Few words hold as much power over readers as “Once upon a time…”. As a child I devoured every story that was even remotely fairy tale adjacent. Folk stories. Mythology. Twice-told tales. I loved, and still love, all of them. Some of my particular favorites were stories that took the familiar tropes and characters from fairy tales and mixed them up with our modern world. Having the magical world live alongside regular, everyday life presented so many awesome possibilities. If your young readers feel the same, check out these middle-grade books that mix the modern and the magical!
by Susan Lurie; illustrated by Jenn Harney
Wanda hates her little brother, Zane. But don’t judge her for it–Zane is an absolute terror, and her parents blame Wanda for his monstrous behavior. On her eleventh birthday, Wanda makes a wish: to find her true family, because she knows deep down that this one can’t be hers. She gets a surprise visit from a talking bluebird named Voltaire who seems wise and confirms her suspicion that someone has been meddling with her life. Together they venture into the Scary Wood, where they encounter many magical creatures as they search for the truth. None of these adversaries prepares her for the biggest one: a witch named Raymunda, who has put her and her family under a spell.
by Chris Colfer
Alex and Conner Bailey’s world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales. The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.
by Kwame Mbalia
Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it–is that a doll?–and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left Black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price.
by Lev Grossman
Kate and her younger brother Tom lead dull, uninteresting lives. And if their dull, uninteresting parents are anything to go by, they don’t have much to look forward to. Why can’t Kate have thrilling adventures and save the world the way people do in books? Even her 11th birthday is shaping up to be mundane — that is, until her mysterious and highly irresponsible Uncle Herbert, whom she’s never even met before, surprises her with the most unexpected, exhilarating, inappropriate birthday present of all time: a colossal steam locomotive called the Silver Arrow. Kate and Tom’s parents want to send it right back where it came from. But Kate and Tom have other ideas — and so does the Silver Arrow — and soon they’re off to distant lands along magical rail lines in the company of an assortment of exotic animals who, it turns out, can talk. With only curiosity, excitement, their own resourcefulness and the thrill of the unknown to guide them, Kate and Tom are on the adventure of a lifetime . . . and who knows? They just might end up saving the world after all.
by Christiane M. Andrews
Clothilde has lived her whole life in the shadows with her (sometimes) thieving and (always) ailing father. But when he fails to meet her one morning, sending her instead a mysterious ticket of half-paffage, Clo finds herself journeying across the sea to reunite with him. The ticket, however, leaves her on a sunless island inhabited only by creaking fishermen, a rumpled old woman, a piggish cat, and a moon-cheeked boy named Cary. Clo is quickly locked away and made to spend her days in unnerving chores with the island’s extraordinary fish, while the old woman sits nearby weaving an endless gray tapestry. Frustrated and aching with the loss of her father, Clo must unravel the mysteries of the island and all that’s hidden in the vast tapestry’s threads — secrets both exquisite and terrible. And she must decide how much of herself to give up in order to save those she thought she’d lost forever. Inspired by Greek mythology, this spellbinding fantasy invites readers to seek connections, to forge their own paths, and to explore the power of storytelling in our interwoven histories.
by Julie Abe
Eva Evergreen is determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch before her thirteenth birthday. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her magic forever. The only problem? Eva only has a pinch of magic. She summons heads of cabbage instead of flowers and gets a sunburn instead of calling down rain. And to add insult to injury, whenever she overuses her magic, she falls asleep. When she lands in the tranquil coastal town of Auteri, the residents expect a powerful witch, not a semi-magical girl. So Eva comes up with a plan: set up a magical repair shop to aid Auteri and prove she’s worthy. She may have more blood than magic, but her “semi-magical fixes” repair the lives of the townspeople in ways they never could have imagined. Only, Eva’s bit of magic may not be enough when the biggest magical storm in history threatens the town she’s grown to love. Eva must conjure up all of the magic, bravery, and cleverness she can muster or Auteri and her dreams of becoming a witch will wash away with the storm.