Step Into the Pages of Magic…Magical Realism for All Ages

Magical realism is noted for its combination of realistic stories combined with fantastical elements. This narrative tool is widely popular and critically acclaimed through adult works such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude or Toni Morrison’s Beloved. However, magical realism in children’s literature breaks the barriers of what is “real” and creates an atmosphere of imagination that transcends our day-to-day life. It differs from the fantasy genre due to its grounding in magical elements infused with our everyday life.

The popularity of magical realism in children’s literature can be attested to how, as a literary device, it can guide the characters on emotional journeys with the help of magic, yet still maintain the nature of our reality. The non-existent explanation of said magic and fantastical elements separates magical realism from contemporary or urban fantasy. The magic in these stories is used to bring the character on a spiritual/emotional journey where, particularly for children, magical realism allows the characters to navigate difficult topics and ease readers as well into learning about complex topics such as death and divorce. In this list there is a combination of picture books, middle-grade fiction, and young adult fiction to guide any reader into the world of magical realism.

Bourne, Shakirah
Josephine Against the Sea. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Inspired by Caribbean mythology, Josephine Against the Sea takes place in a small village in Barbados where the main character, Josephine, discovers her father’s girlfriend, Mariss, is a vengeful sea creature planning on taking Josephine’s place as her father’s first love. With the help of her friends and her cricket skills, Josephine must find a way to save her father from Mariss. Josephine Against the Sea explores themes of grief, loss, healing, and familial bonds. With the atmosphere of Caribbean mythology filled with monsters and magic, it blends into a warm, enchanting story that will also give young readers a glimpse of the main characters making mistakes and overcoming obstacles.
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Jeffers, Oliver
How to Catch a Star. 2004 (Picture Book).
This beloved tale of How to Catch a Star tells the story of a boy on a quest to catch a star for himself and his imaginative plans to get one. Such as climbing to the top of the highest tree, later to find out it’s not tall enough! This heartwarming tale is about shooting for the stars and emerging with a friend.
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Kelkar, Supriya
That Thing About Bollywood. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Sonali, a Southern California tween, struggles with voicing her feelings until one day, she wakes up and breaks out into Bollywood-style dance and song stricken with “filmi magic.” Her genuine emotions and feelings are unleashed in personal Bollywood soundtracks. In this moving tale, Sonali learns to share her feelings, find her own identity, and learn how to cope during a time of parental separation.
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Keller, Tae
When You Trap a Tiger. 2020 (Young Adult Fiction).
In this imaginative story, When You Trap a Tiger, Keller brings Korean folklore to life. When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, Lily discovers family secrets where a magical tiger comes for retribution for what was stolen from the tigers long ago. The magical tiger makes a deal to return what was stolen from them, and Lily’s grandmother Halmoni will be healed; however, Lily must find courage in herself to face the tigers, and with the help of her sister and a new friend, she’ll discover the power of stories and the magic of family.
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LaRocca, Rajani
Midsummer’s Mayhem. 2019 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Midsummer’s Mayhem is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream middle-grade fantasy retelling, where Mimi, the main character, dreams of becoming a celebrity chef just like her idol, Puffy Fay. When a local café comes out with a baking competition, with the prize being an internship with Puffy Fay himself, Mimi sets her sights on trying to win. Meanwhile, Mimi encounters a boy named Vik when she ventures into the forest. Vik exposes her to the forest’s exotic ingredients, and she begins to make delicious and enchanting treats. However, once her father starts acting strangely, Mimi must discover the cause of the strange behavior lurking in her family. Although this retelling stays true to the spirit of Shakespeare, it also highlights familial dynamics and believing in oneself and explores children’s identity compared to a high-achieving family.
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Love, Jessica
Julián Is a Mermaid. 2018 (Picture Book).
Julian is a Mermaid is Love’s debut picture book. It tells the story of Julian, who, riding the subway with his abuela, encounters three costumed mermaids that leave Julian dazzled by their magic. He begins to daydream of dressing up as the mermaids he had seen. Julian is a Mermaid is lauded for its exploration of identity and gender expression.
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Ness, Patrick & Siobhan Dowd
Illustrated by: Jim Kay.
A Monster Calls: a Novel. 2011 (Young Adult Fiction).
Unlike the recurring monster that Colin had nightmares about when his mother was ill, Colin wakes up one night to find an ancient monster that has come into his life for a singular purpose, and that is to tell Colin three stories in exchange for Colin confronting his truth. A Monster Calls is a gripping tale of the realities of grief and coping with the loss of a loved one. It is an emotional tale that guides the reader through a commonly tender subject and evokes themes of catharsis and reflection.
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Ruby, Laura
Bone Gap. 2015 (Young Adult Fiction).
Outsider Finn, in his small town in Illinois, sees the abduction of his brother’s beautiful girlfriend, Roza, at the spring festival. When called in to view mug shots of potential suspects, Finn is unable to figure out who it was due to all faces looking similar. This story weaves together magical elements of secrecy and intrigue. The reader goes on a quest with Finn, trying to find out where Roza is and solve the mystery. Bone Gap is a unique tale on the emphasis we place on beauty in our society, the power of perspective, and how our views can impact others.
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Ryan, Pam Muñoz
Echo. 2015 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Echo begins with the journey of Otto, who is lost in the forbidden forest and encounters three sisters. Otto becomes embroiled in a quest for prophecy, destiny, and a harmonica. It isn’t until decades later that three children, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California, find themselves on the same quest of prophecy and promise with a harmonica at the center.
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Schachner, Judith Byron
Sarabellas’s Thinking Cap. 2017 (Picture Book).
Sarabella’s Thinking Cap explores the main character, Sarabella, and her daydreaming habits that take over her focus and attention in school. Luckily, Sarabella has an understanding teacher who can encourage her by showcasing who she is. The reader is given a peek into Sarabella’s thoughts, where the author Schachner creates sprawling mixed-media collages of beautiful illustrations and imagination. This picture book tells the tale of individuality and acts as a tribute to the power of a child’s imagination.
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