My best friend since sophomore year of high school is still like the twin sister I never had twenty years later. Over the years, we’ve shared a love of music, cooking, gardening, and books. But where I go for anything with elves, wizards, mythology, or really anything magical, she remains grounded in the world of contemporary when it comes to books and movies. I mean seriously, I can tell you that she goes all Aunt Petunia when it comes to magic and she won’t even know what I’m talking about because she refuses to read Harry Potter (possibly just to spite me).
I still love her, even now that she’s passing her muggle ways on to her 10-year-old daughter. And she forgives me my crazy love of reading and writing fantasy, even if she doesn’t understand it.
This does make recommending books harder, though, and seriously, what good is having an author for a best friend if she’s not constantly recommending books for you AND your kids?
So here is my book list of middle-grade magical realism for muggles like my best pal and her daughter who aren’t ready to embrace high fantasy, but need a snicker of magic on their bookshelf.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
From IndieBound: Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
From IndieBound: A 2015 Newbery Honor Book Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful–and very awkward–hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear–sometimes things she shouldn’t–but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
From IndieBound: Fans of Polly Horvath or Roald Dahl will love this quirky story of a determined girl, and some extraordinary chickens.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the “entire” henhouse….
And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Told in letters to Sophie’s “abuela, ” quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, “Unusual Chickens” is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
From IndieBound: Humorous and heartfelt, this is a story of pairs–of young Naomi and Lizzie, both orphans in present-day Blackbird Tree, USA, and of Sybil and Nula, grown-up sisters from faraway Rook’s Orchard, Ireland, who have become estranged.
Young Naomi Deane is brimming with curiosity and her best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, could talk the ears off a cornfield. Naomi has a knack for being around when trouble happens. She knows all the peculiar people in town–like Crazy Cora and Witch Wiggins. But then, one day, a boy drops out of a tree. Just like that. A strangely charming Finn boy. And then the Dingle Dangle man appears, asking all kinds of questions. Curious surprises are revealed–three locked trunks, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy–and soon Naomi and Lizzie find their lives changed forever.
As two worlds are woven together, Creech reveals that hearts can be mended and that there is indeed a gossamer thread that connects us all.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
From IndieBound: Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?
With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.
The Time of the Fireflies by MUF Contributor Kimberley Griffiths Little
From Kimberley‘s web site: When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family’s tragic past — deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.
With her signature lyricism, Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a thrilling tale filled with family secrets, haunting mystery, and dangerous adventure.
You Will Call Me Drog by MUF Contributor Sue Cowing
From IndieBound: Parker is a normal sixth grader or he was normal before the puppet. It’s just an old hand puppet, sticking out of a garbage can, and even though Parker’s best friend says leave it, Parker brings the puppet home and tries it on. Or maybe it tries him on. “You will call me Drog ” the puppet commands once they’re alone. And now, no matter how hard Parker tries, he can’t get Drog off his hand.
Maybe the only way to get rid of Drog is to truly listen to him.
The Buddy Files series by MUF Contributor Dori Hillestad Butler
The Buddy Files series is a great choice for younger readers.
From IndieBound: There have always been rumors of a ghost at Four Lakes Elementary. On the night of the fourth grade sleepover, Mr. Poe, the custodian, tells the story of Agatha, the girl who haunts the school. Then secret notes, unusual banging, and a ghostly voice invade the sleepover. Buddy is determined to find out if there really is a ghost.
Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder
From IndieBound: In this companion to Laurel Snyder’s “Bigger than a Bread Box,” a leap back in time and an unlikely friendship change the future of one family forever.
Annie wants to meet her grandmother.
Molly wishes she had a friend.
A little magic brings them together in an almost-impossible friendship.
When Annie wakes up on her first morning at the Hotel Calvert, she’s in for a big surprise. There’s a girl named Molly in her bed who insists the year is 1937 and that this is “her” room Annie’s not sure what happened, but when she learns that Molly’s never been outside the hotel, she knows it’s time for an adventure. Magic, fortune-telling, some roller skates, a rescued kitten, and the best kind of friendship make up the unforgettable story of two girls destined to change each other’s lives.
Like Judy Blume before her, Laurel Snyder writes characters that feel like your best friend. Anne Ursu, author of “The Real Boy.”
What are your favorite middle-grade books with just a snicker of magic in them? Leave a comment with your own recommendations below!
Julie Artz lives in Redmond, Washington, with her husband, two children, and two rambunctious kittens. She spent her young life sneaking into wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. Now she writes stories instead because let’s face it, adults hiding out in wardrobes is kind of creepy. Follow her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog, TerminalVerbosity.