7 Middle Grade Reads for Fans of Magical Realism

Growing up, I was never a huge fan of fantasy. I just couldn’t get my mind wrapped around the fantasy worlds and vivid imaginations of the authors. As an adult, I’ve learned to stretch my imagination and accept the unacceptable as truth, and even grown to appreciate and enjoy the fantasy realm. But my favorite genre is still magical realism. My feet are still rooted in reality, but there’s just enough magic and mysticism to transport me from my everyday life to a place where anything is possible. Here are 7 of my current favorites.

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder
One island. Nine children. One day each year where the boat arrives, bringing a new young child to the island and taking the eldest away. This year, it’s Deen’s turn to leave, leaving his best friend Jinny as Elder. But Jinny doesn’t want the role, not if it means losing her best friend. And she’s not sure she’s up to the task of caring for Ess, the island’s newest arrival. Where has Deen gone? Where has Ess come from? And what will happen the next time the boat arrives, on the day it’s Jinny’s turn to leave? This is one of the most unique coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Echo is part fairytale, part historical fiction, sprinkled with magic, and cleverly woven into a powerful tale. In its pages, we meet Friedrich, a young German boy desperate to save his father after the Nazi party moves in. From there, we travel to Pennsylvania and meet Mike, an orphan determined to provide the best life possible for his brother, even at the cost of his own happiness. And then there’s Ivy, whose California family finally has a chance to build their own life, on their own land. But fear and prejudice may destroy that dream. Three lives, three paths, three stories, all joined together by one harmonica.

Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eager
Carolina—Carol—is not looking forward to spending her summer in the middle of the remote New Mexico desert, where her family is moving her estranged Grandpa Serge into a home for individuals with dementia. At first, Carolina finds her grandfather to be a cranky old man, with emphasis on the cranky. But as the summer progresses, he draws her in with his stories of a magical tree, a long-forgotten lake, and the return of the bees. When the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur, Carolina finds herself wondering whether her grandfather’s mind is as muddled as everyone seems to think it is.

The Disappearance of Emily H., by Barrie Summy
Raine has a unique gift: the ability to see memories; floating sparkles that she finds on clothing, fenceposts, furniture, you name it. As soon as she touches one of these sparkles, she’s immediately transported into someone’s memory. This has its advantages, and its disadvantages. When Raine moves to a new town and discovers her new house has a sad secret, she has the opportunity to use her gift for good. But will she like what she finds?

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman
Teresa, otherwise known as “Twig”, is used to living with magic. Her town of Sidwell, after all, is rumored to be inhabited by some sort of monster. Twig’s own family has a curse placed upon them by a witch, a curse that has forced Twig to live a pretty solitary life. But when a family with kids moves next door, the temptation is just too great. This is Twig’s chance to finally make a real friend. Even if it puts her own family’s life at risk.

Way Down Deep, by Ruth White
Ever since the day Ruby showed up on the steps of the courthouse in Way Down Deep, West Virginia as a toddler, she has been loved and protected by the town. Now twelve, Ruby has a life and home in Way Down Deep. When a new family comes to town, they bring chaos and a surprising clue to Ruby’s history, causing Ruby’s past, present, and future to collide.

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner
When her mom gets a new job, and her sister goes off to college, Charlie feels a little left behind. When her passion for Irish step-dancing and her need to raise money for a new dress lead to ice-fishing, Charlie discovers a secret that can solve all her problems—a magic, wish-granting fish. It doesn’t take long for Charlie to realize the power she now holds, making wishes not only for herself, but for her family and friends. But when a crisis strikes, Charlie finds that even a magic fish can’t fix everything.

What book middle grade pulls you into its magical reality?

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