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Multicultural Fantasy: A List of Books

The Child_Lit Listserv—a virtual hangout for authors, academics, editors, and other enthusiasts—is always percolating with fascinating and useful information. Recently Craig Svonkin asked for suggestions of  "multicultural fantasy" works, and Child_Lit participants came up with a slew of recommendations.

I publish the list with an a-okay from Craig, an assistant professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, specializing in children's (and American) literature. He's interested in additional titles, too. So, use the comments section and chime in with your ideas; you can also email Craig directly at <csvonkinATmscdDOTedu>. (Replace the AT and DOT with the real things.)

Many thanks to Prof. Svonkin and the others at Child_Lit for this list. Any notations are from that lively, engaged group. (I added links to several online retailers so that readers could see the books.)

On Child_Lit, Craig Svonkin wrote, "I have used a broad definition of fantasy here, including quest fantasy, time travel fantasy, and even some dystopian works. You may consider some of these works more science fiction than fantasy."

Multicultural and Multi-Ethnic Fantasy

Alexander, Lloyd.  The Iron Ring (India), The  Fortune-Tellers (West African folktale/Cameroon), The Arkadians (Greek), The  First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha  (has an Arabian feel to it), The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen (China),  Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor's Cat (China)

Allende, Isabel. City of the Beasts; Kingdom of the Golden Dragon; Forest of the Pygmies (YA fantasy trilogy using Latin American mythology)

Applegate, K. A. Everworld series

Blackman,  Malorie. Naughts & Crosses (retitled Black & White), Knife Edge, and Checkmate (YA dystopian trilogy dealing with racism)

Bruchac,  Joseph.  Skeleton Man and The Return of Skeleton Man (Native American folklore and horror elements); Wabi (animal-human transformations/Native American folklore/fantasy)

Bull, Emma. War for the Oaks. (faerie/rock music, with a [character] who is Prince-like)

Chabon, Michael. Summerland (multiracial cast, multicultural mythic borrowings)

Corder,  Zizou. Lionboy (multiracial family and protagonist; future quest adventure. 1st part of a trilogy.)

Curry, Jane Louise. The Black Canary. (2005) (YA time travel with biracial protagonist)

Dawson, Mitchell. The Magic Firecrackers  (1949). (Chinese)

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. The Conch Bearer and The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming (the first 2 volumes in the Brotherhood  of the Conch, set in modern India)

Farmer, Nancy. The Ear, the Eye and the Arm (future quest set in Zimbabwe in 2194); The House of the Scorpion  (YA dystopia)

Hamilton, Virginia. The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl (African folktales/quest/slavery)

Hearn, Lian. Across the Nightingale Floor (first book in "Tales of the Otori" trilogy. Fantasy/Japanese  myth/advanced YA historical novel)

Hurmence, Belinda. A Girl Called Boy (time travel/slavery)

Jones, Diana Wynne.  The Homeward Bounders. (multiculturalism/fantasy with science fiction elements/adventure)

Kurtz, Jane. The Feverbird's Claw.

Larbalestier,  Justine.  Magic or Madness trilogy. (Australian; half-Aborigine  protagonist, with Hispanic character as well; complex treatment of  magic)

Le Guin, Ursula K. Earthsea series.  (Quest  fantasy. It is clear that Ged and many of the other characters are not white. Le Guin has commented on her displeasure with the choice to depict Ged as white on some of the cover art and in the atrocious miniseries adaptation.)

MacHale, D. J. Pendragon series.  (Multicultural cast of characters)

Masson, Sophie. Snow, Fire, Sword.  (New  York: Eos, 2006, first pub. 2004,  Indonesian myth-based fantasy)

Norton,  Andre. Dragon Magic.  (time travel/ four boys, one African  American, one Chinese American sent back in time to their cultural roots);  Star Ka'at books (black characters)

Park, Linda Sue. Archer's Quest  (time travel/quest/Korean-American protagonist alienated from his  roots)

Park, Ruth. My Sister Sif.  (futuristic YA environmental,  dystopic fantasy  with mer-people/Polynesian culture)

Pierce, Tamora. Circle of Magic series (includes a major black character); Trickster's Choice (part of a new series dealing with race issues)

Read, Elfreida. The  Magical Egg and The Spell of Chuchuchan. (Chinese  fantasy)

Rubinstein, Gillian. Galax-Arena. (YA science fiction;  African American characters)

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of  Stories

Shetterly, Will. Elsewhere and Never Never. (multiethnic cast)

Stemp, Jane. Waterbound (YA dystopian/multicultural/with disability issues)

Williams, Maiya. The Golden Hour (time travel/race); The Hour of the Cobra  (sequel)

Wrightson, Patricia. The Nargun and the Stars; The Ice Is Coming; The Dark  Bright Water; Behind the  Wind. (Australian/various works making use of Aborigine mythology)

