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Loved Harry Potter? We think you’ll like these books too

Harry Potter: the Complete Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter: the Complete Series
by J.K. Rowling

Read

When you're looking for books like Harry Potter, it's worth trying to pin down exactly what aspects of the series it is you're trying to relive. Here, Sophie Roell, Editor of Five Books, tries to break it down and offers some ideas of other books you might enjoy.

Suggested by Sophie Roell

Harry Potter: the Complete Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter: the Complete Series
by J.K. Rowling

Read

So, you’ve just finished reading the Harry Potter books–or your kids have just finished reading them—and you want to find more books just like them, that are as good. Maybe you’ve even Googled ‘books like Harry Potter’ and found lists that are helpful. Or not. One problem is that there are no books exactly like Harry Potter and it’s probably more realistic to try and identify books that capture some aspects of the series, rather than books that exactly replicate it.

One thing to mention before we start: if you—or the child you are looking for books for—is a diehard Harry Potter fan, you will probably already know that, beyond the original seven books in the series, there are a few add-ons: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the Ages, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts one and two), Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald. None of them are terribly satisfying, the first two are short, the others scripts for plays (The Cursed Child) or films (Fantastic Beasts) rather than novels. But if you really love Harry Potter and the world he lives in, that may not be an issue.

A slightly more satisfying place to carry on a love affair with Harry Potter and his world is on fan fiction sites, where other people carry on the stories. Some are very short stories, but if you filter by number of words, you can find authors who have dedicated thousands of words to writing stories based on Harry Potter, some of which are really good. When you’re done with that, you have no choice: it’s time to find a new book series to fall in love with. Where to go next? It depends what you’re looking for. Here, we’ve broken it down into five main categories:

1

The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan

Probably the most noticeable feature of Harry Potter is that kids get completely addicted to them. Which other series are like that? Top of our list is the Percy (aka Perseus) Jackson series by ex-English teacher Rick Riordan. Combining Greek myths with modern America (Mt Olympus is now on top of the Empire State Building) and learning difficulties with special powers (dyslexia helps with reading ancient Greek), there is a lot to love about this series, which seems to captivate kids anywhere from age 8 to age 14. If Harry Potter is set in Hogwarts, the Percy Jackson series is set at Camp Halfblood, a summer camp in Long Island, and it is from there that the adventures start out. If Harry has Hermione and Ron, Percy has Annabeth and Grover. We have a full interview about the best Rick Riordan books, though the first book to start with is Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

 

There are a number of other series that are extremely addictive to kids, but to keep this short and vaguely objective, we’re limiting ourselves to the books that have attracted huge fan fiction followings. Right behind Harry Potter is Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, a series about vampires that’s been hard to miss because it got turned into a series of blockbuster movies as well. These are really young adult novels, because while they’re not explicit (Meyer is a Mormon so no drinking, smoking or sex before marriage) the main plot driver is romance or sexual tension, which does not go down well with many under 12s. That said, the writing in Twilight is very accessible, the teenage angst palpable, the plot more-ish and the setting in Washington state very atmospheric—so definitely worth reading the books before your imagination is compromised by seeing the movies.

“Probably the most noticeable feature of Harry Potter is that kids get completely addicted to them”

Other books that attract huge fan fiction followings are: The Lord of the Rings (on which more, below), The Hunger Games and Warriors. The Hunger Games series is accessible to ages 11 and up and while, as parents, it’s hard not to be horrified at the dystopian world that’s portrayed, kids generally seem to enjoy it. It’s yet another highly readable book that’s been made into a blockbuster movie, so again, make sure to read the book first.

 

Last on our list is the Warriors series, which has not (yet) been made into a film. It’s about a world of cats and, we can confirm from personal experience, is a completely addictive series of books for kids aged up to around 12.  The first book in the series to start off with is Into the Wild. Warning: there are a lot of books in the Warriors series, so unless you live near a library or money is no object, be careful before getting started on them.

2

His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman

One of the most surprising aspects of the Harry Potter phenomenon was seeing adults reading kids’ books. There’s something very relaxing about reading books aimed at a younger age group, but not all series written for kids have enough depth or humour to pull it off. Three series that stand out for us in terms of books like Harry Potter that adults like reading too are:

 

Firstly, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, in particular the first book, Northern Lights. This is an amazing reading experience that will stay with you. The heroine is Lyra Belaqua, who lives in a college in Oxford and is being brought up by its scholars. Saying more would ruin it, but it’s a fantasy experience with a touch of the theological, though written by an atheist (Pullman is a supporter of Humanists UK). If you’re an adult looking for a kids’ book to read, Northern Lights is absolutely unmissable.

“One of the most surprising aspects of the Harry Potter phenomenon was seeing adults reading kids’ books”

Also unmissable is The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. If you tried The Hobbit, it feels a little two-dimensional to read as an adult but in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s fantasy world completely comes alive. It’s a world with its own history (lots of it, perhaps too much for some kids, unless they like history), with poetry, with its own languages. There’s adventure and extreme danger, mixed in with the good-natured common sense of the hobbits and particularly the hobbit hero, Frodo Baggins. The mysterious power of the ring gives the book an allure which more straightforward quest/journey stories lack and the evil beings that try to stop Frodo are, quite frankly, terrifying.

