Nothing can hold a candle to what I think of as the Fantasy Trifecta throughout our Gracepoint ministries: can you guess what they are? Of course I’m talking about The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter series.
An aside: whenever I’d post a “wanted” listing for book donations for my classroom library, these are the books I would mostly get. So much so that my students wondered if my friends only read those books. To which I would answer…”Um…by the looks of it, that could very well be the case!” But then I would defend you all (thank you for your donations, by the way) by saying, “What can I say? My friends have good taste in books!”
If you’re a parent, you know that there are a bajillion fantasy series out there. And the little reviews always say, “Like Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games meets Enders Game!” or something of the sort. I love me a good fantasy series myself (better yet if it’s a dystopian fantasy sci-fi mix), but man, are there some subpar* ones out there. It seems all you have to do is sell the rights for a movie, and ta-da, you’ve got yourself a multi-million dollar franchise!
But enough of my negativity, on this Favorite Friday, I want to share with you my favorite underrated (no pun intended) fantasy series. It’s The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. Yes, that’s right, she of The Hunger Games** fame. In fact, I find this series to be far superior to The Hunger Games in terms of her writing, thematic exploration, and world-building, even though she wrote The Underland Chronicles first.
This series is a middle grade series, targeting 8-12 year olds. It seems to be a hit with middle schoolers, but I’ve also recommended it to 3rd graders who are avid readers, as well as 9th graders who want a fast fantasy series to enjoy. Last year I had a 7th grader who was deemed a “non-reader” (no one is a non-reader!) by his previous teacher, and he worked through the entire series and not-so-secretly liked it. I also know some people in their late 30s who have enjoyed it too. 🙂
I thought I was going to hate the series, because it involves an Underland where anthropomorphic rats, cockroaches, and other lovely creatures have been awaiting the one who will fulfill THE PROPHECY. But I was able to get over the anti-vermin feelings pretty quickly and get into the story. In the first book, Gregor is 11 years old. His family has been going through some hard times ever since his father went missing. So it’s just his mom, his 2-year-old sister Boots, and him. He and Boots are doing laundry in the laundry room of their apartment complex when Boots accidentally slips down the grate. Being a good older brother, he naturally follows her into the grate to find her. Gregor falls…and falls…and falls…until he reaches — YES, the Underland. And then the adventures begin.
You’re thinking this is predictable. Trite even. Let me tell you though, Collins develops her characters so well that you get sucked in pretty quickly. You want things to start going well for Gregor, who just misses his dad so much, wants to do right by his hard-working mom, and isn’t too cool to show how fiercely loyal he is to his younger sister. I won’t tell you much more than this, but one funny part is that the cockroaches think Boots is a queen…because of her full diaper. (OK, I thought that was funny anyway!)
These books have great themes for conversations with your kids: courage in the face of fear, sacrifice, trust and betrayal, loyalty, and more.
An added bonus: the audiobooks for this series are GREAT! Perfect for road trips with your family.
*Can we agree that Subpar, while punny, is a rather subpar name name for a mini-golf place? (I get it, subpar is a good thing in golf. But…)
**Many people ask my opinion on The Hunger Games. I’ve got some, but I shall leave them for a future post.
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I can’t believe I just saw this post!
My first exposure to this series was when my 4th grade teacher read the first book, Gregor the Overlander, aloud to our class. I was riveted. In my elementary school mind, there was no wrong that this series could do. Like Emily says, it has everything, and I was blown away by the story of Gregor and all the creatures of the Underland. After my teacher got through the first book, I had to have more, and this series became the first that I poured myself into. I absolutely had to buy the second and third books, and since the fourth and fifth hadn’t been written yet, I painstakingly awaited the publication of those as well, buying both within days of their respective releases.
This is the first series I go to as well when recommending to an elementary or middle school student, but like Emily said, it works brilliantly with any age group. The trials of Gregor in the scary world of the Underland can pertain to any age group, and I remember immediately latching onto the incredible characters and world that Suzanne Collins had created. It’s absolutely the case that this was the series that got my reading going in elementary and middle school, and I still have all 5 books at home on my bookshelf that I often look at with nothing but fond memories.
I distinctly remember noticing when news broke that Collins was going to write another series, something called “The Hunger Games.” I was excited about the prospect of my favorite author taking on a new project, but by the end of the series, I had to come to the same conclusion that Emily did: that Collins’s newest series was just not as good as her first.
I haven’t fully read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, so this opinion may not be complete. But after Harry Potter, I would rate The Underland Chronicles as my second favorite children series of all time, ahead of many more famous ones. I’m grateful for having the chance to write this post, as I was taken back to one of the key parts of my childhood: following Gregor’s amazing journey through his laundry room.
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