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Nothing beats a good adventure story – except a good adventure story with a healthy dollop of magic. Middle grade fantasy books have been beloved by multiple generations of readers, and every year seems to see magical new adventures being published. Why is middle grade fantasy so popular with so many young readers? There are many reasons, from the beautifully built worlds and fascinating explorations of different kinds of magic, to the high-stakes storylines where young heroes must rescue a loved one, discover their own power or save the world (or in some cases, all three).
Middle grade fantasy books have many rich storytelling traditions to call on, and while some borrow aspects from Arthurian mythology or Norse legend, there are also many authors of colour drawing on their cultural histories to create exciting contemporary fantasy works. Some middle grade fantasy books take a Men in Black–style approach, featuring secret societies that investigate and regulate magical happenings; others put a new spin on the old favourite setting of the magical school. All feature brave heroes who contend with the challenges of a new world, new powers, or the difficulties of growing up and finding out who they really are. Whatever the young reader in your life is looking for, there’s a wealth of middle grade fantasy out there to suit all tastes.
The Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Amari Peters has a lot to deal with – she’s being bullied at school and her beloved older brother, Quinton, has gone missing. As she investigates her brother’s disappearance, Amari finds the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secret magical society full of fantastical creatures. Knowing that the best way to find Quinton is to join the society, Amari becomes a Bureau trainee. But when she gains an illegal magical skill, Amari must pass the trials and win the trust of her classmates.
Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones is best known for her books Howl’s Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series, but Eight Days of Luke is an underrated gem. David, an orphan who is neglected and emotionally abused by his extended family, accidentally releases a mysterious boy who introduces himself as Luke, who seems to have magical powers which focus around fire. David and Luke become friends, but now that Luke is free, other mysterious figures turn up to try to track him down. As the story continues, David and the reader both realise that these characters are famous figures from Norse mythology – as is Luke himself.
Tamarind and the Star of Ishta by Jasbinder Bilan
Young Tamarind grew up in the UK and never knew her late mother, who was born in India. When she travels out to her mother’s family’s home in the foothills of the Himalayas, meeting her maternal relatives for the first time, Tamarind begins to unravel the story of her mother’s past and her own heritage, in an adventure with a magical twist.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
A middle grade fantasy classic that has inspired modern authors such as Tracey Deonn (author of Legendborn), The Dark is Rising is technically the second in a series, but is a great point to jump in and learn about the Arthurian-inspired world of the Dark, the Light, and the Old Ones. On his 11th birthday, young Will gains magical powers and learns how to control them with the help of family friend Merriman Lyon (play around with his name a bit, and you’ll soon guess who he really is). Will must find and bring together a collection of magical artifacts before agents of the Dark can find them and use their power for evil. As well as being a fantastic adventure story, The Dark is Rising draws on myth and legend, bringing the magical world alive.
Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll
The latest book from the fantastic Elle McNicoll, Like a Charm is set in a version of the city of Edinburgh inhabited by magical creatures, which no one can see except young Ramya Knox. As Ramya learns more about the fantastical beings she can see, and the other magical secrets kept by her family, she discovers that some parts of Edinburgh’s hidden fantasy underworld are more dangerous than others.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Adult readers may already know Rebecca Roanhorse from her sci-fi and speculative writing, but Race to the Sun is her debut middle grade novel, telling the story of young Nizhoni, who has recently gained the power to see monsters. Nizhoni realises that her father’s new boss, Mr Charles, is a monster, and when her dad disappears, Nizhoni, her brother, and her best friend must pass a series of fiendishly difficult trials in order to gain the powers they need to rescue Dad and save the world.
