The best upper middle-grade fantasy books that capture the imagination

The Books I Picked & Why

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

By Jessica Townsend

Book cover of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Why this book?

I was privileged enough to be a part of the first wave of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Like many others I’m sure, those books irrevocably captured my imagination, and sparked the flame of my own story-telling pursuits. I didn’t think there’d ever be a story that would match the sheer wonder and imagination that Rowling created. Then I read Nevermoor. And my imagination was re-captured in the same invigorating, child-like wondrous way. This book is something truly special. It’s full of wonder and wit, including a Willy-Wonker-esque patron, a giant talking cat, and a magical, room-changing hotel. And the setting… the setting is marvelously whimsical, magical, with just the right amount of menace to leave you enraptured. You won’t regret following Morrigan into Nevermoor.

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Darkness of Dragons

By S.A. Patrick

Book cover of Darkness of Dragons

Why this book?

I was initially drawn to this book by its curious title and interesting premise. A world inspired by Pied Piper lore? This could only be something wonderfully imaginative. And I was right! With a particularly endearing cast of main characters (a misguided but courageous boy who uses music to cast spells, a girl under a rat-shaped curse, a fearsome yet good-natured dracogriff) whose quirks and dynamics were an absolute delight to follow, this book is inventive and adventurous with considerably high stakes that keep you on your toes. And what makes it particularly captivating, is the magic system; the power of Pipers; using music and layered Songs to manipulate energy and cast spells. Creative quest-style adventuring at its best!

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Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt, Volume 1

By Rhiannon Williams

Book cover of Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt, Volume 1

Why this book?

This wonderful (and danger-ridden) adventure starts by establishing a believable and endearing bond between siblings Ottilie and Gully—despite their grim life circumstances. The stakes are shot sky-high when Gully goes missing, and Ottilie risks life and limb to find him and get him back—only to discover a much more incredible (and terrifying) predicament that spans way beyond her small little (family-orientated) world. The mystery and tension driving Ottilie (and the story) are tight and addictive. And the world-building and dangers are delightful in the most imaginative (and scary) way. Secret organizations, dangerous hunts, blight-spreading monsters. And a scared but clever and determined girl who must disguise herself as a boy, to save the one she loves most. A well-worth read!

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Deltora Quest, Volume 1

By Emily Rodda, Makoto Niwano

Book cover of Deltora Quest, Volume 1

Why this book?

This is one of my personal inspirations for wanting to write (my own series) as a Quest-based Adventure. Deltora Quest follows brave and brash Leif, stoic but loyal Barda, and wild, headstrong Jasmine on an addictive and dangerous sprawling adventure to recover the powerful gemstones of the Belt of Deltora, and save the kingdoms from eternal darkness and servitude under the conniving Shadow Lord. A typical quest fantasy plot (and more basic Middle Grade format than older Middle Grade) but the characters, twists, and trials themselves are marvelously memorable. There are new encounters, new monsters, and new puzzles at every turn—making for delightfully fun story-telling. An archetypical quest-based adventure that is sure to capture any young reader’s (and young at heart) imagination!

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

By C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Book cover of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Why this book?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend a true classic. This is a story dripping in wonderful childhood memories; my very first experience having my imagination captured and riveted. And it’s timeless; the first adventure of the Pevensie children. A story full of wonder, delight, and that all-important thread of danger and trouble. Of walking through a mysterious wardrobe into a land shimmering under the curse of an eternal Winter. But also a land full of great magic, talking animals, beasts and battles, and, of course, an ancient feud between a righteous kingly lion and conniving white witch. Don’t just watch this story in film form, do yourself a favour and delve into the original book. It’s a true gem.

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