7 magical realism books for children
Published on: 11 April 2019 Author: Nicola Skinner
Nicola Skinner is the author of Bloom: an imaginatively surreal story about a well-behaved girl and a mysterious packet of seeds. She shares her own favourite tales that tiptoe into the weird and wonderful, for all young readers who love fun fantasy in an everyday setting.
1. Wed Wabbit, Lissa Evans (David Fickling Books)
Being a ten year old can be hard – you’re capable of complex thoughts and emotions, yet others (usually adults) can still insist on infantilising you. Evans pokes fun at that tension in this sublimely funny book by placing a clever, spiky heroine into the very childish Land of the Wimbley Woos.
2. Rosy is My Relative, Gerald Durrell (Pan Macmillan)
Durrell brilliantly injects absurdity into a stagnant life and shows the magic that can happen (whether the hero is up for it or not.) I love books where the characters are reluctant to deal with what’s happening to them, and in a way Adrian Rookwhistle is like a precursor to my unwilling heroine, Sorrel. (Although there are no elephants in Bloom, which I now realise is a mistake.)
3. The Borrowers, Mary Norton (Puffin)
I love this book not just for its fearless heroine but because it touches on that universal truth – that occasionally children yearn for a world that is bigger, and more exciting, than the tiny protected environment they’re boarded up in. Plus its really, really funny.
For me, Browne’s genius is adding surrealism into difficult, thorny family dynamics to highlight the strangeness of domestic life. (See his Piggybook too.) An adult acknowledging the messy injustice of family life, especially in a picture book, shows huge respect for children, and Browne is a master at it.
5. Time Travelling with a Hamster, Ross Welford (HarperCollins)
As soon as I spotted this wonderful book in my local library, I felt a delighted spark of recognition – not only was this book something I’d have loved as a child, but as an aspiring author, this felt like someone firing an arrow of encouragement across all the other genres my book didn’t fit into. Could there be a household pet more mundane than a hamster? No. But there’s time travelling? Yes.
6. Cosmic, Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
So, you’ve got an ordinary 11-year-old boy, right, but he’s just extremely tall for his age, and somehow, because of his height, he manages to persuade some people that he’s a grown man, and then through his deception ends up taking a rocket into space, while also making some profound points about family, identity, and what being a good parent really means? I mean, why has this book not won the Nobel Prize for Literature already?
I fell in love with this book from its first page, which took my breath away with its arresting writing and its blend of the mundane and the mysterious. The titular character is otherworldly, yet has earthly needs and appetites and a flawed, ageing body. Almond taught me that the fantastical can be found in your shed and that authors needn’t go far to find weirdness, and there’s something wonderfully subversive about that.
Bloom is the debut by children’s author Nicola Skinner: a wickedly funny novel for middle-grade readers, on sale in hardback (£12.99) from 4 April 2019.