Real Life with a Touch of Magic: The Best Magical Realism Books for Tweens

by Melissa Taylor

Have you heard of magical realism? These are stories set in our everyday world but with one exception — they have a touch of magic. Unlike the fantasy genre, which is set in a fantastical world with fantastical creatures like unicorns, wizards, and shape shifters, magical realism stories actually are realistic … mostly. You might read about a farming family with powerful abilities, chickens who can turn invisible, or ordinary middle school twins with precognition.

Here are some of our favorite magical realism books that will give you a taste of this irresistible genre:

  • The Girl Who Sailed the Stars

    by Matilda Woods, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz

    Matilda Woods charmed readers with her whimsical debut, The Boy, The Bird & the Coffin Maker, and her second book — full of magical realism, adventure, and dazzling prose — is sure to follow suit. The youngest of seven sisters, Oona Britt may not be the brave son her parents were promised, but when she sneaks aboard a ship, she proves that bravery isn’t a gendered trait.

  • Savvy Trilogy

    by Ingrid Law

    Growing up is only made more interesting when you’re part of a family with savvy, a magical ability that develops at age 13. In the first book of the trilogy, Mibs believes her savvy will help her hospitalized father. But instead of traveling to the hospital, Mibs finds herself on an unexpected going-the-wrong-direction, bus-riding adventure with a unique group of people.

  • Wish Girl

    by Nikki Loftin

    Desperate to escape his noisy home in the Texas Hill Country, Peter finds a magical, protective valley and, in it, a girl named Annie. She’s a “Make-a-Wish Girl” who doesn’t want to go to art camp or have brain surgery. This beautifully crafted book isn’t just a coming-of-age story but also a look at bullying, friendship, depression, hope, and loss.

  • Crenshaw

    by Katherine Applegate

    Crenshaw, Jackson’s former imaginary cat friend, unexpectedly appears in Jackson’s life just when Jackson is most worried. Despite his parents’ cheerful overacting, Jackson knows that his family is about to lose their apartment and become homeless again. He also knows that he’s hungry and there’s never enough food. What he doesn’t know is that Crenshaw, a gigantic cat with a big personality, is there to help. This is a beautiful story of friendship that compassionately addresses the issue of poverty.

  • The Dollmaker of Krakow

    by R. M. Romero

    Set during World War II in Poland, this heartbreaking magical realism story affirms the power of friendship and love. A solitary magician dollmaker and a brave live doll named Karolina are horrified when their Jewish violin-playing friend and his daughter are forced into the ghetto. To save his friend’s daughter and the other Jewish children, the dollmaker turns the children temporarily into dolls, hoping to turn them back once the war has ended.

  • What the Moon Saw

    by Laura Resau

    Clara leaves the U.S. to spend her summer with her father’s parents in rural Mexico. There, she struggles with her identity: Is she American, Mexican, or both? As she learns healing wisdom from her indigenous grandmother, Clara discovers both the magic of nature and the richness in who she is as a person. Beautifully written with evocative sensory descriptions.

  • Hour of the Bees

    by Lindsay Eagar

    Carol is not happy when her family goes to New Mexico for the summer to help her elderly, crotchety grandfather. He tells Carol seemingly crazy stories of bees, particularly bees who will bring the rain to the desert, as well as stories of a powerful healing tree. Surprisingly, her grandfather’s stories open Carol’s eyes to a new way of looking at the world and her heritage.

  • The Doll People

    by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brian Selnick

    Annabelle Doll lives in a dollhouse with her family. For their own safety, they only move around when no humans nor pets are nearby. Bored and in need of adventure, Annabelle decides to risk “Permanent Doll State” in order to search for her long-lost Aunt Sarah using Aunt Sarah’s diary for clues. It’s an engaging adventure especially for all of us who always knew our dolls were alive.

  • Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

    by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath

    Written in charming, refreshingly honest letters to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle, and Agnes from the “Extraordinary Chickens” catalog, Sophie shares her exciting adventure of moving to the farm of her dead great-uncle. As Sophie begins to explore, she discovers that the farm’s chickens all have special powers — and she needs to protect them because someone is trying to steal them.

  • Twintuition: Double Vision

    by Tia Mowry and Tamera Mowry

    Moving to a new town is challenging. Especially now that twins Caitlyn and Cassie aren’t getting along. But something strange starts to happen — they both experience visions of precognition when they touch someone. When their mother, a policewoman, faces a serious work crisis, the twins come together to use their powers and save their mom’s job.

  • The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole

    by Michelle Cuevas

    A black hole that literally represents Stella’s grief follows her home one day only to swallow everything around her, starting with things that make her uncomfortable (like the class hamster, ugly sweaters, and any reminders of her dead father). Soon, Stella realizes that in order to escape the black hole, she’ll need to open herself up to her feelings and her family.

  • A Monster Calls

    by Patrick Ness

    This emotionally gripping story will leave you heartbroken yet profoundly changed. During the day, Conor is bullied by kids at school, his mother is getting sicker from cancer, and he’s forced to move in with his detached, distant grandmother. At night, in nightmares turned real, a frightening, ancient tree-monster visits Conor to share three stories. Soon it will be Conor’s turn to tell the monster a story but the monster requires the truth. What is Conor’s truth?

    This one’s quite dark, so it’s best for older, more mature readers who are ready to step into YA.