Incredible Books Magical Realism Books for Tweens
That Thing About Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar
Zara can’t explain why one day she wakes up inside Filmi magic–where every person has their own soundtrack and to express themselves, it’s perfectly normal to break out in song…and dance! It’s totally embarrassing because she can’t control her expressive dance numbers– they just come out unexpectedly. Plus, no one remembers that life used to be different. While she navigates this new world, Zara learns the importance of feeling her emotions and expressing her thoughts–especially to her parents. Will this be the way to undo the magic? A fun, playful story with an important message.
Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne
If you like mythological adventure stories about growing up and family written with edge-of-your-seat excitement, don’t miss this middle-grade novel set in the Caribbean. Josephine loves cricket and her daddy. Anytime her daddy brings home a girlfriend, she and her best friend plot to get rid of them quickly. But one girlfriend, Mariss, Josephine can’t get rid of. Not only does Mariss move in with them but Josephine’s dad acts like he’s under a spell. (Hint: he is.) Josephine realizes that Mariss isn’t a human and that in order to save her father, she must risk everything.
The Brave by James Bird
Run out to get this absolutely jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful book with a main character you’ll fall in love with (and whose character arc is HUGE.) It’s filled with metaphorical, meaningful, and symbolic writing and you will feel ALL the feelings. When Collin, a boy who counts every letter spoken to him and says the number out loud, gets kicked out of yet another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon…
Midsummer Mayhem by Ranji LaRocca
Imagine “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” in the present-day filled with delicious flavors and a strong Indian cultural heritage...11-year old Mimi desperately wants to win a baking contest to stand out in her big Indian American family. She feels like she fails at everything. And recently her best friend moved away. Now her food-critic dad has been acting crazy and eating all the time, missing his discerning taste buds. In fact, everyone’s been acting crazy! Then Mimi realizes that the cookies that she and her new friend, Vik, baked with honeysuckle made the kids who ate them fall in love. You’ll love this magical realism middle-grade book of magic, fairies, baking, and growing up.
The Magical Reality of Nadia by Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly, illustrated by Douglas Holgate
Funny, entertaining, and filled with important themes of friendship, growing up, and racism, this is one of my new favorite books! Nadia unexpectedly discovers an ancient Egyptian teacher (Titi) trapped in her hippo amulet. He comes out onto a paper and TALKS! Tita helps Nadia with problems she faces at school like the new kid who is rude and prejudice about her Egyptian culture and troubles with her friends who are working together on a school project. Totally wonderful, heartfelt, and relatable– don’t miss this new book for ages 8 – 12.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem which illuminates the horrifying lives of chimney sweep kids as well as the world’s anti-semitism. Young Nan’s Sweep father figure is gone; she still dreams of his kindness and their life before he left. To survive, she works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem, formerly a piece of charcoal left to her by Sweep, emerges to save her. She and her protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher with trust, love, and friendship growing slowly. Ultimately, it’s an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster. Added to: Best Middle-Grade Chapter Books of 2018
Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti, illustrated by Dana SanMar
Life and Lady Death, Catrina play their yearly Lotería game; this time, for a little girl’s life and debate about free will, love, hope, and fate while a story unfolds about a girl named Clara who lives in Oaxaca City with her family. After Clara draws a cool dragon for her little cousin Esteban, he notices the exact dragon drawing on the gigantic El Arbol de Tule. Before she can figure out why it’s there, Esteban’s mother dies and he is lured into a mythical world called Aztlan by El Diablo. Clara embarks on a perilous journey to find and save Esteban. On her journey, she learns about the power of her drawings — and makes the ultimate sacrifice for love. Oaxaca City brings back so many wonderful memories for me so I immediately loved this story and that it was filled with Mexican and Aztec mythology and culture.
