I never thought of myself as a sci-fi or fantasy reader, not until several years ago. When my son was born, I started reading comics, which led into reading Star Wars books, and thanks to fellow Rioters, found myself exploring SFF books. I realized that I had been largely basing my assumption that I wasn’t a fan of old-school-type SFF. What I loved was Octavia E. Butler’s prescient sci-fi and N.K. Jemisin’s Afrofuturism; I loved the way Rena Rossner incorporates Jewish folklore and history into her fantasy, and how Tracy Deonn weaves in rootcraft magic with retelling of Arthurian fantasy.
If you haven’t noticed, there have been really amazing YA and middle grade fantasy books published lately. These books are smart, immersive, diverse, and fun, with characters that you can’t help but want to spend time with. Let’s be honest: the past few years have not been…ideal. For me, reading provides stress relief, but it also provides an escape. And if that escape comes with some magic, adventure, and fun, even better — especially if it’s a series where I can look forward to the next book and more explorations.
I’ve picked 10 middle grade fantasy series that I think are a great place to start if you’re interested in exploring the genre, and I’ll tell you a little about the first book in each series. Even if you’re not new to the genre, these are series that I think capture a reader’s interest and make you want to keep reading.
Let’s take a look!
Amira & Hamza by Samira Ahmed
Start with: Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds
This book came in a book box that I got, and I’m so glad it did — Amira and Hamza are a great sibling team, with just the right amount of tween ‘tude. Ahmed braids Islamic legend and history with this fast-paced story about a museum trip gone awry. During a super blue blood moon eclipse, their family goes to a special exhibit, and Hamza unwittingly sets off a chain of events that leads the siblings to encounter jinn. The siblings have been tasked with saving the world while everyone else is under a sleep spell, and what follows is an adventure they’ll never forget — if they manage to save the world and come back to their family!
Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron
Start with: Maya and the Rising Dark
Warning: do not start this book before bed, because you may find yourself staying up way too late to read it, like I did (it was completely worth it, though!). When Maya starts noticing some weird things happening, like colors disappearing or time freezing, or the strange shadow man in her dreams, her friends dismiss it and she brushes it off to reading too many of her stories. But when her Papa goes missing, she finds herself suddenly part of a whole new world with orishas and magic — and the human world is in danger of being destroyed by the Lord of the Shadows. Can Maya help bring Papa home and save the human world?
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
Start with Dactyl Hill Squad
Set in 1863 New York, this alternate historical fantasy series sees dinosaurs roaming New York while down South, the Civil War is happening with armies using dinosaurs of their own. Magdalys and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip, and when the Draft Riots take place, some of her classmates are kidnapped. She and her friends find solace in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, a Black and Brown independent community. Read the book to find out their plans to rescue their classmates!
The Conjurers by Brian Anderson
Start with: The Conjurers: Rise of the Shadow
Alex and Emma are siblings, and after their parents disappear, they (and Emma’s pet rabbit Pimawa) are sent to live with Uncle Mordo. When flying skeletons attack their home, they escape — with Pimawa guiding them. The rabbit takes them to a magic land called Conjurian, where it can talk. But the land is in trouble, and a battle to control all magic is underway. Can Alex and Emma do anything to help?
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Start with: City of Ghosts
Ever since her drowning accident, Cass can enter the spirit world. When her parents start a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, they move to Scotland, which she finds is filled with haunted places and spirits. When she meets a girl who shares her supernatural ability, she realizes how much she doesn’t know just yet — but has to learn, quickly. This spooky series is perfect for older middle grade readers.
Plotting the Stars by Michelle A. Barry
Start with: Plotting the Stars 1: Moongarden
A new, futuristic retelling of The Secret Garden, this book is set in a world that saw Earth’s plants turn deadly centuries ago, and humans went to space in order to survive. Myra is at a top school on the Moon, and the pressure is mounting. Her tattoos that are supposed to signal her Number Magic aren’t developing, and she’s afraid she has no magic. When she finds a secret lab and a secret garden full of dangerous plants, she starts to learn more about them — and discovers she just might have magic after all. The next book in this series hasn’t been announced yet, so stay tuned!
The Tea Dragon Society by K. O’Neill
Start with: The Tea Dragon Society
If you’re looking for a gentle, beautiful story, look no further. After Greta finds a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, learns about the art of tea dragon-keeping. As time goes on, she realizes that taking care of a tea dragon isn’t just beneficial for the tea dragon; it can have a positive effect on her life, too. It’s a delightful book that’s perfect and calming for all ages.
Cece Rios by Kaela Rivera
Start with: Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls
Cece and her family live in Tierra del Sol, and in the criatura months, spirits walk the desert, threatening humanity — except Cece thinks there’s something more to them, to everyone’s dismay. In their community, only brujas interact with criatrua, and brujeria is a crime. But when her sister Juana is kidnapped by a criatura, Cece decides to become a bruja and bring Juana home at any cost — all without her family knowing.
Marvellerverse by Dhonielle Clayton
Start with: The Marvellers
A magic school in the sky? Diverse students and magical creatures? Sign me up! Ella is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, where Marvellers from all over practice their cultural arts. She gets off to a rough start when some students don’t trust her magic, but soon she finds her friends. After a dangerous criminal escapes prison — supposedly with the help of a Conjuror — tensions rise again at school, and Ella decides she needs to clear her family name and find out who’s really behind this.
The Gifted Clans by Graci Kim
Start with: The Last Fallen Star
Riley’s excited about her sister Hattie’s initiation into the Gom clan, a line of Korean healing witches. Although she’d love to be just like her sister, Riley is a saram, or someone who doesn’t have magic. She’s adopted, and sometimes she feels like she doesn’t quite fit in with her family, let alone the larger magical community. When Hattie has an idea to cast a spell to share her magic with Riley, they’re not expecting what happens, and it’s up to Riley to save Hattie’s life.
Which one will you read first?
If you want even more middle grade fantasy, check out this post about 20 of the best middle grade fantasy books, and if sci-fi is your thing, be sure to read this post on middle grade science fiction books.