What’s next after Harry Potter? Book recommendations for magic-lovers

Published 12:58 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2023


Plaid Elephant Books

In 1997, the Harry Potter series by author J.K. Rowling fundamentally changed the landscape of middle grade fiction. Although I was in high school when the first book came out, I didn’t discover the series for a couple of years. I have clear memories, though, of reading through the night to finish Book 5 when it came out, and of the incredible anticipation that the release of the final book brought. By then, I was married, but my husband and I absolutely queued up for the midnight release party – and bought two copies of the book because there was no way either of us could wait to read it until the other had finished.

Email newsletter signup

Two and a half decades later, Harry Potter and the Wizarding World have become cultural icons, but I’ve noticed something as a bookseller. I don’t actually sell all that many Harry Potter books. I suspect most families already own them, or kids are learning (and loving!) the mythology through the movies without necessarily reading all the books. I do, however, hear Harry Potter referenced when people ask for book recommendations. “Find us something LIKE Harry Potter” is a common desire.

Luckily, I have some great recommendations for middle grade readers interested in discovering a spellbinding fantasy series.

“Amari and the Night Brothers” by B. B. Alston: Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got into trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good. So when she discovers a ticking briefcase in his closet containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton – if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

I was absolutely captivated by this book from the first page. The world-building in this series is fantastic and the ‘take’ on magic was fresh and original, with fun references to classic monster hunters like Van Helsing. Overall, this series represents a different ‘branch’ of the magical family tree from Hogwarts and its citizens, but the characters still immediately feel like family. Book two – “Amari and the Great Game” – is also available, with a third installment due out next year.

“Skandar and the Unicorn Thief” by A.F. Steadman: Let’s be clear from the get-go: these are not your typical unicorns. Banish all thoughts of rainbow and glitter from your mind. The unicorns in this world are feral, bloodthirsty, immortal beings who can only be controlled by magically bonding them to a human rider. When our young hero, Skandar, makes his way to the magical island where riders are trained, he is thrust into a world of epic sky battles, dangerous clashes with wild unicorns, and rumors of a shadowy villain amassing a unicorn army. And the closer Skandar grows to his newfound friends and community of riders, the harder it becomes to keep his secrets—especially when he discovers their lives may all be in graver danger than he ever imagined. The second installment of the series – “Skandar and the Phantom Rider” – came out this spring, with another book arriving in 2024.

Greenwild by Pari Thompson: I’ve saved the best for last. “Greenwild” is a new release, hot off the presses this summer. And to give you a sense of how much I loved this book, I dressed up as its main character for a costume party at a bookseller conference I attended this summer. The story is packed with adventure – a missing mother, a magical hidden world, and a totally unique form of magic that is rooted in botany.

Eleven-year-old Daisy Thistledown is on the run. Her mother has been keeping big, glittering secrets, and now she has vanished. Daisy knows it’s up to her to find Ma — but someone is hunting her across London. When Daisy flees to safety through a mysterious hidden doorway in a botanical garden, she steps out of the city and into another world. This is the Greenwild. Bursting with magic and full of amazing natural wonders, it seems too astonishing to be true. But not only is this land of green magic real, it holds the key to finding Daisy’s mother. And someone wants to destroy it.

Plaid Elephant Books will be hosting a Harry Potter Trivia Party on Monday, July 31 from 6-8 p.m. in celebration of Harry’s birthday. Participants can test their knowledge of beloved characters, favorite spells, and other Hogwarts trivia while also finding out which house the sorting hat would assign them to.  One lucky winner at this free event will go home with a complete boxed set of all six Harry Potter books in hardcover, packaged in a decorative trunk.

Kate Snyder is a Danville resident, a mother of three and the owner and founder of Plaid Elephant Books. For more information, visit www.plaidelephantbooks.com.