The Magic of Melwick Orchard by Rebecca Caprara
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
This magical realism series was a bedtime favorite read for us. In Rosemary’s family’s bakery, there’s a magical cookbook the kids aren’t supposed to use. But when the parents are away, the aunt arrives and gets cooking– using the forbidden enchanted recipes. But the kids will learn the hard way that Aunt Lily isn’t who she says she is nor does she have their best interests at heart. Action, adventure, magic, and cooking!
The Frame-Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr
Celebrating artwork, this magical mystery reveals that the people in the paintings are ALIVE. Of course, the Beaverbrook Gallery paintings have strict rules to prevent humans from discovering this truth. Only Mona Dunn doesn’t always follow the rules. She’s seen by the curator’s son named Sargent who is visiting his estranged father for the summer and they develop a close friendship. Meanwhile, she and the other paintings wonder if the creepy art restorer is an art forger because something is suspicious. The book shows copies of all the paintings including a Salvador Dali which gives readers a vivid sense of where much of the book takes place — in the paintings themselves. It’s an excellent, page-turning middle-grade mystery with important themes about family, forgiveness, and friendship.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
You’ll fall in love with this magical story about a lonely boy whose beloved grandfather faces a life-ending illness. Micah’s grandfather and Micah hope the magical Lightbender in the Circus Mirandus who owes the grandfather a miracle will be able to help. With a missive to the Lightbender, Micah finds the location of the magical circus his grandfather once loved so much. It’s an adventure filled with emotion and faith that doesn’t turn out how Micah expects.
Sam Saves the Night: Sleep Wakers by Shari Simpson
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers upon layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all. Ever since Conor’s mom gets breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster visits Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth but Conor refuses. Meanwhile, in the awake world, Conor moves in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echos Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually, healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best books I’ve EVER read.
Recommended Books Continued
Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
Unusual Chickens has exceptional writing, characterization, and plot! The book is written as letters from a girl named Sophie, who is newly living at the farm of her dead great-uncle Jim. She writes to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle Jim, and Agnes of the Extraordinary Chickens catalog. While her parents are figuring out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically the chickens with special powers. She learns that the chicken are quite exceptional! (Think telekinesis, invisibility, and carnivorous chicks.) But a neighbor chicken thief is also interested in these unusual chickens — and Sophie must stop her. Which means entering the town’s poultry show.
Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley
Joplin’s life is changed when she inherits a broken platter from her grandfather. Unexpectedly, the girl in the platter’s illustration comes to life in order to fulfill Joplin’s wish for a friend. The girl, Sofie, explains that a Dutch alchemist created her centuries ago and she’s been trapped in the platter to grant wishes for eternity. To make matters worse, Sofie spots the immortal alchemist watching Joplin’s house. He wants Sofie back and will do anything to get her. Mesmerizing.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
A ghost tour outing with a neighbor boy sends Maya, Catrina’s little sister with cystic fibrosis to the hospital. Cat feels guilt and fear for her sister, knowing that her sister’s lungs will never get better and feels that it’s all her fault. But as the neighbor introduces Cat to the beautiful Day of the Dead celebration, Cat starts to see death and life differently, especially when she meets the ghosts. Beautifully written and illustrated, this graphic novel deftly deals with the big issues of mortality, honesty, and friendship in an interesting, unique way.
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 which tackles big issues such as faith, God, prejudice, friendship, and family. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes 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.) My daughter and I absolutely loved this story.
Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
The Seventh Wish is a magically captivating coming-of-age story filled with friendship and family challenges and . . . wishes. Charlie is struggling with her sister leaving for college and subsequent problems with drug addiction, her parent’s inattention, and trying to make sense out of her life. So when Charlie accidentally catches a wish fish while ice-fishing, she’s sure that the fish will solve all her problems. Only as we might predict, that’s not exactly what happens. Because wishes can turn out differently than you think. This is a wonderful magical realism middle grade book — great for book club discussion.
Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
In this graphic novel, Willow’s uncomfortable emotions are actual monsters who are literally bottled up in bottles but keep escaping in bursts of mean words. In the woods, she meets a runaway Magnolia tree spirit named Pilu. As Willow and Pilu share their stories, Willow reveals that she knows her emotion-monsters keep growing when she ignores them. But she persists in ignoring them because she thinks that to be nice, she must keep the monsters stuffed away. Eventually, Willow realizes that the uncomfortable emotion monsters are a part of her; that if she is kind and listens to them, they won’t be as big. Introspective, sensitive, and important– this is a dazzling openhearted journey of self-discovery and healthy emotional growth. I LOVE everything about this story.
Wishing Day by Lauren Myracle
Natasha’s magical ancestors started a town tradition that on the third night of the third month after your thirteenth birthday, you can make a wish at the willow tree. Natasha wants to believe — and she does, mostly — but ever since her mother disappeared, she’s lost some of that belief. Can her impossible wish come true? Natasha learns that maybe what she thinks she wants, she really doesn’t. This is a wonderful, magical coming-of-age story that I highly recommend.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
Lily, her sister, and their mother move in with her Halmoni (Korean for grandmother) but it’s not the same as before. Now her grandmother is sick at night and reveals to Lily that she stole stories from the tigers and they’re hunting her to get them back. Lily tries to make a deal with the tiger to save Halmoni, she doesn’t want her grandmother to die. This magical realism book celebrates Korean culture and storytelling and is about coming to terms with death and illness and knowing yourself so you can write your own stories.
More Magical Realism Books for Tweens
The Girl with the Ghost Machine by Lauren DeStefano
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou
Two girls in two locations (Texas and Pakistan) each discover a magical book, The Exquisite Corpse, in which a love story appears that will eventually connect the girls to each other and their own histories. It’s a beautifully written story of friendship and self-discovery.
The Dollmaker of Krakow by Rachael Romero
A live doll and a Polish magician toy store owner during WWII develop a beautiful friendship. Later, a remarkable friendship develops between the doll, the magician, a Jewish father, and his daughter. When the Nazis force the Jews into a ghetto including the magician’s new friend and his daughter, the doll encourages the magician to save as many children as he can by turning them into dolls for a short time. We only get a glimpse of the actual WWII horror as the story instead focuses on the relationships. Ultimately, the ending is heartbreaking but also life-affirming as we see the power of love and friendship.
The Memory of Forgotten Things by Kat Zhang
These friends have memories that don’t exist in their world. They discover that there are multiple worlds but ones with slightly different storylines. Sophia misses her mom who died so much, she decides to leave her world to go to one where her mom is still alive. Once she gets there, things are not what she expected. Multiple worlds and endings will get readers talking about the hard choices facing these kids.
Twintuition Double Vision by Tia and Tamera Mowry
This first story in the series focuses on identical twins living in a new town who both experience flashes of precognition when touching some people. There’s a conflict between the sisters plus challenges around being at a new school. However, when their police-woman mother faces a serious problem, the twins use their abilities to save her from scandal. In summary, Twintuition is a quick, enjoyable summer read and they’ll be more books to come.
All the Answers by Kate Messner
Ana’s pencil can tell her answers — to things like tests, and if boys like her friend Sophie. She discovers that her grandfather, who is in a rest home, wants forgiveness from Ana’s mother; that Ana’s mother is mad about her grandfather’s gambling problem. Ana realizes that she doesn’t want to know all the answers. I love the story and the issues it brings up — this would be a great book club pick!
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Now that Elyse is twelve, it’s not just the words that other people say about her that appear on her skin, but also her own self-talk. The words stay about two weeks and the negative words itch badly. Because there are a lot of negative words right now ever since her best friend’s ditched her. Anonymous notes encourage Elyse to try new things and grow out of her comfort zone. She does and is surprised with the positive results including a new self-acceptance of her situation. This would be an interesting book to discuss with a book group.
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
I love how Harnett takes a beautiful historical story and infuses it with magical realism. In this chapter book, we’re transported to the English countryside during World War II when children were evacuated out of London. Two evacuated girls find brothers in the ruins of an old castle. They are boys who have also been removed from London but in another historical period. Are these the missing princes?