Middle grade fantasy books for ages 9 to 12 invite middle grade readers (upper elementary and middle school) into imaginative worlds of magic and fantastical creatures with exciting plots, adventures and action, plus interesting heroes and villains and trials and tests. Talk about escape reading and pure entertainment!Some feel like fairy tales, while others are set in magical schools or unique worlds; others build on mythologies or create their own. Many of these fantasy novels are books in a series, so you can keep reading if you love the first book. (Don’t you love that?) I’ve indicated if the book is part of a series after the author or illustrator. Here are the best middle grade fantasy books for you and your readers.
The Iron Trial(Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Even though Callum tries to fail the entrance trials, he is admitted to the school his dad says is evil. But the Magisterium school is not as bad as he expects. Call learns about his elemental powers, he forges bonds of friendship with his teammates and rescues a wolf puppy who is infused with the evil magic of Chaos. I couldn’t put this book down — especially after the surprise twist of who Callum really is!!
Dragon Slippers trilogy by Jessica Day George Young, brave Creel wants to own her own seamstress shop. In her pursuit of this dream, she encounters and befriends a few dragons who will change the course of her life. From one of the dragons, she gets a pair of magical slippers that help her speak to and control her most esteemed dragon friend. Of course, she’d never use the slippers for evil purposes but she’s not the only one who knows their power…This entire series is absolutely enthralling with the best elements of fantasy, adventure, and a hint of romance.
Once Upon a Timo by Stuart Gibbs Hilarious, illustrated, and perfect for fantasy and adventure fans! Tim and his sister Belinda are peasants who hope to improve their lot in life, so they sign up as knights for a not-very-brave prince and his so-called magician sidekick to find and rescue Princess Grace from a monster. Helpful foreshadowing, a strong narrative voice, and humor throughout aren’t all that this book brings to readers, it also includes helpful life lessons from Belinda about the patriarchy and great vocabulary words (which are helpfully indicated so your parents will know the IQ benefits).
Nevermoor The Trial of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend Morrigan escapes her birthday’s death curse when she’s whisked away to another realm by a mysterious man named Jupiter North to compete in four trials to join the Wundrous Society. Morrigan is worried because she doesn’t have a magical “nack” like the hundreds of other kids. She befriends a mischievous boy named Hawthorne with the nack for flying dragons. In between the trials, they try to figure out if the elusive Mr. Jones is connected to the dangerous Wundersmith named Ezra Squall. Although the pacing is a bit sluggish, I liked watching Morrigan’s growth in confidence and happiness throughout the story.
Snow Rose by Emily Winfield Martin This isn’t the same Snow White and Red Rose story from Disney, it’s something closer to the original Grimm story and it’s marvelous. Sisters Snow and Rose live in the woods with their mother because when their father disappeared, they lost their bigger, fancy home. When the girls explore, they befriend a young boy from a mushrooming family named Ivo as well as a large bear whom they nurse back to health during the winter. They fear that the woodsman will find and kill their beloved bear. Then they stumble upon a sinister Little Man who wants to enchant them or kill them. Surprisingly, this is one Grimm story with a happy ending!
Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis Fast-paced with an interesting premise, this exciting middle-grade book with Celtic mythology is about a foster child attending a magical school and searching for answers about her mysterious heritage. Kelcie is a foster kid who has been living in the human world. When she arrives at the Academy, she discovers that she’s a Saiga, a mistrusted elemental whose legacy includes a dangerous traitor. She makes friends who help her learn about her unique powers and together they fight the monsters who continue to attack the school, seemingly looking for Kelcie. This first book packs a punch and sets us up for book two — which I can’t wait to read. Highly recommended!
The Royal Guide to Monster Slaying by Kelley Armstrong (series) Rowan wants to be a Monster Hunter instead of the future queen. When tragedy strikes her brother, she gets her chance to switch roles and become the Royal Monster Slayer with her aunt with her brother as king. Unfortunately, she must face and kill a gryphon soon or her scheming uncle will get the throne instead. The story is an exciting adventure filled with surprises, mythical creatures, and new friendships. It’s not a cliff-hanger but it does leave the door open for another book which is SO GOOD — The Gryphon’s Lair.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston Fantastic fantasy world-building, excellent writing, a strong female heroine of color, and a surprise plot twist ending are just a few of the reasons you’ll love this book. On top of that, you’ll find an exciting action-packed, suspenseful story about Amari whose brother vanishes mysteriously. He sends her a message that she’s a magician and should attend a special school. There, she discovers she’s a magician with outlawed dark magic but she’s determined to stay in the school and find her brother.
