Fantasy & Science Fiction

Defining Fantasy

Tunnel, Jacobs, Young, and Bryan (2016) describe fantasy as a fictional story with fantastic, magical or unnatural characteristics. The stories break the laws of nature. In many ways, fantasy is similar to traditional literature. The genre includes many subgenres or categories. Initially, when I thought of fantasy, my mind immediately went to The Hobbit and Harry Potter; I was, at first, surprised to read that a book like Charlotte’s Web would be considered fantasy, but even though the setting and human characters are so realistic and relatable, certainly talking animals that coordinate and act on complicated schemes is a fantastic premise. Well known fantasy authors include C. S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander.

Books in the fantasy genre have many common attributes including magic, new worlds, good vs. evil, heroism, and magical characters and objects. The texts are other-worldly and exist in an alternate reality unlike Science Fiction which suggests possible future based, in part, on a suggested scientific premise that may or may not be scientifically sound. The genres are similar in that they both alter our known reality and exist in an altered or alien world. Dystopian novels have been especially popular in recent years but have a long history including classics like The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time (Tunnel, Jacobs, Young & Bryan, 2016).

Subgenres of fantasy include novelized traditional tales and high fantasy. These books are magical and invite readers to experience a world without limits. Books like Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump take the traditional story of Rumpelstiltskin and develop an entire other world around familiar characters, imagining alternate histories and motivations for each character. Fans of folktales and more traditional fantasy might enjoy these stories, and the character development might even appeal to readers of realistic fiction.

Science Fiction

Subgenres of science fiction include time travel and space travel. These stories invite readers to escape reality and travel into the future or across the universe, imagining whole new worlds. Young fans of The Magic Treehouse series may grow into Madeleine L’Engle readers. They may also take their interest in time travel over to the I Survived or Dear America serieses, trying out historical fiction.


Though the science fiction and fantasy genres are so imaginative and seemingly disconnected from reality, the characters have very human traits – and though the stories are told in a world of magic and supernatural powers – the stories share the same themes we see in realistic fiction. While these books allow readers to escape reality, the stories are often still relatable and relevant. One of my favorite read alouds is The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. My third graders love this story, but it isn’t the talking animals that draw them in. It is the characters – everyone of them a misfit, everyone of them carrying the weight of feeling unloved and lonely, and everyone of them changed by love and kindness and hope. This is the power of fiction. I think the same can be said for Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – the settings are glorious and the magic is enchanting, but the characters are the heart of the stories.
Tunnel, M. O., Jacobs, J. S., Young, T. A., & Bryan G. (2016). Children’s literature briefly. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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