Summer Reading: Everyday Magic for 9-14 Year Olds
Today we’re finishing up Melissa LaSalle’s series on summer reading recommendations for kids. First, she shared noteworthy picture books, then it was early chapter books and now here’s a few of her favorites for older kids that inspire “everyday magic.”
When I was seven, I discovered No Such Thing as a Witch, one of a number of early chapter books written by Ruth Chew in the 1970s about kids stumbling upon magical objects in their everyday lives. In one fell swoop, my love of literary magic was born, and I went on to scavenge the library shelves each summer for similar adventures touched by magic.
I’m thrilled that Chew’s books are being re-published today, so that my own children can enjoy them; but I’m even more pleased that the subject of everyday magic is being woven by contemporary authors into more mature, complex, rich, and original works of fiction for the middle-grade crowd.
Each of the following new(ish) novels are masterpieces, just waiting to transform an ordinary summer into an extraordinary one.
Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley (Ages 9-12)
This is one of the summer’s hottest new books and for good reason. The mysterious and magical circus that serves as the backdrop for much of this novel—a circus that can only be seen by those who believe—has immense cinematic appeal, with aqua-colored unicorn foals, an elephant that does math, a woman who flies alongside birds, and the seemingly all-powerful Man Who Bends Light.
But the heart of this original story is the reserved, resourceful, and sensitive Micah, an orphaned boy heartbroken at the imminent death of his beloved grandfather, the one who has regaled Micah’s childhood with tales of his own time spent at Circus Mirandus.
With the unlikely help of a feisty new female schoolmate, and spurred on by the doubts of his grouchy great aunt, Micah sets out to find Circus Mirandus and harness the magic to save his grandfather’s life. What Micah doesn’t realize is that, while no one can forestall death, he alone possesses the power to fulfill his grandfather’s dying wish—and to secure his own destiny in the process.
A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd (Ages 9-12)
I first sung this book’s praises in my 2014 Holiday Gift Guide, and it seems the perfect time to bring it up again, since the paperback edition has just been released. Felicity Pickle, the resilient, language-loving, fallen-on-hard-times heroine of Natalie Lloyd’s novel is every bit the literary role model I would like for my daughter.
There’s just the tiniest bit of magic in this story, and it’s mostly the real-life magic created from the power of unexpected friendships, of familial loyalty, of courageous honesty, of jarring ice cream flavors, and of a small town community reuniting around what really matters.
Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Ages 10-14)
Historical fiction is overlaid with a touch of the supernatural and the redemptive power of music in this nearly 600-page book, which reads until the surprising conclusion like three disparate novels.
Each of the three parts star a young protagonist—Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California—fiercely struggling to hold his or her family together amidst the changing landscape surrounding World War Two.
Award-winning Pam Muñoz Ryan (Esperanza Rising and Becoming Naomi Leon are other musts) is never one to shy away from life’s cruelties, and here she skillfully interweaves some of the lesser known themes of the War, like Hitler’s disdain of genetic impurities (Friedrich has a facial deformity) and the unjust imprisonment of Japanese-Americans (Ivy discovers a suspicious secret panel in the house of a Japanese-American family accused of espionage).
All three main characters are aided in their struggles by a magical harmonica, which mysteriously surfaces in their lives, although it is their compassion, courage, grit, and likability that wins them happiness in the end.
The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier
Warning: this story is not for the faint of heart, but it was also my favorite middle-grade novel of 2014 (and bonus, it’s also now in paperback!).
The poor, parentless protagonists—Irish siblings Molly and Kip—are right out of a Grimm fairytale, as are the dilapidated mansion that appears haunted, the densely-packed woods, and the mysterious peddler who speaks in riddles. But the rest is like no fairytale you’ve ever read, and Jonathan Auxier’s ability to weave suspense with soaring prose is unparalleled.
Young Molly and Kip seek work as servants in a crumbling English manor house that’s deep in the woods, inhabited by a family steeped in secrets, and haunted by a seemingly predatory tree lurking outside the front door.
Why am I proposing you give your a child a book that might have them jumping into bed with you? In my favorite argument for middle schoolers reading fairy tales, Adam Gidwitz, popular author of the series, A Tale Dark and Grimm, writes: “The land of the fairy tale is not the external world. It is, rather, the internal one. The real Grimm fairy tale takes a child’s deepest desires and most complex fears, and it reifies them, physicalizes them, turns them into a narrative.”
Auxier takes this appealing phenomenon one step further, giving children readers a heroine and hero who are as ordinary, as feeling, as believing, and as hopeful as themselves. When Molly and Kip banish the malevolent spirits, their win feels intimately accessible.
Check my blog throughout the summer for more reading suggestions!