The Adventurers Guild by Zach Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos Get ready for your new favorite fantasy adventure series. Zed and Brock don’t want to be chosen for the Adventurers Guild. Nobody does. Unlike the mages or merchants guild, the adventurers must leave the safety of their walled city to fight the monsters who live on the outside. Unfortunately, Zed and Brock are picked as Adventurers. And before they can finish training, Zed, Brock, and others are sent outside the city on a fact-finding mission that uncovers treachery, fiendish beasts, and Zed’s untapped magic. Imaginative world-building, intriguing plot twists, and complex characters kept me enthralled from page one!
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis After a food mage turns Aventurine, a dragon, into a human using a magical chocolate drink, she develops a passion for chocolate. Unrecognized by her dragon clan, Aventurine travels to the nearest city to apprentice herself to a chocolate shop. She’s a brave, adventurous girl who makes her chocolate dreams come true with help from a new friend and kind employers. Will she be as brave when her dragon family attacks the town? Enjoyable from the first page, the story is a delight to read. (Best read with chocolate!)
Children of the Black Glass by Anthony Peckham If you like exciting adventures with surprising twists and cool world-building, read this middle grade fantasy book next! Abandoned by their mom, Tell and Wren live with their dad on the mountain but their dad gets blinded in an accident. So the children go down the mountain to trade their dad’s black glass and find a cure. They immediately lose everything and discover an unfamiliar world with different rules, lies, treachery, and feuding families and sorcerers. Wren and Tell make tentative friendships but must use their cleverness and new and old knowledge to survive.
The Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate The conquering human ruler, Murdano, hunts and kills all the large, dog-like Dairne. All except Byx. In hopes to find a safe place and maybe the Dairne’s mythical homeland, Byx sets off on what becomes a dangerous, exciting adventure filled with new friends like Tobble who is a wobbyk. I love this uniquely imagined fantasy world about friendship, differences, betrayal, and family.
Hither and Nigh by Ellen Potter Guaranteed to enthrall with masterful storytelling and wildly inventive world-building, Hither and Nigh draws you into a magical, multi-layered story of adventure and heart. When Nell is forced to join the Last Chance Club or be expelled from school, she’s surprised when the club’s shifty teacher gives the random group of students lessons in magic! This is the start of Nell’s search find her missing brother who she thinks is still alive and can be rescued–in the magical world of Hither. She leaves her world of Nither where she hopes to track the poachers who kidnap non-magical children with big imaginations like her brother. It’s one of my favorite books of 2022 — and ever.
The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer (series) Fairy tales come alive when Alex and Conner (brother and sister) find themselves in the fairy tale book given to them by their grandmother (who happens to be THE fairy godmother). Their only way home is for them to find the fairy tale ingredients for a Wishing Spell that will hopefully help them return to their regular home. Finding these artifacts will be dangerous, mysterious, and life-changing. Each book in this series mesmerizes readers with adventure, plot twists, and mystery.
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (series) This popular fantasy graphic novel book series is the amazing adventure of two siblings trying to save their kidnapped mom in an underground world of elves, demons, robots, and talking animals. It’s a kid-favorite with lots of books in the series to read.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill Wonderfully crafted and imagined, this is a fairy tale of sorts about a good witch who rescues a town’s abandoned (the town thinks sacrificed) babies and gives them to another town to love. Except for one baby who she adopts for her own; a special baby named Luna who is accidentally infused with moon magic. It’s also the story of the baby’s magical, bereaved mother, a wicked witch who feeds off sorrow, a woodcarver who wants justice, and most of all, Luna.
Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny Not only is this story compelling and interesting but the symbolism and life lessons are stunning. Charlie’s dad has remarried and moved Charlie and his younger brother into the stepmother’s frightening purple mansion. There Charlie begins to have the most horrible nightmares — nightmares that blur between reality and dream. And when the witches steal Charlie’s brother into the nightmare world, he goes to rescue his brother. Charlie and his friends must learn to face their fears in order for the nightmare world not to have access to the real world.
