10 Book Recommendations for Disney Animation Fans

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

If you and the children in your life are anything like me, you're all fans of the various Disney animated films! Now, I know some people genuinely don't like anything that Disney's touched (to which I must respond, "Who hurt you?"), and certainly not all Disney animated films are created equally. But the franchise holds such a fond place in my heart, and for generations, these movies have brought children and adults together through the power of superior storytelling.

So, since most of us have a young person in our lives who like Disney and who either loves to read or should, here's my top ten MG and chapter book recommendations for Disney animation fans.

Now, everyone has their own Disney style. Maybe the Disney princesses are where it's at for the kid in your life. Maybe your family adores the talking animals of The Lion King, Robin Hood, and Zootopia. Maybe your daughter loves strong female protagonists; maybe your son adores fairytale adaptations; maybe your niece and nephew love fantasy stories both light and dark. Whatever it is, I've got your covered.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell & Dimwood Forest by Avi

In the avenue of anthropomorphic animals, Disney has plenty to choose from. There's the classic characters of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and their lot; there's the early Disney flicks like Dumbo and Bambi; there're all the various dog and cat movies they're put out: Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats, The Fox and the Hound, Oliver and Company; there's the almost-humanoid animals of films like Zootopia and Robin Hood; there's the wild beasts of Lion King, The Jungle Book, and Brother Bear; and there's more on top of all that. And over in the realm of literature, there's so much to choose from if this whole talking animal thing is your jam!

Setting aside obvious choices like Warrior Cats and Rats of NIMH (though those are fair picks, too!), my recommendations in this sphere are one classic and one series.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is by far the most mature book on this list, but it's something that a middle grader should be able to handle nevertheless. The more sensitive souls among us may struggle with its emotional journey--this is a story that deals heavily with these of animal cruelty and tells its tale from the animals' perspective to boot--but it's such an important book! Released in the 1800s, it is a pinnacle of animal welfare fiction and animal welfare in general; it sparked people to reform their relationships with animals in general and horses in particular. It's a lovely story, harsh and sweet in turn, and it's all but guaranteed to get the better of emotionally invested readers.

Dimwood Forest, on the other hand, is a series of children's books by acclaimed author Avi. The focal point of the series is Poppy, a field mouse whose life plays out across the span of each of the books save the prequel, Ragweed. Besides that prequel novel, the series consists of Poppy, Poppy and Rye, Ereth's Birthday, Poppy's Return, and my favorite by far, Poppy and Ereth. Those first three books (Ragweed, Poppy, and Rye) were stories I enjoyed during my own childhood, and quite recommend them for modern children, as well... but the real gem of the series is Poppy and Ereth. After reading the rest of Poppy's story, in which the grumpy porcupine Ereth plays a supporting role, reading their surprisingly emotional storyline in this final novel was, well, surprisingly emotional!

Honestly, I'm really looking forward to rereading these books once I get the time, and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for some talking animal fun!

The Keepers by Jackie French Koller, Unicorns of Balinor by Mary Stanton, & Jewel Kingdom by Jahnna N. Malcolm

But even more popular than talking animals these days are princesses! Love of Mickey, Minnie, and Donald has faded under the brunt of both sparkly and steely girl power, with everyone from determined (and technically not a princess) Mulan to plucky Anna and misunderstood Elsa capturing hearts and wallets around the world. But princesses need not be limited to either Disney films or fairy tale retellings; there's plenty more middle grade and kidlit royalty to go around!

One of my favorite series in this vein is Jackie French Koller's The Keepers. I talked about this series recently in My Top Ten Favorite Fictional Settings.

Over the course of this middle-grade trilogy, we see the setting of Eldearth through the eyes of a preteen named Nell, who has magical abilities but who lives in a patriarchal society that insists her magic is less than a man's. Nell's story is one of feminism, privilege, and the plight of the unseen, and Nell herself takes on the roll of the privileged person who advocates to her peers on behalf of those whom the privileged would otherwise refuse to hear.

It's a world that's steeped in the dichotomy of light versus darkness, with light being represented by Nell and the various magical creatures of her homeland. The dark, then, is lead by a mysterious "anti-god" type character that uses demon-esque minions for brute force and human spies for subterfuge. There are strong monotheistic roots to its worldbuilding, with that strict dichotomy calling back to Zoroastrianism and the Abrahamic mythologies, and the patriarchal nature of the human society is both reminiscent of a watered-down Medieval era and utterly integral to the story's plot.

