Compelling Hero’s Journey Children’s Books

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What is the hero’s journey? It’s a story about an imperfect hero who goes on an adventure where he or she learns lessons through mistakes and triumphs, wins some sort of victory, and returns home a different person. Joseph Campbell famously wrote more about this concept in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

A familiar middle-grade example of this narrative archetype is the story of Harry Potter. But guess what? Many other books share the hero’s journey structure, too.

There are typically 12 or 17 steps in the hero’s journey, depending on who you read. Campbell said 17. Basically, the steps consist of three main structures: the hero’s departure, an initiation, and the hero’s return.

Within these three general steps are more stages in the journey such as:

an unusual birth or early childhood
the call to adventure
the refusal of the call
a mentor figure who gives aid
challenges or trials
a special weapon
facing doubts, fears, temptations
transformation / the fulfillment of the call
returning home
mastering two worlds

Read more about the Hero’s Journey story on and Jerry Jenkins’ website.

In this blog post, you’ll find more book examples with a hero’s journey structure, specifically middle-grade fiction for ages 8 – 12. These narrative books can be used to analyze the hero’s journey text structure in elementary classrooms, middle school English classes, and homeschool classes.

I’m including realistic fiction books that might not be typical hero’s journey chapter books but also can also be viewed through the lens of this trope with journeys that might be internal or otherwise.


Compelling Hero’s Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 – 12

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
by Kate DiCamillo
Edward is a china rabbit with a fancy wardrobe who was adored by the girl who owned him…until he gets lost. He experiences loss many times over and can hardly stand the pain. Yet a wise doll encourages Edward to open his heart to love again — and that’s when he finds a miracle and love.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Chronicles of Narnia
 by C. S. Lewis
Four siblings enter a magical world that is under the rule of the oppressive White Witch. Can they help Aslan take Narnia back for good even with the betrayal of Edmund? This wonderful fantasy shows kids who make a big difference.

Firebird Song
by Arnee Flores
The Kingdom of Lyrica is controlled by the evil Spectress and her ash golems. When Prewitt learns there is a possibility that the long-lost princess is alive, he leaves his home to search for her. Princess Calliope doesn’t know she is a princess, only that she’s had to live underground on a magical barge, hidden from the world. Together, the two children follow the clues to find the missing Firebird’s feather and hopefully, save the kingdom from evil. You’ll love this magical adventure story of bravery, adventure, and overcoming terrible odds.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Odd and the Frost Giants
 by Neil Gaiman
If your child hasn’t learned about Nordic mythology, this will be a great intro! To end the long winter, Odd must journey to find Asgard, a city under siege from the Frost Giants. It’s a wonderful, nail-biting adventure.

by Rob Harrell
A funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s own life… When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results — like a new, unexpected friend.
*contains a few bad words

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin
Minli’s grown up with her father’s folktales. Inspired by these and hoping to change their poverty-stricken lifestyle, she leaves her home to find the Old Man on the Moon. She’s soon joined by a flightless red dragon. As they travel, Minli meets both people and mythical creatures who share their stories. On her hero’s journey, she’ll learn more about herself, the meaning of family, friendship, and what makes a person truly wealthy.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
This epic fantasy adventure about rabbits who are hunted by an evil ruler feels mythological — I highly recommend it! You’ll love the mysteries and desperation, the sibling underdogs, the hope for a better future; it’s all captivating.
Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
This is the story of three children in medieval France that tackles big issues such as faith, God, prejudice, friendship, and family. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes (including the hero’s journey) all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel that will make you think deeply and leave you changed. (Sensitive readers: there are a few swear words and two scenes with a lot of blood.)


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Dragon Slippers trilogy by Jessica Day George
We can’t recommend these books enough! Young and brave Creel wants nothing more than to own her own seamstress shop. In her pursuit of this dream, she befriends a special dragon who, along with magical dragon slippers, changes her life.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Out of My Mind
by Sharon Draper
Hands-down this is one of the best life-changing books you’ll ever read. Narrated by Melody, we learn what it’s like to be trapped in a body with cerebral palsy that doesn’t allow her to speak or take care of herself. No one except her parents thinks that she’s smart. Until one day. She gets a chance to prove it using new technology. But that doesn’t solve all her problems. Her story is heartbreaking, real, and inspiring.

The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta
This story pulls you in from the start when Kiranmala discovers on her 12th birthday that she’s a princess from another realm and her real parents are trapped in a black hole-type place. But there’s a lot more she’ll learn — like who her real parents are (it’s not good!) and that demons can be your friends. Kiranmala’s adoptive parents are super awesome, too. You’ll love every second of this entertaining, Indian mythology adventure.


