The best magic-in-space books for middle schoolers

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy since I was a kid, and I love when the two genres meet. I’m also fascinated by the power of stories and language, which has led me to work as an intern at a literary agency and later as an editor at a website that reviewed and gave feedback on unpublished manuscripts. I love finding ways to imbue stories with the kind of magic that can transport us to new worlds.

I wrote...


By Nathaniel Hardman,

Book cover of School

What is my book about?

On an alien world, beneath twin red suns glowing in an orange sky, a middle school from Atlanta, Georgia appears. Wand-wielding warriors stand in a circle around the school, poised to attack. Inside the school, panic.

Seventh-grader Jeff and his eighth-grader sister Suzy must become champions for their school in the fight to get back to Earth, while the king of the aliens has plans of his own - plans that could wreak havoc on not one world, but two.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Princess of Mars

Nathaniel Hardman Why did I love this book?

I remember being twelve, lying in bed and reading this into the wee hours of the night, dimly aware of the train whistle from the other side of town.

The magic of the story – the wonder of the aliens and their world – transported me and wrapped me up and made me want to go rescue alien princesses and liberate oppressed alien peoples. Nothing about this book makes sense scientifically (what else do you expect from the author of Tarzan?), but somehow it still made me want to go to be an astronaut and explore new worlds. 

Don’t write it off because of the terrible movie adaptation or the schlocky book covers. Embrace the camp and feel the magic!

By Edgar Rice Burroughs,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked A Princess of Mars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rediscover the adventure-pulp classic that gave the world its first great interplanetary romance-now featuring an introduction by Junot Diaz

In the spring of 1866, John Carter, a former Confederate captain prospecting for gold in the Arizona hills, slips into a cave and is overcome by mysterious vapors. He awakes to find himself naked, alone, and forty-eight million miles from Earth-a castaway on the dying planet Mars. Taken prisoner by the Tharks, a fierce nomadic tribe of six-limbed, olive-green giants, he wins respect as a cunning and able warrior, who by grace of Mars's weak gravity possesses the agility of a…

Book cover of Red Sister

Nathaniel Hardman Why did I love this book?

Whenever I recommend this book, I start raving about how cool the setting is – a planet slowly freezing to death with a narrow livable corridor around the equator, which you eventually realize is only staying warm because of an orbiting reflective satellite.

Magic, you find, has sprung up in the ashes of a society that was once technologically advanced. But as cool as the setting is, Red Sister really works because the characters are so fun, and the story is so compelling.

Nona is a young girl taken in by nuns and trained to be an assassin, and you love seeing her come into her own. Very violent but very fun.

By Mark Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Red Sister as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's not until you're broken that you find your sharpest edge.

"I was born for killing - the gods made me to ruin."

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices' skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don't truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought…

Book cover of The Martian Chronicles

Nathaniel Hardman Why did I love this book?

No one creates ambiance like Ray Bradbury. It’s his superpower.

I read this at thirteen and remember feeling the loneliness of that desolate planet in my bones. You feel this book, the melancholy, the magic, the wonder of it as Earth sends ships to colonize Mars. There’s a sadness to it as things don’t go the way the humans expect, but there’s also pleasure in this land refusing to be conquered.

A book that deeply shaped the way I think of society and growth. (Note that Bradbury probably wouldn’t call this a fantasy. But I say any book that ignores the laws of physics this hard has to be magic)

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Martian Chronicles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Martian Chronicles, a seminal work in Ray Bradbury's career, whose extraordinary power and imagination remain undimmed by time's passage, is available from Simon & Schuster for the first time.

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor— of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work…

Book cover of The Worthing Saga

Nathaniel Hardman Why did I love this book?

I read it at eleven and thought it was cool and exciting and different. I read it at seventeen and thought there might be some meaning behind the story.

I read it as a young father and thought, “Holy cow! It’s the meaning of life! A sci-fi/fantasy exploration of the creation and the fall of man… it’s an allegory for Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. And it’s so good!” But don’t let the depth intimidate you; it’s a super compelling story about a young man in hyper-advanced society who has a gift that gets him in trouble. A total page-turner.

Now I want to go read it again. I wonder what I’ll notice this time…

By Orson Scott Card,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Worthing Saga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It was a miracle of science that permitted human beings to live, if not forever then for a long, long time. Some people, anyway. The rich, the powerful, they lived their lives at the rate of one year every ten. Somec created two societies: that of people who lived out their normal span and died, and those who slept away the decades, skipping over the intervening years and events. It allowed great plans to be put into motion. It allowed interstellar empires to be built. It came near to destroying humanity. After eons of decadence and stagnation, a few seed…

Book cover of Dune

Nathaniel Hardman Why did I love this book?

I know, I know. You say it’s not for kids, and it’s not magic. But as for the first: I read it when I was fourteen, and I loved it.

It opened my eyes to the possibilities of science fiction as real, thoughtful world-building - creating an ecology for a world (though maybe I couldn’t have put that to words). It was meticulous in a way that fascinated and intrigued me. And as for the magic: Spice lets them see the future. The Voice lets you control other people’s minds. It’s magic.

And so is this book! There's a reason it's still getting movie adaptations almost 60 years after it was published...

By Frank Herbert,

Why should I read it?

56 authors picked Dune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before The Matrix, before Star Wars, before Ender's Game and Neuromancer, there was Dune: winner of the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, and widely considered one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Melange, or 'spice', is the most valuable - and rarest - element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person's lifespan to making interstellar travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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