Beyond that series, though, there are several others of note! Mary Stanton's Unicorns of Balinor was a staple of my childhood reading. It tells the story of Ari, a princess hidden away in our world after her own unicorn-filled home realm was beset by an evil force that kidnapped her family. Basically, it's unicorns and a princess (plus a sometimes-sassy/sometimes-bratty rich girl) versus the forces of evil, and while it's not my favorite series of all time (it definitely has its flaws, which you can read all about in my reviews), there's definitely a kernel of nostalgia for it buried in my heart. Give it a chance if you're looking for a princess fix!

Lastly, a mention goes to Jahnna N. Malcolm's Jewel Kingdom series. There's not much substance to it; it's one of those series of incredibly short chapter books that are better for reading practice than they are for storytelling, but they're fun enough! If you just want some quick good-triumphing-over-evil adventures staring princesses, you just might want to check these out.

Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler, Fairy Realm by Emily Rodda, & Rainbow Magic by Daisy Meadows

Beyond just princesses and talking animals, though, Disney's real forte is fantasy. They've got fairytale adaptations and magic down pat, and if you're looking for books up that particular alley, the middle grade and kidlit demographics definitely have you covered!

For fans of Ariel and The Little Mermaid, there's Liz Kessler's Emily Windsnap series. I was introduced to this series' first book, The Tail of Emily Windsnap as a child, and it was a pretty fun story even for someone who wasn't particularly interested in mermaids! The mermaids story I liked best, though, was found in Emily Rodda's Fairy Realm series. The third book, The Third Wish, deals not with the story's typical fairies but mermaids, and it's a vivid enough setting and story that the impression it left on me inspired many of my dreams as a preteen.

But the Fairy Realm series was, obviously, more focused upon fairies! And it does a wonderful job of dealing with the micro-genre of fairy-related middle grade. It's part changeling fantasy and part adventure story, and it's all trussed up in bright colors, happy endings, and cheerful magical fun. It's very tame storytelling without utterly lacking substance, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in that kind of fun, casual story.

Daisy Meadows' Rainbow Magic is another fun, casual story, but it's far less substantial than Fairy Realm. It's quite like the aforementioned Jewel Kingdom series; there are many books (exponentially more in the Rainbow Magic series, though), all of which are quite short, punctuated by illustration, and written for very young readers. They're great "getting into reading" books, though, even if they won't be of much interest to older readers. If you've got very young, not-particularly-experienced readers looking for some fairy magic to spark their love of reading, Rainbow Magic is a good way to go!

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley & Witch Catcher by Mary Downing Hahn

But of course not all Disney magic is light, cheerful, and pleasant. There's so much darkness to be found in Disney, from Cinderella's awful, abuse stepfamily and Frollo's motivation in The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Maleficent's eerie wickedness and the Chernabog sequence of Fantasia. It's mostly fun and games when it comes to the mouse, but there are darker shades of fantasy there, too.

So if what you really love about Disney is what's among their most sinister offerings, my final two recommendations are for you.

The lighter of the two first! The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley is a series of fairy tale and folklore adaptations. It takes the Grimm Fairy Tales not as a collection of folklore and oral tradition to be recorded for future generations but as a logbook of case files that the Grimm brothers experienced firsthand. Their descendants, then, the titular "Sisters Grimm" find themselves up against the various creatures and characters of those fabled tales.

It's not the darkest story you're going to find (though I've not yet finished the series!), but it's a bit closer to a "twisted tale" style adaptation than much of Disney's lighter fare. Give it a shot, and you might find it's just the shade of gray you're looking for.

But if even that's too light, I've one last recommendation for you. Mary Downing Hahn is the author of one of my favorite childhood ghost stories, Wait Till Helen Comes. But I didn't realize until recently that ghost stories weren't her only contribution to the literary world! In Witch Catcher, she weaves a tale of witches and fairies and evil not-quite-stepmothers, and it's a very fun novel, in a twisted-but-for-kids kind of way. I highly recommend it!

So, what books do you start craving while you're on a Disney kick? Do you have a Disney fan in your life, and what do they like to read? Discuss all things Disney and bookish with me in the comments below, and feel free to leave some of your own recommendations!

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