Yep, Laurence. Dragon series, starting with Dragon of the Lost Sea (Chinese quest), and The Tiger's Apprentice series (Chinese-American protagonist caught up in Chinese myths/Harry Potter rethought as Chinese fantasy set in San Francisco)

Yolen, Jane.  The Devil's Arithmetic (time travel/Holocaust) and The Wizard of Washington Square (African-American protagonist)

Edited to include these books suggested by commenters:

Card, Orson Scott. Magic Street

Lester, Julius. Time's Memory (a novel about slavery with "fantastic" African spiritual elements)

Myers, Walter Dean. The Legend of Tarik (African protagonist)

Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi. Zahrah the Windseeker and Shadow Speaker

Tunnell, Michael. Wishing Moon  (Arabian Nights-inspired)

Wachspress, Amy. The Call to Shakabaz



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Great list! Thanks for posting this.

Also Zahrah the Windseeker and Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is one of my favorite books. Brilliant, brilliant novel.

What do you mean by "has an Arabian feel to it"? That doesn't mean anything to me!

A very useful list. Thank you.

Pooja, thanks for the addition.

The notes/comments with each recommendation came from individuals at Child_Lit; I'm not sure who contributed the one about Lloyd Alexander. Keep in mind the notes were probably written quickly. I'm going to hazard a guess that the book's geography reminded the commenter of a country on the Arabian peninsula.

I haven't read The First Two Lives of Lucas-Kasha. Would you describe it differently?

Cloudscome and Shannon, when I saw this list at Child-Lit, I immediately thought, "Blog post!"

Another good one would be Magic Street, by Orson Scott Card, if one equates "multicultural" with "non-white characters..."

Thanks, Charlotte!

I second the addition of Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. I haven't read Zahrah the Windseeker.

I also wanted to add The Call to Shakabaz by Amy Wachspress.

Awesome list! Many thanks.

Sheila, thanks so much. I added your contribution and the others' to the list, which is a good resource.

De nada, Anne. I can't resist a good list.

Thanks for posting the list for all, Susan. A few kid-lit members already emailed me a few suggestions not on the original list. Here they are:

Julius Lester's _Time's Memory_ (a novel about slavery with "fantastic" African spiritual elements)

Walter Dean Myers' _The Legend of Tarik_ (African protagonist)

Michael Tunnell's _The Wishing Moon_ (Arabian Nights-inspired).

Best, Craig Svonkin

That's great, Craig! I'll add these on. Because of Google searches and the like, entries like this one end up drawing traffic long after their post date; I know the list will help young readers (and their parents, teachers, librarians, etc.) discover new works.

Thanks so much for lending the list.

If you are looking for "crossover" titles, I recommend Ashok Banker's Ramayana Series. Yes, the books are deeply rooted in Hindu mythology/religion, but it is also the classic "Hero's Quest."

I'd like to add my new YA novel, ASLEEP, to the list. It has an African American girl as the main character and it chronicles her introduction into the secret world of super beings. It's by me, Wendy Raven McNair and more details can be found at

Great List!

I would add:

47 by Walter Mosely about a fourteen year-old slave who is set free by Tall John, a magical being from another planet.

The Oracle Prophies trilogy by Catherine Fisher which borrows from ancient Greece and ancient Egypt (The Oracle Betrayed, The Sphere of Secrets, and Day of the Scarab).

The Aksumite Cycle by Elizabeth Wein. Although this series starts out as a retelling of the Arthurian saga, in The Winter Prince, she moves the story to Aksum (part of Ethiopia) in the second book, A Coalition of Lions, and the main character of the subsequent novels is Telemakos who is the son of Medraut and an Aksumite. Those are: The Sunbird, The Lion Hunter, and The Empty Kingdom.

The Farsala trilogy by Hilari Bell has a culture that seems to be inspired by ancient Persia. Fall of a Kingdom, Rise of a Hero, and Forging the Sword.

Of course there are a lot of retellings of ancient Greek myths and stories, like Troy and Ithaka by Adele Geras and The Young Heroes series by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris: Odysseus and the Serpent Maze, Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons, Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast, and Jason ant the Gorgon's Blood.

And the retellings of the Shahrazad story like The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey and Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher.

Also, Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher where the charcters travel through Persia to Bethlehem.

The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego Garcia takes place in pre-Islamic Arabia.


Susan--excellent. Thank you!

What a helpful resource, thanks!

A few newer titles to add:
Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale (fairy tale retelling set in Mongolia-inspired culture)

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, by Allison Goodman (China)

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon (China)

Toads & Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson (fantasy world based on Mughal India)

Karen Healey's _Guardian of the Dead_ is set in New Zealand and involves Maori mythology.

Thank you, Heather, for those additions!

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