Do your kids love magical realism middle grade books? Magical realism books for tweens are realistic (ish) stories with magical elements. And it’s not just for Latin American literature, either. Since magical realism is one of my favorite genres, I’m excited to share my favorite magical realism books for middle grade readers ages 9 to 12.
Who am I to recommend you these children’s books?
I’m a former teacher, a mom, and a writer. The reviews below are my honest opinions from reading all these books –and more. These are my recommendations, carefully chosen to share with you.
What is Magical Realism?
Unlike fantasy, there are no magicians or magical creatures. Instead, you’ll find realistic stories containing fantastic elements, blurring between fantasy and reality. For example, you could read the story of a girl on a farm with magical powers or artwork in a gallery that comes to life.
I fell in love with magical realism in college when I read Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits. Allende’s books and award-winning books by Gabriel García Márquez like One Hundred Years of Solitude are classic examples of magical realism in adult literature. Maybe you’ve read these, too? (Latin American literature is filled with magical realistic novels such as Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. You might also check out Beloved by American author Toni Morrison, or the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges.)
What are the best magical realism books?
Whether or not you are already a fan of magical realism, now is the time to read a middle grade magical realism book for tweens (ages 9- 12.)
Why? Because these books are about relatable topics from everyday life like growing up or family but add in cool elements of magic like flying or wish granting. A good magical realism story takes readers on a journey that seems almost possible — fantastical and realistic. You won’t want to miss these books!
What is the meaning of magical realism?
Magical realism blends realism and magical. It’s not pure fantasy. Instead, it’s a realistic story set in the contemporary world with magical elements.
What are the 5 characteristics of magical realism?
1. Realistic setting
2. Magical elements
3. Partial information about the magical origin
4. Literary tone
5. Not always a traditional plot structure
What is an example of magical realism?
One of my favorite magical realism short stories is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Another favorite magical realism novel is Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.
What are magical realism movies?
– A Monster Calls
– Spirited Away
– My Neighbor Totoro
– A Little Princess
Try one of these middle-grade choices on this magical realism list. I predict that young readers will fall in love with the fascinating narratives within this sub-genre!
Middle Grade Magical Realism Books
That Thing About Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar
Zara can’t explain why one day, everyone has their own soundtrack, and it’s normal to break out in song and dance! It’s embarrassing when she can’t control her own expressive dance numbers– they just come out unexpectedly. Plus, no one remembers that life used to be different. While Zara navigates this new world, she learns the importance of feeling her emotions and expressing her thoughts–especially to her parents.
Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne
A mythological adventure story about growing up and family set in the Caribbean. Anytime Josephine’s daddy brings home a girlfriend, Josephine gets rid of them quickly. But this girlfriend, Mariss, won’t leave. Mariss moves in with them, and 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.
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. Her food-critic dad has been acting crazy, and everyone’s been acting crazy! You’ll love this magical realism 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 prejudiced about her Egyptian culture and troubles with her friends who are working together on a school project.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
In this beautiful, fairy-tale-like story, the heroine saves herself (mostly), and the plot twist you won’t see coming is perfect. It’s about twin sisters separated for the first time in school, the growing sense of impending doom, a weird antique shop, a mysterious narrator, and a dollhouse that seems to be metaphorical. Oh, and a persistent murder of crows. Because there is nothing that can separate these sisters. Not even the most wicked of monsters.
Magical Land of Birthdays by Amirah Kassem
Amirah lives in Mexico and loves cooking and baking. When her neighbor gives her an old cookbook titled The Power of Sprinkles, Amirah knows it’s the perfect cookbook for her upcoming birthday cake. Strangely, the cookbook transports her to the Magical Land of Birthdays, where she meets other kids with her same birthdate as her who are from different areas of the world. Together they have an exciting, magical adventure that includes finding a missing B-Bud girl, parties, unicorns, and of course, cake.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet historical fiction story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. Nan works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem 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.
The Magic of Melwick Orchard by Rebecca Caprara
A sweet story about a family in crisis due to the younger sister’s cancer and mounting medical bills. The older sister, Isa, discovers the magic of their new farm’s orchard— and the magic has some powerful lessons to teach her. As does her little sister, Junie. I loved so much about this story— the close sister relationship, the character arc of Isa, the power of nature, the sisters’ wordplay…this middle-grade magical realism story is a heart-warming hug.
