The best children’s fantasy books about fighting injustice

Eleanor Glewwe Author Of Sparkers
By Eleanor Glewwe

Who am I?

Fantasy has been my favorite genre to read and write since I was a child. I also began attending demonstrations and meeting my representatives from a young age, thanks to my socially engaged mother, who took me along to teach me the importance of activism. Between college and grad school, I worked in legislative advocacy, and somehow struggles for social justice are always seeping into the stories I most want to write. Fantasy immerses young people in magical worlds while also illuminating the problems of our own world. Books like these can inspire action and offer hope that things can change. 

I wrote...


By Eleanor Glewwe,

Book cover of Sparkers

What is my book about?

Marah has a talent for music and a passion for languages but no magic, which makes her a lowly sparker in a city ruled by rich magicians. One winter, a mysterious illness strikes, killing magicians and sparkers alike. As Marah’s best friend and younger brother fall sick, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. While deciphering a forgotten book, Marah and Azariah stumble upon a possible cure, along with a shocking discovery that upends everything they thought they knew about magic and the city they call home. Their pursuit of the cure leads them into the heart of a magical government where sparks of dissent may be even more deadly than the spreading plague.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Why did I love 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.  

By Anne Ursu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of The Real Boy and The Lost Girl comes a wondrous and provocative fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them.

If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Inquisitor's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award

An exciting and hilarious medieval adventure from the bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm. Beautifully illustrated throughout by Hatem Aly!

A New York Times Bestseller A New York Times Editor's Choice A New York Times Notable Children's Book A People Magazine Kid Pick A Washington Post Best Children's Book A Wall Street Journal Best Children's Book An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book A Booklist Best Book A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book A Kirkus Reviews Best Book A Publishers Weekly Best Book A School Library Journal…

A Wish in the Dark

By Christina Soontornvat,

Book cover of A Wish in the Dark

Why did I love 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. 

By Christina Soontornvat,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Wish in the Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2021 Newbery Honor Book

A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him. A compelling fantasy looks at issues of privilege, protest, and justice.

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars.…

The Witch Boy

By Molly Knox Ostertag,

Book cover of The Witch Boy

Why did I love 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.  

By Molly Knox Ostertag,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Witch Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the illustrator of the web comic Strong Female Protagonist comes a debut middle-grade graphic novel about family, identity, courage -- and magic.

In thirteen-year-old Aster's family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn't shifted . . . and he's still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help -- as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical…

Ptolemy's Gate

By Jonathan Stroud,

Book cover of Ptolemy's Gate

Why did I love 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. 

By Jonathan Stroud,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ptolemy's Gate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The tremendous climax of the Bartimaeus sequence.

Three years on from the events in The Golem's Eye, the magicians' rule in London is teetering on a knife-edge, with strikes, riots and general unrest. The Prime Minister is largely controlled by two advisers, one of whom is 17-year-old Nathaniel. Meanwhile, living under a false identity, Kitty has been researching djinn; she has come to believe that the only way to destroy the magicians is with an alliance between djinn and ordinary people.

Kitty seeks out Bartimaeus and embarks on a terrifying journey into the djinn's chaotic domain - the Other Place…

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