Baba Yaga’s Assistant
 by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Courageous and adventurous Masha knows Baba Yaga from her grandmother’s stories. After her grandmother dies, and her father remarries, Masha decides to become Baba Yaga’s assistant. To pass Baba Yaga’s tests, Masha uses her wits and the stories from her grandmother. She thinks she will fail when she rescues three children from Baba Yaga’s cage but she passes. To sum up, excellent storytelling and illustrations will enthrall readers in this not-your-average fairy tale story.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
 by Leslie Connor
This book hooked me from the first page, taking me on a coming of age story that was both heartbreaking and filled with hope. Perry is well-loved by his mother and her friends. . . in prison. That’s where Perry has lived since he was born eleven years ago. But in an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events, his best friend’s stepfather, the new District Attorney, forces Perry to leave his prison home. Perry decides to research the inmates’ life stories, hoping that somehow they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown
Roz is a robot alone on an island with only animals. To survive, she figures out how to live in the wild despite the animals seeing her as a monster but that changes when Roz adopts a gosling and makes a nest. It’s a meaningful hero’s journey story of family, love, and community that consistently garners love from readers.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable, well-written adventure in space that deals with the overarching theme of good vs. evil. Meg, her brother, Charles Wallace, and her friend, Calvin, set off to find her missing scientist father who disappeared while researching tesseracts. They are helped by three wise creatures, tempted by evil, and eventually, find that good does triumph over evil.


Timeless Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic
by Armand Baltazar
Diego lives in New Chicago post-Time Collision with three groups, the Steam Timers, the Mid Timers, the Elders, and other groups, who coexist peacefully after a terrible world war. But it’s a fragile peace. When Diego’s dad, the leading engineer for the territories, and his colleague are kidnapped by a splinter group, Diego and his friends set out on a rescue mission where they’re immediately captured by pirates. The action is non-stop, the plot is skillfully crafted, and the characters, both boys and girls, are interesting.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Louisiana’s Way Home
by Kate DiCamillo
Granny drags Louisiana out of bed in the middle of the night, insisting that they leave their home to confront the family curse. Not only does Louisiana not want to leave her friends and home, things get even worse when Granny abandons Louisiana at a motel along the way. Forced to fend for herself, Louisiana figures out how to survive miles from home while worrying that the family curse has destined her for an unhappy life. Don’t miss this enthralling, emotionally resonant hero’s journey.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Land of Stories
 by Chris Colfer
Fairy tales come alive when Alex and Conner (brother and sister) find themselves in the fairy tale book given to them by their grandmother. Their only way home is to find the ingredients for a Wishing Spell. Finding them will be dangerous, mysterious, and life-changing. Although it’s not mythological, it’s a must-read adventure series of two heroes that will keep readers reading for many months!


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Giver
by Lois Lowry
Set in a dystopian society, Jonas is assigned his job as “Receiver of Memory” and he learns just how much his hidden and controlled. Ultimately, he’ll have to decide just what he’ll do with this horrifying information. Not only is this a thought-provoking story, but it will also introduce your readers to dystopian fiction.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny
After his mom dies, Charlie moves to a purple mansion with a portal to the world of nightmares. Charlie, his little brother, and his friends must learn to face their fears in order for the nightmare world not to have access to the real world.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
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.


All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
Growing up, Imogene (aka. Impy) always loved her family’s part in the Renaissance Faire . . . that is, until middle school. Even though she gets her dream to work in the faire as a squire, she also just wants to be like the other girls at her school, too. Her journey is painful and honest as she figures out who she wants to be. It’s narrated as a hero’s journey which, with the faire background and middle school drama, feels perfect. Beyond being a terrific coming of age story, I’m sure this book will interest tween readers in Renaissance festivals themselves.


See You in the Cosmos
by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod: his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way, and his side trip to Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, all through his unique, innocent perspective trying to make sense of the world.

Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Podkin One-Ear The Legend Begins
by Kieran Larwood
Alternating between a bard’s present-moment stories and the story of Podkin, we learn about young Podkin, a lazy, spoiled prince. When the cruel Gorm who are metal dark magic rabbits arrive at his family’s burrow to kill everyone inside, Podkin escapes with his much braver sister and little brother. No longer able to be spoiled and lazy, Podkin tries his best to be brave and pull his weight, often failing miserably but occasionally succeeding, too. They’re captured more than once and escape both times, once with the loss of his ear. An excellent hero’s journey adventure.

The Seven Tales of Trinket
 by Shelley Moore Thomas
When her mother dies, Trinket takes a map her missing father left behind and sets off to find him. Her friend, Thomas the Pig Boy, travels with her. Each place on the map gives Trinket a new story to tell and she imagines she could learn to be a storyteller just like her father. Amazing adventures ensue but when Trinket learns the fate of her father in the seventh story, she must make a very hard decision.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
This popular graphic novel series follows two siblings trying to save their mom in an underground world of elves, demons, robots, and talking animals.


Song for a Whale
by Lynne Kelly

At school, Iris, a lonely deaf girl, learns about Blue 55, a whale who is called the loneliest whale in the world because his song is at a different hertz than other whales. She uses her compassionate heart, intelligence, and tinkering skills to write and record a whale song that Blue 55 will hear. Iris wants to see him for herself. She and her grandmother, who is also Deaf, sneak off without Iris’ parents’ permission on a cruise to the Alaskan research station. Their adventure is different than either could have imagined but profoundly life-changing for them both. It’s a heartening, poignant story that gives readers insight Deaf children, the richness of Deaf culture, and the life-changing power of compassion.