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
This magical realism series was a bedtime favorite read aloud 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 cooks– 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
The paintings are ALIVE, so the Beaverbrook Gallery paintings have strict rules to prevent humans from discovering the truth. But, painting Mona Dunn doesn’t always follow the rules. She’s seen by the curator’s son, Sargent, visiting his estranged father for the summer, and they develop a close friendship. Meanwhile, all the paintings wonder if the creepy art restorer is an art forger. 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 realistic novel 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
Sam’s sleepwalking has gotten so bad (chainsawing while asleep?!) that her mom finally takes her to an unorthodox doctor who helps her by detaching Sam’s soul. Sam meets other Sleep Wakers and learns that the personalities of Sleep Wakers are the OPPOSITE of their daytime selves. A cute boy, a soul-stealing evil doctor, a manipulative bully, backstories that influence everything, and a girl just trying to find her place in this nighttime world.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling. 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 about his mom, but Conor refuses. When his mom gets worse, 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.
More Magical Realism Books
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
Unusual Chickens has exceptional writing, characterization, and plot! Sophie moves to the farm of her dead great-uncle Jim. While her parents figure out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically the chickens with special powers. She learns that the chicken have powers like telekinesis and invisibility, and produce carnivorous chicks.) But a chicken thief is also interested in these unusual chickens — and Sophie must stop her.
Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Max grows up in a small village surrounded by a country ruled by terror and persecution. He learns that his family members are secret Guardians who help people fleeing Abismo to safety, towards Mañanaland. One day, Max volunteers to escort a small girl and her kitty to the next guardian –his first time and without permission. The nuanced story is about refugees, growing up, family, love, social justice, and storytelling and is filled with rich symbolism, lots of Spanish, and evocative magical realism elements.
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
In the sweetest story of friendship, 10-year-old Livy meets Bob, a green zombie-looking monster wearing a chicken costume living in the closet at her grandma’s house. He’s been waiting for her to return for the last 5 years. Only Livy can’t remember him at all. Even when she leaves the house for an errand, she forgets. But, she’s determined to help Bob find his way back home. Wherever that may be. We love this story!! This is a great family read aloud choice!
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 guilty 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 engaging, unique way.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Pashmina is about a girl finding her place in the world. She travels to India to meet her extended family and finds answers about the magical shawl her mother owns. This is a lovely coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel conveyed in the incredible, irresistible artwork of a graphic novel.
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 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.
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 loved this story.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
The other kids bully Moth when she dresses up as a witch for Halloween, and her reaction is MAGIC! Her mom reveals that they are a family of witches. Even though Moth wants to learn more, her mom won’t teach her. So, Moth is helped by a talking cat, her mom’s magical diary, and her grandmother. Growing up is never easy — but it’s a lot trickier when you get magic that you can’t control. Readers will enjoy this magical coming-of-age gem.
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
Lily, her sister, and their mother move in with her Halmoni, but now her grandmother is sick at night and reveals to Lily that she stole stories from the tigers and the tigers are hunting her to get them back. Of course, Lily tries to make a deal with the tiger to save Halmoni because 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.
Wishing Day by Lauren Myracle
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 in the wishes– 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 novel.
Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
In this graphic novel, Willowrtable 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. 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.
Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin
Peter escapes his yelling, hurting family by wandering around the Texas Hill Country. He meets and befriends a Make-a-Wish Girl named Annie, who is also escaping her daily reality of a (stupid) art camp and a cancer treatment she doesn’t want. To avoid the unwanted surgery, the pair run away to the magical valley that they know will protect them. The characters are realistic with dysfunctional family dynamics, an important friendship, and the realistic feelings of despair and hope.
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
The Seventh Wish is a magical realism coming-of-age story filled with friendship and family challenges. Charlie is struggling with her sister leaving for college and subsequent problems with drug addiction, her parent’s inattention, and trying to make sense of her life. So when Charlie accidentally catches a wish fish while ice-fishing, she’s sure the fish will solve all her problems. Only as we might predict, that’s not exactly what happens.
More Magical Realism Books for Tweens
The Girl with the Ghost Machine by Lauren DeStefano
Deeply moving and thought-provoking, this spooky book will immerse you in a world of ghosts and grief. After Emmaline’s mother dies, her father becomes obsessed with bringing her back using a machine he’s built. He works in the basement, ignoring all else. Emmaline tries to break the machine but makes it work instead. When tragedy strikes, the characters are thrust into sharp grief and loss and must once again, ponder the value of such a machine.
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 and their 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. 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 each world has a slightly different storyline. Sophia misses her deceased mom, so she decides to leave her world to find one where her mom is still alive. Once she gets there, things are not what she expects. 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 book 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.
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
Magical historical realism in Europe during medieval times! It’s the story of a humpback boy who joins a “pilgrim” searching for a specific Saint Peter relics to redeem his soul. The pair develop a camaraderie of sorts; then the boy discovers that his hump contains wings — and that he is actually an angel. Suspend belief for this engaging story filled with symbolism, Catholic history, and adventure.
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 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 by the positive results, including a new self-acceptance of her situation.
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 from 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?