Hook Tweens on Magical Realism with These Incredible Books

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Magical realism books for tweens aren’t like fantasy — there are no magicians or magical creatures — this is a genre of realistic stories containing just a little bit of magic. Like the story of a girl on a farm with chickens who have powers. Or a tree in an orchard that grows things that the child most needs.

 

I fell in love with magical realism in college when I read Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits. Allende’s books and books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez are classic examples of magical realism in adult literature. Maybe you’ve read these, too?

 

Introduce your tweens (ages 9- 12) to magical realism books with one of these middle-grade choices. I predict that they’ll fall in love with this genre!

 

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
“…most of all this is a story of the two sisters, and what they did when the monsters really came. It took me about to the middle to really find myself immersed in the story — but I’m telling that it’s worth it to hang on. Because in this beautiful, fairy-tale-like story, the heroine saves herself (mostly) and the plot twist you won’t see coming is truly perfect. It’s about twin sisters who are separated for the first time in school, the growing sense of impending doom, a weird antique shop, a mysterious narrator, a dollhouse that seems to be metaphorical, and a persistent murder of crows. Because there is nothing that can separate these sisters. Not even the most wicked of monsters.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
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

 


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 story is a heart-warming hug that belongs on every bookshelf.

magical realism books for middle grade readers
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 review
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’s sleepwalking has gotten so bad (chainsawing while asleep?!) that her mom finally takes her to an unorthodox doctor who actually helps her by detaching Sam’s soul. Sam meets other Sleep Waker and learns that the personalities of Sleep Wakers are the OPPOSITE of their daytime selves. But she doesn’t want to believe the worst about the nicest girl in school, Madalynn, who uses terror and manipulation to control her creepy followers during the night. What else will you find in this compelling new story? 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 make this a book I couldn’t put down.

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
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 when his abuela and father aren’t there, Max volunteers to escort a small girl and her kitty to the next guardian –his first time and without permission. The amazing, 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. It’s multilayered, moving, and important.

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.


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.

 

magical realism books
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
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. This is so well-written. The characters are realistic with dysfunctional family dynamics, an important friendship, paired with despair and hope — it hooked me from the first page. Amazing!

 


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
The other kids bully Moth when she dresses up as a witch for Halloween prompting a reaction that can only be MAGIC! Her mom reluctantly reveals to Moth that her family of witches gets their powers around age 13. Even though Moth wants to learn more, her mom won’t teach her. She’s helped by a talking cat and her mom’s magical diary yet it’s not until she learns more about her grandmother and the family legacy that she understands her powers. 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 (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

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 to each other and their own histories. It’s a beautifully written story of friendship and self-discovery.

 

magical realism
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.

 

magical realism books
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.

 

magical realism books for tweens
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!

 

magical realism books for tweens
The Book of Boy
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
I have mixed feelings about this magical realism book — it’s cool but really different. I’d categorize it as magical historical realism set in Europe during medieval times. It’s the story of a humpback boy who joins a “pilgrim” searching 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.

 

magical realism books
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.

 

children of the king
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?

magical realism chapter books for tweens

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  • WELCOME

    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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