The best children’s fantasy books about fighting injustice

Eleanor Glewwe Author Of Sparkers
By Eleanor Glewwe

The Books I Picked & Why

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

By Anne Ursu

Book cover of The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Why this book?

In the kingdom of Illyria, boys are potential sorcerers while girls are only taught to keep house and don’t always learn to read. Marya has spent her whole life swallowing her anger at the unfairness of it, but after her parents blame her for spoiling her brother’s chances at becoming a sorcerer, she is sent to a remote school for troubled girls. There, as she and her classmates form tentative friendships, they question teachers and sorcerers and seek the truth in embroidered messages and folk songs. Marya proves herself to be braver and nobler than the revered sorcerers of Illyria. This staunchly feminist middle grade fantasy empowers young people to interrogate the narratives of the powerful and realize that there is nothing wrong with who they are.  

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The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

By Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly

Book cover of The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Why this book?

A modern-day illuminated “manuscript,” this book told in many voices stars three marginalized children in medieval France: Jeanne is a peasant, monastery-raised William has North African heritage, and Jacob is Jewish. Overcoming their own prejudices, the children band together and embark on a mission to prevent the King of France from burning Jewish books. While not shying away from the brutality of the Middle Ages, this story delights with its humor and cleverness. 

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A Wish in the Dark

By Christina Soontornvat

Book cover of A Wish in the Dark

Why this book?

This is a subtle retelling of Les Misérables set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world. The Governor enjoys absolute rule over Chattana thanks to his unique power to create orbs of light, the only source of energy in the city. Born in a prison, Pong escaped as a child but still bears a telltale tattoo betraying his origins. When Nok, the former prison warden’s daughter, discovers Pong, she is bent on recapturing him. During their game of cat and mouse, fugitive Pong and privileged Nok each awaken to the injustice and inequality in their city. This book asks readers to consider who society deems worthy and why and portrays protest as a powerful means of bringing about change. 

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The Witch Boy

By Molly Knox Ostertag

Book cover of The Witch Boy

Why this book?

In Aster’s family, girls become witches and boys become shapeshifters, but Aster has no affinity for shapeshifting, and he’s strongly drawn to witchcraft. His family refuses to let him learn it, but he practices in secret anyway. Aster doesn’t belong among his shapeshifting boy cousins or his witch-in-training girl cousins and finds friendship outside his close-knit family. When a monstrous creature starts preying on his shapeshifter cousins, Aster must decide whether to reveal his practice of witchcraft and claim his true path. This is a story about breaking free of rigid gender roles, even those imposed by those who love us, and embracing the beauty of a multiplicity of identities.  

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Ptolemy's Gate

By Jonathan Stroud

Book cover of Ptolemy's Gate

Why this book?

This is the final book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, a series set in an alternate London where a ruling class of demon-summoning magicians lords it over the oppressed commoners. Nathaniel, a magician who has risen to prominence in the government, and Kitty, an enterprising commoner who once belonged to the Resistance, have a complicated history, but in this finale, they join forces to foil a faction of power-hungry magicians in their plot to take over the government. Ultimately, Nathaniel and Kitty seek to end the magicians’ subjugation of demons, but Nathaniel’s journey to understanding that this is the right thing to do is a long one. His arc shows how human (and not so human) connections can push us to change ourselves and the systems we’re a part of. 

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