Myths and legends: Read the very best children books that draw on folklore

Published on: 19 October 2021 Author: Ian Mark

Ian Mark gives us a range of books – from the epic to spooky – that are perfect for young readers who can't get enough of magic and fantasy. They're all based on myths and legends, and there are some you might not even have heard of yet... 


On his ninth birthday, Gwyn’s grandmother gives him five gifts: 'a piece of seaweed, a yellow scarf, a tin whistle, a twisted metal brooch, and a small, broken horse.' She wants to find out if Gwyn is a wizard, like his ancestors. Of course he is. What follows is a totally original fantasy suffused with echoes of Welsh myth.

ELIDOR by Alan Garner

Roland, his brothers and sister are transported to the dying land of Elidor, where they’re given four objects to bring back to our world and keep safe. The spear, sword, cauldron and stone are the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danaan from the Irish Otherworld. The book is layered with references to Irish and Arthurian Grail legends. There are also stone circles and a unicorn, both of which invariably make any book better.


Taran starts out as an Assistant Pig Keeper to a magician, but the final book in the series is called The High King, which some might consider a bit of a spoiler. Early episodes from the chronicles, all inspired by Welsh myths from the Mabinogion, were filmed by Disney as The Black Cauldron, but the books are obviously much richer.

THE SAGA OF ERIK THE VIKING by Terry Jones, illustrated by Michael Foreman

The first full-length book for children by the Monty Python team member is about a Viking chief who sets out to find the land where the sun goes at night. On the way, he encounters many creatures inspired by Norse legends, including a monstrous Spell-Hound that can only answer one question but will kill anyone who fails to guess what it is.

ARTHUR: THE SEEING STONE by Kevin Crossley Holland

Making the story of King Arthur feel as if it’s being told for the first time isn’t easy, but this book does just that. The way the author takes apart the familiar legend and then rebuilds it in 100 short chapters is breathtaking. It’s beautifully written too, and best of all, there are two further books in the trilogy.

THE GHOST DRUM by Susan Price

This one is based on Russian folklore and, short as it is, it’s packed with more otherworldly mystery and weird creatures than many books three times its length. It’s one of those stories that I invariably get the urge to re-read every winter when the days start getting darker.

THE GREY KING by Susan Cooper

Less well loved than her most famous book, The Dark Is Rising, this sequel is just as thrilling, taking her hero Will Stanton, an Old One tasked with defending the Light, to Wales to convalesce after an illness. There, he’s drawn into battle with an ancient spirit of the Dark and sinister grey foxes that no mortal can see.

THE BOX OF DELIGHTS by John Masefield

This is one of the oddest fantasies I’ve ever read and I’m not entirely sure it makes sense, but it doesn’t matter, because it gathers up all the oldest traditions from British legend and remakes them into something unique and haunting. It has surely shaped every generation of children’s fantasy writers since.

Read our book review of The Box of Delights 

IAN MARK is an author and part-time monster hunter living in Northern Ireland with his family and an indeterminate amount of cats. With his partner, he has written adult thrillers under the pen name Ingrid Black. Monster Hunting for Beginners is his middle grade debut.
Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark, illustrated by Louis Ghibault, is published by Farshore Books, price £12.99. 

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