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The Wizards of Once series, Cressida Cowell

I would apologize for having Cressida Cowell on this list twice, but that would mean I’m sorry and I’m really just not. Not even a little. What can I say? Here’s an author who knows how to build an incredible children’s series. 

What’s the Book? 

The Wizards of Once comes from the author of the How To Train Your Dragon series and completely delivers the same action-packed punch. The series takes place in an ancient world full of magic, but not all want to live in this world. The wizards of the forest are constantly at war with the ever-encroaching warriors of the iron forts. The hatred between these two peoples runs deep, but it’s about to be turned on its head when a warrior princess Wish and a wizard boy Xar meet and are swept up in the terrifying return of the rottenly evil witches. 

Joined by a hilariously wild mishmash of sidekicks that include a talking raven with anxiety, a young bodyguard with narcolepsy, a living iron spoon involved in a cutlery related love triangle, and a giant who’s as philosophical as he is tall, these two young heroes bounce from misadventure to misadventure. 

Why It’s a Top Ten

True to Cowell’s style, the series bounces along with infectious hilarity and irreverence. That same quirky off the wall humor that drew me to HTTYD is just as present in The Wizards of Once while not relying on the success of the last series and completely standing on its own legs. What’s more, Cowell still puts her characters through the paces and does so without letting up for a minute. Throughout the series, our cast of characters struggle through not just the terrifying reality of returning witches, but the familiar and relatable struggles that are universally understood. She skillfully sucks a reader into what might happen next and her apt for fast-paced storytelling kept me up till one in the morning on a particular night. The series is ongoing and the need for answers is still maddening. Cowell’s creativity demands your attention and refuses to let it go.

Perhaps the heart of this series can be summed up in the treatment and attention to detail Cowell gives her characters even in the midst of so much action and adventure. She gives time to address not just the big actions, but the deep running desires of the characters as well. And, oh, are these characters are filled with longing. 

Longing is the pulsing heartbeat of the story that makes the wildly varied cast startlingly relatable at every turn. They may all have a shared goal of defeating the terrifying witches, but they have deep-rooted hopes and dreams of their own as well that Cowell takes the time to flesh out. For such a fantastical setting, the desires of the characters ring true with aching familiarity. 

Wish just wants her mother to care about her despite her constant blundering. Xar, for all his bravado, just wants to fit in. And Bodkin the bodyguard, terrified as he always is, dreams of being a hero. Young as these characters are, they are in the midst of wrestling with the differences between who they are and who they want to be. They struggle and strive in painfully familiar ways to ourselves, very often to find themselves unwilling to let go of the very thing that makes them so different. 

The story may take place in a wild, untamed, magical forest with quips abounding, but as always Cressida Cowell invites readers to examine all those awkward, funny, and painful moments that make the difference between childishness and maturity and learn that who we are to each other matters far more than who we want to be.

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