Dog Driven
by Terry Lynn Johnson
A story about finding your strength even if it looks like a weakness…McKenna enters a long dog sled race in order to bring awareness to her sister’s degenerative eye disease. Which McKenna can tell she has, too. Her eyesight is worse and worse. She just doesn’t want to tell her parents and be treated differently. During the race, she relies on her lead dog to guide the sled. Another racer, a boy with a blind dog, shows her that his dog is a powerful leader. He quickly notices that’s McKenna can’t see either. The challenges of the race and her new friendship help McKenna realize that just like Zesty the blind dog, she is not disabled and that her differences make her better.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
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, poachers, Murdano’s soldiers, magic, and betrayal.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice
by John A. Flanagan
Will is apprenticed to become a Ranger, a job he’s unsure about. But as he develops a relationship with his master and learns what being a Ranger is all about (spying for the kingdom,) he comes to embrace his new life. But when an old enemy of the kingdom sends out dangerous beasts to attack Will’s master, Will is instrumental in getting help and killing the creatures. Action, fantasy, adventure, friendship, excellent writing — this book has it all! It’s a must-read that will mesmerize your readers, especially boys who love epic fantasy hero’s journey adventures.


Harry Potter series
 by J.K. Rowling
The best-selling children’s book of all time, this is a MUST READ for so many reasons: the brilliant storytelling, a complex and entertaining plot, relatable characters, rich language, essential life lessons about friendship and bravery, and more.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Greek gods still exist and so do their kids, half-bloods, who have incredible abilities. Unfortunately for these kids, monsters are out to kill them. Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood where he is trained to protect himself… that is until he’s sent on a dangerous quest. Betrayal, adventure, plot twists, and incredible mythological world-building make these books kids can’t put down. (Find more good books for fans of Percy Jackson here.)


House Arrest
by K.A. Holt
A tender, heartwarming story that shows a brave boy who feels anger, fear, worry, and love over his challenging situation. Timothy is under house arrest for the next year, living with a brother who needs constant medical care, and feeling so much pain over his big life changes. Part of his year-long punishment is to meet with a probation officer, meet with a therapist, and write in a journal which is the book we’re reading. When his little brother gets assigned an abusive new nurse, Timothy feels like even if he gets thrown in juvie, he must do something drastic to help his brother.


Santiago’s Road Home
by Alexandra Diaz
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico then unexpectedly meets a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. The heat and lack of water almost kill his group, he and his newly adopted little sister are rescued half dead and taken to an internment camp where they’re separated. He learns that his sister is reunited with her mom but without papers or any way to prove he’s related to them, he’s confined for endless, hopeless days with guards who treat him like a criminal. He learns to read until the school funding is cut. Will Santiago get a happy ending? 


Charlie Hernández’s house burns down, his parents go missing, and he is sent to a foster home. But it’s when he grows HORNS, the WINGS, and meets the MYTHS in real life — like calacas, mukis, and El Justo Juez — that he’s really freaked out. Fortunately, a persistent classmate Violet Rey (also his crush) helps Charlie follow the clues to find out what happened to his parents — and what it has to do with La Mano Peluda and the prophesied Morphling who is meant to save the world. I love that the story is immediately engaging with the perfect balance of action, dialogue, & description interspersed with Spanish words and phrases.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
The Seventh Most Important Thing: One Kid. One Crime. One Chance to Make Things Right.
by Shelley Pearsall
Angry with grief, Arthur throws a brick at Junk Man’s head. The judge sentences Arthur to work for the Junk Man who asks Arthur to collect the items on the list of the Seven Most Important Things. Transformed by the experience, Arthur becomes an advocate for the Junk Man’s art. This is fictional but is inspired by the true story of American folk artist James Hampton whose work is in the Smithsonian. This story resonates emotionally and would make for a great bedtime or class read aloud.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
Thrones and Bones: Frostborn
by Lou Anders
A great Norse mythology book about a boy named Karn who is only good at playing a Norse board game and a girl named Thianna who is a half-human, half-giantess unexpectedly partner with each other in order to survive deadly soldiers, undead warriors, trolls, and a dragon.


Marcus’s mother takes him and his brother to Puerto Rico, the home country of their father who abandoned them years before. Even though they are only meant to visit relatives, Marcus hopes to find his father and reconnect. Instead, he finds a loving, extended family, the truth about his dad, and a growing sense of his own identity. Remarkable. I loved every moment of this story.


Beast Rider
by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads
An eye-opening, powerful story of growing up, immigration, and courage. Missing his older brother, 12-year-old Manuel decides to leave his family’s farm in Mexico for the United States. He hitches a ride ON TOP of a north-bound speedy freight train and begins a long, awful, and beautiful journey.


Compelling Hero's Journey Chapter Books for Ages 8 - 12
by Tahereh Mafi
Magic and color are closely linked in Alice’s world even though she 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 filled with artfully written description.


Hero's Journey Middle Grade Books
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