 

One last series of books to mention here: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is a modern, urban, teenage take on Harry Potter, with everything that implies. The writing is beautiful. In one scene, the main characters turn into geese, and the description of that feeling of flying will come back to you every time you see geese flying across the sky.

3

Akata Witch
by Nnedi Okorafor

There’s this strange feeling when you put down a Harry Potter book—a testament to JK Rowling’s ability to create a world which seems completely real—that you really want to hold a wand and use it to clear up the kitchen or do the vacuum cleaning. Wands were nothing new when Rowling started writing the Harry Potter books in the 1990s and there had been many books (and movies) about magic/witches/wizards for kids before.

 

In addition to the ones we’ve already mentioned, a few books about magic or magicians that preceded (and may have inspired) Harry Potter include TB White’s The Once and Future King, and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. Both are classics of the genre. It’d also be impossible not to have CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia on a list of books like Harry Potter. We particularly recommend The Magician’s Nephew as a fabulous read in that series, preceding the story you might already have seen as a movie. The other books in the series are also captivating, starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Again, try to read it before you see the movie.

 

Perhaps the most promising result of the huge amount of interest in magic/witches/wizards that came out of Harry Potter is books that are somewhat like it, but written in a completely different magical tradition. While Anglo-Saxon magic/witchcraft is about wands, broomsticks and pointy hats, there have been a number of books that build a story based on other types of magic, like juju, which comes from Nigeria/West Africa. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor is about a girl called Sunny who is Nigerian and discovers she has special powers, before saving the world with her three friends. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is aimed at a slightly older audience but again explores magic in a West African and also dystopian context. These books are slightly harder to read, because there’s no familiarity with the references (broomsticks etc.), but very rewarding because they open up new worlds.

 

Lastly, we can’t help mentioning a nonfiction book, The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. Aimed at a young adult audience, it makes the case that the world around us, and the science that explores it, is the real magic. And it’s true, we can now do so many things that our ancestors would have considered magic, like flying. The book also encourages you to think scientifically about any magical tales you might have enjoyed reading.

What makes Harry Potter such a winning formula across the globe is its use of a genre that has always been an immensely popular British export: the boarding school novel. If you’ve been to boarding school, it’s the familiarity of these settings, combined with JK Rowling’s wry sense of humour and funny takes on those familiar events and scenes, which makes them so irresistible.

 

Boarding school novels, which transform these traditionally rather grim British institutions into places of fun and adventure, have a lot to answer for. Many a 20th century European read Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers series and happily agreed to go off to boarding school in England, only to discover what boarding school life was really like. Reality aside, boarding school novels remain an incredibly exciting reading experience: kids are on their own, without parents, questioning authority, embarking on adventures within a familiar, delineated area, and it’s a sleepover with friends every single night. What’s not to like?

 

By far the most popular boarding school series in our house is Scarlett and Ivy by Sophie Cleverly, where the two main characters solve mysteries and uncover secrets from the past.

 

The Murder Most Unladylike series is also set at a boarding school, this time in the 1930s, and featuring another crime-investigating duo, Daisy and Hazel. Also quite fun is the School for Good and Evil which, like Harry Potter, has magic in a school setting, though fewer lessons.

5

The Thieves of Ostia
by Caroline Lawrence

Lastly we wanted to mention a couple of series that are educational. The Harry Potter series was not written specifically to improve your grades at school. That said, in encouraging many thousands of children to read who might not have otherwise, they were extremely effective. Also, in having the diligent, hardworking Hermione as a hero, and her knowledge of books and dedication to schoolwork a big part of why she’s so effective, the series does set a good example: it’s no longer uncool to be a swot. It’s also true that Latin comes up a lot in the Harry Potter books, via myths, names and spells. The entire series has, in fact, been translated into Latin.

 

There are now many series for kids that are educational. For example, if you’re interested in the Roman world and want to learn more about it, there is the Roman Mysteries series. These are for kids up to around age 12, and offer an entry into the ancient world. Like Harry Potter, it’s a group of friends working together, led by Flavia Gemina, who solve mysteries. Although the premise is unlikely, this series is genuinely educational, in that you really learn a lot about ancient Rome. The first book, The Thieves of Ostia, introduces the characters and the town they live, Ostia, whose ruins you can still visit near Rome’s main airport, Fiumicino. The second book, The Secrets of Vesuvius, is our favourite. Caroline Lawrence, the author, studied Classics at Berkeley and won a Marshall Scholarship to Cambridge, and she seems to use genuine sources (eg Pliny) to recreate the Roman world she describes.

 

Two other educational series that look at history (but are quite UK-centric) are Horrible Histories and My Story, both of which are mentioned in our interview on the best history books for young kids. They’ve led to an embarrassing situation in our household where though I have a history degree from Oxford, my kids seem to know a lot more about, say, George IV than I do.

 

One final series to read—that most Americans have heard of, but not everyone else—the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They’re about her life as part of a pioneer family, travelling further and further West with her family in 19th century America. These are for younger kids, but completely engrossing. They’re an idealized account of her childhood—and have come under fire for their depiction of Native Americans, which is a problem. But as long as you warn kids about these limitations, these are books based on a true story, someone’s account of their life more than century ago, and completely readable. That’s pretty unique.

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