The best middle grade books for kids who love fairy tales

The Books I Picked & Why

The Magic Circle

By Donna Jo Napoli

Book cover of The Magic Circle

Why this book?

The Magic Circle is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel from the witch’s point of view. (I absolutely adore all of Donna Jo Napoli’s fairy tale retellings, so it was hard to pick just one!) I love how she is able to take an evil character from the original fairy tale and completely humanize her, writing her backstory and making her so sympathetic that by the time we get to that fateful scene with the oven, I was in tears. Not only are the characters brilliantly drawn, but the book is set in Medieval Europe and meticulously researched, bringing this time and place to life.

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A Tale Dark & Grimm

By Adam Gidwitz, Hugh D'Andrade

Book cover of A Tale Dark & Grimm

Why this book?

I love humor in stories (I even perform improv at a comedy theater in San Diego!), and this book is the funniest, quirkiest fairy tale retelling I’ve ever read. It is filled with dark humor and nods to the sometimes-gruesome source material, including cannibalism and children getting their heads chopped off (did you know you could get away with head-chopping in a children’s book and make it funny?!) and lots of warnings to the “little kids” that they better stop reading. Somehow, the book is able to remain lighthearted as Hansel and Gretel flee their own story and journey into eight other fairy tales.

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Splendors and Glooms

By Laura Amy Schlitz

Book cover of Splendors and Glooms

Why this book?

This book is not a fairy tale, per se, but it shares many of the elements of fairy tales. Set in 19th century Europe, the novel is filled with starving orphans, a child transformed into a doll, a wicked puppet master, an evil witch, and a magic necklace. This book combines two of my favorite genres, historical fiction and fantasy, and includes mystery and magic at every turn. I could read this book again and again!

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The Tale of Despereaux Trade Book

By Kate DiCamillo

Book cover of The Tale of Despereaux Trade Book

Why this book?

The Tale of Despereaux is one of my favorite books because it has such a classic, timeless feel to it. This isn’t a retelling, but rather a brand new fairy tale, with Princess Pea, a heroic mouse on a quest, a servant girl whose father sold her for a handful of cigarettes and a table cloth, and a kingdom that has banned the eating of soup. Kate DiCamillo manages to weave these interconnected stories together in a way that not only creates a modern-day fairy tale that will leave you on the edge of your seat, but also comments on the power of storytelling itself.

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A Little Princess

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Book cover of A Little Princess

Why this book?

If there was one book I was obsessed with as a kid, it was A Little Princess. I actually used to dress up in Victorian outfits (or my version of a Victorian outfit, which included a party dress, tights, and snow boots…) and pretend to be Sara Crewe, the main character. The plot of the novel is a variation on Cinderella. Sara is sent away to boarding school by her wealthy father, and when he dies and loses all his money, the headmistress forces her to become a servant and live in the attic. Through it all, Sara never loses her kindness, love for stories, or belief in magic. Though it might take modern children a bit to get into the sometimes old-fashioned language (it was written in 1905), my child self would have been upset if I left this old favorite off my list!

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