Middle grade books, with beautifully imagined worlds and thrilling plots, are some of our first opportunities to be fully swept into an immersive reading experience for hours on end. Middle grade books with magical themes are literal magic, in a way. They transport readers to places real or imagined. Their lore is wholly concocted by the author or inspired by mythologies from around the world. And thanks to the abundance of demand for such books, there is an abundance of supply!
What is it about magic and middle grade books? I’ve got a few theories of my own. Children at the age of the characters in these books are at their peak of childhood, on the brink of adolescence. They can still experience the wonder that they did when they were younger, without the cynicism that can accompany the teenage years. Many are finding new ways to be independent, taking on responsibilities, and beginning to learn who they really are. I know some of the interests and personality traits that solidified around that age for me are still with me today.
All of these changes can make middle grade readers feel powerful. And at the root of magic is a desire to wield power. Magic aids in accomplishing so many things in these books. Taking care of loved ones. Standing up for what’s right. Being brave in the face of danger. Discovering a bigger world than was previously imaginable. In the real world, we can and must do all of these things without magic, but seeing characters accomplish great feats can remind us of the power inside us as well.
So here’s a list of magical middle grade reads. These books would make fantastic read-alouds. They’d also make wonderful companions to anyone learning about classic literature and mythology. But best of all, they’re the ideal books for a youngster (or oldster, as the case may be!) to tumble into on a perfect reading day.
The Magic in Us All: Magical Middle Grade Books
Root Magic by Eden Royce
Black Girl Magic shines in this book set in 1960s South Carolina. When Jezebel Turner and her twin brother Jay turn 11, their uncle Doc tells them it’s time to learn rootwork. This richly detailed coming-of-age story blends African American folk magic with a tale tapping into the history of the time period, touching on school integration and police violence. With a battle between good and evil underway, Jez and Jay have to learn to hone their magic and muster their inner strength in order to prevail.
The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim
Not only did Rick Riordan give readers Percy Jackson and other exciting series, he established a publishing imprint for incorporating many world mythologies into magical middle grade reads. The Last Fallen Star is one such book. It kicks off the Gifted Clans series, following Riley Oh, whose adoptive family carry magical powers Riley herself lacks. A spell by Riley’s older sister Hattie aims to share her magic. But trying to violate the laws of the Godrealm results in Riley and Hattie embarking on a dangerous quest. If you want to read about the amazing clans of Korean witches living in Los Angeles, this is the book for you.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
This book has been pitched as “Men in Black meets Artemis Fowl.” Amari is struggling because her brother Quinton is missing. And she may be the only person who believe he’s still alive. A ticking briefcase in her closet alerts her to the summer tryouts at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. She knows this Bureau may hold the key to finding her brother, so she needs to get in. She has to fight against stacked odds for her place, a disturbingly familiar scenario in a racist society. But privileged people who’ve always known that magic and aliens and fairies are real are no match for Amari’s power and determination.
Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi
We love a portal fantasy, right? Give me a good wardrobe or a doorway and sweep me to another world that’s…inevitably just as dangerous as this one. Still, in Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, Rea passes through a portal in hopes of finding her missing brother Rohan. Astranthia, the land she discovers, has both wondrous and fearsome creatures. She also learns her brother’s being held captive, and on top of that, she is a princess with magic powers. Set in India (and Astranthia), this book is great for fans of both the Chronicles of Narnia and the Aru Shah series.
The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith
What about a graphic novel for lovers of magic? In The Deep & Dark Blue, a coup sends twins Hawke and Grayson into exile. They establish new identities as Hanna and Grayce and await their chance to reclaim their noble house. The Communion of Blue, a community of magical women, is their temporary home. But Grayce is eager for a chance to continue living as a girl, and isn’t sure reclaiming her old life is the best path. The story blends action with journeys of self discovery.
Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith
I adore books that represent authors standing up to a problematic fave. Like Prairie Lotus took on the racism and anti-Indigenous sentiments of the Little House on the Prairie series, so Sisters of the Neversea is taking on problematic elements of Peter Pan. Instead of having the story revolve around a boy who refuses to grow up (we’ve seen how that plays out in real life!), this story centers Native American Lily and English Wendy, best friends and stepsisters. Their journey to Neverland is as wondrous as joyful as the text that inspired it.
Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges
Another magical middle grade graphic novel, Girl Haven features a realm called Koretris. As the title suggests, it’s a girl haven: no boys or men allowed. Seventh grader Ash’s friends want to cast the spell that will take them there. As a person who’s always been called a boy and who uses he/him pronounces, Ash assumes the spell won’t work. Yet there Ash is, whisked away to Koretris with everyone else. Along with an imaginative fairy tale adventure narrative, Ash has to grapple with what it would mean to be considered a girl.
Much Ado About Baseball by Rajani LaRocca
I love math! There, I said it. There are too many books for all ages that are down on math, if you ask me (I suspect that’s a selection bias at work; not enough mathematicians moonlighting as novelists). So I was thrilled to discover this book about Trish and Ben, two math competition rivals and baseball teammates who encounter a mysterious book of mathematical puzzles. Solving these puzzles seems to be turning their unimpressive team’s luck around. But maybe it’s not the puzzles after all. Maybe it’s the new snacks from the shop that’s sponsoring the team. And on top of the baseball, math, snacks, and magic, this book is a Shakespeare retelling! Get on it!
Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack
You can’t have a list of magical middle grade reads without some dragons, right? Eleven-year-old Anya is the daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. Times are tough; it’s 10th century Eastern Europe, after all. Fearless and determined, Anya agrees to capture the last dragon in the country because the bounty is too good to pass up. Along the way she encounters a colorful cast of characters, including the not-so-fearsome dragon. Readers who love Jewish and Slavic folklore will adore this fresh take on the fantasy quest.
Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo
Rival families are a staple of fantasy literature. But forget the Starks and the Lannisters, here we’ve got the Hearns and the McGills. They live in Howler’s Hollow, an Appalachian village where magic is forbidden. Rebellious girls Delpha McGill and Katybird Hearn are both vying for a contraband spell book. In their struggle they accidentally unleash a hex that resurrects a bunch of their families’ ancestors. And so the rivals become comrades to stave off the oncoming zombie attacks. One unique angle for this book is its inclusion of an intersex character whose story is integral to the magic.
Check out our middle grade archives for so many more books on a variety of themes. If you still need more magical middle grade reads, may I suggest a mermaid tale? And remember that even if a book doesn’t have a magical storyline, books themselves are magic.