? It’s essentially a vetted bibliography of titles that teens are saying are likely to appeal to the teens in your library.
For Programming

I find the ten years worth of titles helpful within my library setting. I include it in programming, reader’s advisory and putting together displays. For programming, when planning my Book & More teen book discussion group, it is always a balance to pick the right discussion book. You need a book that will appeal to your group, but also one that will foster discussion. The titles within these lists have have been approved by teens as being appealing to the demographic which I am trying to reach with my Book & More group. Continue reading

Your Next Author Visit

Recently, Kimberly White and I gave a presentation at the New England Library Association conference about our work with Skyping authors. You can view our Prezi. Basically, we wanted to make our 4th and 5th grade book club better, cooler, and use more technology.

Our first Skype session was actually with an illustrator – M. Sarah Klise. She illustrated the 43 Old Cemetery Road series. We used the first book, Dying to Meet You, in our book club at the library and also at the satellite program at the elementary schools. Each time we used this book, everyone loved it. We had some fun activities, great discussions, and showed this video about the two sisters. It worked perfectly.

We paid a small fee ($100/30 minutes session and paid for 2 sessions). Sarah showed us art work, talked about her process, and talked about  book covers. She shared illustrations in progress, various stages of her work, and rejected illustrations. We bused in 50 kids for each session and had the best time. Skyping with an illustrator is different, but worth it.

To find an author willing to Skype – try either of these sites. Kate Messner (who’s done a lot of research about Skyping and is an author herself) or this one where you search by last name. If you don’t find a particular author in either place, check their webpage or contact them to inquire.  Also, don’t forget about the list of YA authors by state on YALSA’s wiki.

Most authors will do a short session to classrooms or book clubs for free. It’s usually 10-20 minutes. If you’re looking for something more in depth, there’s usually a cost involved. Skyping with an author can be just like a class or library visit, without paying for the speaker’s travel costs. Often they have set presentations, but some simply open things up for questions-and-answers. Others combine the two approaches. Check with your author beforehand to make sure you both know the logistics of the day.

While gearing up for the presentation, Kimberly and I had a great brainstorming session on who else to Skype, if the author you want is busy or you’re looking for a different, non-authorial perspective. We came up with a few examples to get the ball rolling:

Gallagher Girls: Someone from the CIA or Spy Museum
Contaminated: A epidemiologist or someone from the CDC
Princess Diaries: Etiquette Expert
Want to Go Private?: FBI
Genius Files: Any novelty museum

 Have you had a great Skype experience? Let us know in the comments

Outstanding International Books and more, at the USBBY Midwinter Program

Maryann Macdonald, author of the World War II-era novel-in-verse and 2014 Bluebonnet nominee Odette’s Secrets, will speak at USBBY’s program at the 2014 Midwinter Meeting. The event will be held Friday, January 24th at 8:00 p.m. in the Howe Room at Loew’s Hotel.

odette's secrets

Macdonald’s historical novel is a fictionalization on the real experiences of Odette Meyers, a Parisian girl of Jewish descent who is sent into the countryside to hide with a Catholic family during the Nazi occupation. Kirkus, which gave the book a starred review, described it as “an ideal Holocaust introduction for readers unready for death-camp scenes.” Continue reading