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu
Fans of magical school stories will love The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy. Marya, a young girl, disrupts the day that her brother Luka is tested for magic; as a result, Marya is sent away to Dragomir Academy, to become one of a group of girls who assist the sorcerers of the realm of Illyria. As Marya settles into her new home and makes friends, she also learns about the truth of magic, and the nature of the Dread, a terrifying force that threatens to destroy her country.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
This story follows the adventures of Paola, a space-loving young girl who wants to find the best spot to go stargazing with her new telescope. However, she place she finds is near a river that she’s been warned away from – not just because a classmate of hers drowned there a year ago, but because the river is said to be the home of La Llorona, a ghostly, weeping woman who stalks the riverbank looking for children to drag into the water. When her friend Emma gets lost near the river, Paola has to set aside her scientific views and head into the world of legend to bring her back.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
Yanka has never fitted in with the other children in her village. She’s a lot bigger and stronger, something she suspects has something to do with her being found in a bear’s cave as a baby. One day, Yanka wakes up and finds that her legs have turned into bear legs, and she heads into the forest to find out the truth of her past, encountering many magical creatures along the way.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Aru has a bad habit of lying to make her life sound more exciting, but when her classmates call her bluff and ask her to prove that a lamp in their local museum is cursed, Aru lights the lamp and accidentally frees an ancient demon who wants to bring about the end of the world. Now, Aru must undo her mistake by finding the reincarnations of five legendary heroes, otherwise the God of Destruction will end the world as she knows it.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
The first in Pratchett’s series focusing on the young witch Tiffany Aching, The Wee Free Men is a fast-paced fantasy adventure that draws on myth and magic, while exploring a new part of the famous Discworld. Tiffany’s young brother Wentworth is stolen by the Queen of the Fairies, and Tiffany must travel into her realm to find him; fortunately, she has help in the form of the Nac Mac Feegle, a group of “pictsies” who like drinking, fighting, stealing, and defying the Queen.
Amira and Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed
A school trip goes wrong, and siblings Amira and Hamza accidentally unleash a power that threatens to destroy the world as they knew it, in this exciting fantasy story. When Hamza opens The Box of the Moon, the balance between the human world and the realm of the jinn is disturbed, and the siblings must fix things before the moon crashes to Earth and otherworldly creatures enter the human realm.
Not Just a Witch by Eva Ibbotson
Heckie is a newly qualified animal witch. She has the power to turn people into all kinds of different creatures. Being a good witch at heart, she decides to rid the world of villainous people (including a local fascist politician – good job, Heckie) by transforming them into animals. However, Heckie’s well-meaning nature is taken advantage of by evil furrier Lionel Knapsack, who sets out to convince this witch to provide him with a new source of snow leopard pelts.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
Described as “a steampunk Jumanji”, The Gauntlet is the story of Farah and her two best friends, who start playing a new and exciting puzzle game. However, when Farah’s little brother Ahmed is inadvertently trapped in the game, Farah and her friends must enter the dangerous world of The Gauntlet in order to rescue him.
The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency: The Secrets of the Storm Forest by L.D. Lapinski
The final book in the brilliant StrangeWorlds Travel Agency series, The Secrets of the Stormforest takes Flick and Jonathan to the titular forest. There, they must uncover truth behind the StrangeWorlds Society and solve the mysteries that have hung over them since the beginning of the series – including where Jonathan’s father has vanished to, and why Flick has the power to open ways to different worlds.
A Secret of Birds and Bone by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Set against the backdrop of a beautiful but sinister city, A Secret of Birds and Bone follows the story of Sofia, who must find her missing mother. While the fantasy angle of this story is subtler than others on this list, there is plenty of quiet magic in the story, including Sofia’s mother’s amazing abilities to work magic with bones.
Crystal of Storms by Rhianna Pratchett
This choose-your-own-path book by veteran games writer Rhianna Pratchett is part of the Fighting Fantasy series, and a perfect choice for children who love an interactive read. Young readers can explore a fantasy world as they try to discover why the floating island of Nimbus has crashed into the ocean.
Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor
The first middle grade book by acclaimed author Nnedi Okorafor, Ikenga follows the story of Nnamdi, who sets out to avenge the death of his murdered father and finds himself in possession of a magical object that gives him superpowers. As Nnamdi learns more about the new magical world he’s discovered, he gets closer to finding the truth about what happened to his father.
Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson might be Rick Riordan’s most famous protagonist, but I’ve always loved the stories of Magnus Chase, the demigod son of Frey who (not a spoiler) dies and ends up in Valhalla. Magnus meets Norse gods, grapples with monsters, and prepares for the looming spectre of Ragnarok.
A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
A tale of magical sisters and family curses, A Pinch of Magic is the first in an exciting middle grade series. Readers can follow the adventures of the Widdershins sisters, Betty, Fliss, and Charlie, who are trapped in their home until they find three powerfully magical objects that might help them lift the curse and win their freedom.
If you want even more middle grade fantasy recommendations for your kid’s (or your own) TBR pile, try our run-down of 100 Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books From the Last 10 Years. If the middle grader you know prefers a creepy tale, look at 8 Spooky Middle Grade Paranormal Books.