Not All Myths Are Old:
Modern Mythology and Legends for Tweens and Teens

by Tom Burns

Book covers: Unicorn Rescue Society; The Alchemyst; The Golden Compass; Super Hero Girls Series

Introducing kids to mythology can be difficult. Young readers tend to find those ancient legends to either be completely fascinating or dull as dirt. Yes, the stories of Zeus, Shiva, and an endless assortment of trickster gods have endured for centuries, but sometimes, those stories really do show their age in their retellings and leave kids befuddled.

Wait, he turned himself into a swan? And he ate his own children? And WHO was born out of his thigh?! Oh my gods!

However, not every work of myth and legend was written back when most authors wore togas to work. Writers are coming up with new works of mythology — often inspired by the classical myths — all the time, and some are even good enough that school kids might be rolling their eyes at them in a thousand years.

Here are some fascinating works of modern mythology that any tween or teen will enjoy.

  • The Unicorn Rescue Society Series

    by Adam Gidwitz and various authors, illustrated by Hatem Aly

    If you enjoyed The Inquisitor’s Tale, you’ll be glad to know that author Adam Gidwitz and illustrator Hatem Aly have teamed up to create even more fantastical adventures for young readers, this time with the help of a rotating cast of co-authors such as Joseph Bruchac and David Bowles. The series centers on two kids who are tasked with a secret mission to protect mythical creatures, and is full of all the unexpected twists, action, and humor of their previous collaboration.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

  • DC Super Hero Girls Series

    by Lisa Yee

    It’s easy to forget because superheroes are everywhere nowadays, but comic book heroes are pretty much the epitome of modern mythology. They’re stories of larger-than-life characters fighting for good or evil who sometimes literally throw lightning at each other from on high. The DC Super Hero Girls series is doing something remarkable with the whole hero vs. villain mythos — it’s trying to re-contextualize classic DC characters to make them relatable, accessible, and emotionally relevant to a whole new generation of readers. Author Lisa Yee does a fantastic job of making her young heroines feel both familiar and mythic.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

  • Pretty much anything written by Rick Riordan

    When most kids hear the word “mythology” nowadays, their minds almost immediately turn to the works of Rick Riordan. Few other authors — beyond Homer and Roger Lancelyn Green — have done more to introduce young readers to the classical stories of yore than Riordan and his series of mythology-inspired adventure novels. With characters like Percy Jackson, Magnus Chase, and the Kane siblings, Riordan has done an amazing job taking the legends of the past and using them to inspire a new generation of gods and monsters.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

  • The Jumbies

    by Tracey Baptiste

    This gorgeous fairy tale by Baptiste builds a wonderfully empowering narrative from some lesser-known aspects of Caribbean folklore. An island girl named Corinne La Mer has a strange encounter one night with a jumbie, a notorious creature of magic and mystery. But are the jumbies truly evil? Baptiste’s narrative has a lot of say about individualism, courage, and the kind of prejudices that are so old and so deep that we barely realize they’re there. The book’s sequel, Rise of the Jumbies, is equally impressive.
    (Ages 9 – 12)

  • Sita: Daughter of the Earth

    by Saraswati Nagpal, illustrated by Manikandan

    How do you make the legends of the Ramayana, a centuries-old Indian text, relevant to young readers? You turn it into a really great graphic novel. Part of the Campfire Graphic Novels series, Sita vibrantly tells the story of a resourceful princess who has to struggle to prevail against the evil King Ravana. Not only does this story introduce young readers to a work of world mythology often overlooked in Western classrooms, but it also retells Sita’s adventures in an exciting, relatable fashion.
    (Ages 10+)

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories

    by Salman Rushdie

    Parents who only know the name “Salman Rushdie” from the book The Satanic Verses might be surprised hear that Rushie has also written for children. Haroun is an epic work of magical realism, an engagingly surreal fable all about a young boy trying to stop evil forces from blocking the source of humanity’s imagination from flowing into the world. The novel is filled with the same kind of verbal dexterity that Norton Juster brought to The Phantom Tollbooth, and it spins a fantastic narrative about the importance of creativity and inspiration.
    (Ages 10+)

  • His Dark Materials Series

    by Philip Pullman

    Pullman’s Dark Materials series takes the word “epic” seriously. This trilogy is fantastically, mind-bogglingly ambitious in its scope, crafting a whole multiverse of worlds that take its characters from alternative dimensions to the afterlife and beyond. In “Golden Compass,” we’re introduced to 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua, who starts an adventure that brings her into conflict with politics, religion, the subatomic structure of the universe, and the concept of “God” itself. It’s mythic, it’s epic, and it’s BIG. A wonderful introduction to the limitless scope of storytelling for young readers.
    (Ages 10+)

  • The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

    by Michael Scott

    Kids may recognize the legendary name of Nicholas Flamel from the Harry Potter series, in which he was credited as a maker of the Philosopher’s Stone. Michael Scott’s series centers on the mystery of Flamel, the alchemist who claimed to find the key to eternal life, as well as Josh and Sophie Newman, 15-year-old twin siblings who find themselves smack-dab in the middle of that mystery and a daunting prophecy.
    (Ages 12+)

  • Small Gods

    by Terry Pratchett

    Pratchett’s massive Discworld series is almost a universe unto itself, but Small Gods — the 13th book in the 41 book cycle — is perhaps the most emotional and humanistic book of them all. And it’s all about gods. One god, in fact: the Great God Om, who is horrified to learn that there’s only one person left, a simple young man named Brutha, who actually believes in him. The story is a remarkable fable all about a god learning the value of humanity, and humans learning how faith and compassion don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Plus, like all of Pratchett’s novels, it’s wickedly funny too.
    (Ages 12+)

  • Children of Blood and Bone

    by Tomi Adeyemi

    Adeyemi's YA novel does a brilliant job of drawing from mythology, religion, and modern culture to create a new storytelling universe that feels both timeless and shockingly relevant. The novel’s core is the quest of a young woman to bring magic back to her home country of Orïsha, but, throughout the story, Adeyemi constructs so much more. She gives her readers a pantheon of legends and gods who feel more relevant to the anxieties and injustices of today than Zeus ever could.
    (Ages 14+)