Lark and the Wild Hunt by Jennifer Adam Sage’s family raises the half-animal, half-fae horses for the Wild Hunt from which her brother doesn’t return. Sage’s new fae friend Rook tells her she must fix the mysterious, broken moon clock to save brother and strengthen what has been broken. If you like epic adventures with magic, don’t miss this story about a brave and determined human girl in a world of magic and fae who embarks on a quest to save her brother…and her sister…from the new, evil fae king.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Deliz Sherman Runaway, Nick, leaves his horrible uncle’s only to get stuck with an evil wizard who calls him foxkin and won’t let him leave. If he tries anything against the rules, Nick gets turned into something– a spider and a rock, for example. Once he’s resigned to his new life, Nick finds a lot to like, especially learning magic from the wizard’s books and then helping the wizard protect the Smallbone town from the Evil Wizard Fidelou. This is a magical story about kindness, friendship, and growing up. (With a little Dread Pirate Roberts twist thrown in at the end!)
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone This is an amazing, magical hero’s journey with incredible world-building, interesting creatures, a well-developed setting, a story arc, and appealing three-dimensional characters with strong character arcs. Set in a snowy world, the story begins with a memoryless girl named Eska who is a prisoner of the Ice Queen. The Queen uses dark magic to steal people’s voices so she can gain immortality, and for some reason, she wants Eska’s voice most of all. When Flint breaks into the Palace to rescue his mother, he discovers and rescues Eska instead. Together, they search for answers to stop the Queen and to find out who Eska is. An absolutely amazing mythical adventure!
Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke My 11-year old and I devoured this book– now a series. While Jack’s single mom works, Jack takes care of his little sister, Maddy. And like the other Jack, this Jack, at the prompting of his sister who doesn’t talk, also trades the family’s one valuable thing, his mom’s car, for seeds. It all goes downhill from there: The seeds turn into a freaky, monster-growing garden which attacks; their neighbor friend secretly steals some 0f the seeds; a dragon appears with a dire warning; and, Maddy is kidnapped by one of the monsters! Action, adventure, intrigue…
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (series) We read this dragon book twice for a bedtime story in addition to the subsequent books in the series including the newly published FOURTH book, Talking To Dragons! This is about a strong female princess named Cimorene who doesn’t want to be a typical damsel in distressed only to then be married off. She leaves her home to apprentice herself to a dragon. For fun. No rescuing involved, thank you very much. Plus, she must help save her dragon from the wizards. LOVE and highly recommend this dragon series.
The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody A fantastic, magical journey of self-acceptance, a bewitching plotline, and irresistible characters. When gathering mushrooms in his latest apprenticeship, Barclay accidentally becomes his worst fear — a Lore Keeper bonded with a mythical beast. Even though he doesn’t want to be a Lore Keeper because his parents were killed by a mythical beast, Barclay is forced out of his hometown by scared villagers. He meets and travels with another Lore Keeper named Violet to a town where he tries to get rid of his mark by first entering a competition. All the while, he struggles with the unexpected joy of the wild Beast bond and the guilt for enjoying it. He’ll soon have to make a choice — cut out the Beast or embrace his new life.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi Magic and color are closely linked in her world. Unfortunately, Alice has no color in her skin or hair. And her father has been missing for years making her even sadder. She travels with a boy named Oliver to a different magical land in order to find and rescue her father. But the rules are wildly different and the inhabitants eat people for their magic. Even though Oliver and Alice start their quest at odds, the many challenges join them in a solid friendship. Furthermore is a uniquely creative plot that is so well written, you won’t want it to end.
The Menagerie by Tui Sutherland (series) Stuck in a small town in Wyoming just after his mother disappeared, Logan’s life gets even stranger when he finds a griffin under his bed. Which he learns is connected to Zoe Kahn, a very strange girl in his class at school. She tells him about her family’s menagerie to protect magical creatures. Soon the duo realizes that the griffins didn’t escape, they were let out. Now they must find the culprit fast before the menagerie is shut down. A quick, fun read and great fantasy book series for kids!