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Finding Magic in the Everyday: Andy Shepherd's Favourite Magical Children's Tales

Posted on 2nd June 2020 by Mark Skinner

Andy Shepherd's The Boy Who Grew Dragons has been one of the most popular series for younger readers in recent years. The first volume was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the fourth instalment, The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons, is published this month. In this exclusive piece, Andy shares some of her favourite children's books that merge magic with the everyday.  

As a kid I always loved books that were rooted in the everyday but had an element of magic. Stories like Stig of the Dump, Flat Stanley, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Borrowers. Even with Narnia it was the wardrobe that fascinated me as much as the fantasy world the children stepped into.

Maybe it was growing up in a small village, surrounded by fields, where not much happened, but I loved the idea that something magical might be possible in my own little world if I just kept my eyes open.

Years later when I was diagnosed with CFS/ME my world shrank again as I found myself housebound. I rediscovered the value of looking for small pleasures, seeing everyday things anew and found comfort again in books and the magic that could exist even in the confines of my house and garden.

It’s why when I thought of writing my dragon story I wanted to keep it firmly based in Tomas’ own small piece of the world. Dragons are usually in fantastical realms, but I loved the thought of them turning up in your back garden. Tomas is a little boy with a big imagination who looks at the world with his eyes wide open. (Which, let’s face it, is pretty important when you’re growing dragons and have to deal with their sparks and exploding poo!) But if he hadn’t, he might not have noticed the dragon fruit under all those brambles and nettles.

I think reading books where magical things happen in the everyday encourages us to keep looking at the world with wonder and imagination and joy. It helps train our minds to look for magic in everyday moments. And leads us to believe that anything is possible. Right now, noticing the small things and allowing our imagination to roam free for a while, feels more important than ever.

Here are five of my recent favourites that sprinkle some magic over the everyday world.

Bloom by Nicola Skinner

Sorrel Fallowfield is usually very good at following rules but when she discovers a packet of Surprising Seeds buried under a tree all that starts to change. I just loved everything about this book, it was one of my favourite reads from last year. It’s funny, original and a delight to read aloud. I’m really excited to read her next book, Storm, too.

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Fabulous, fresh and extremely funny, Bloom maps the delightful adventures of Sorrell – the school’s best-behaved girl – who discovers some unusual seeds and causes a wild and wonderful floral hubbub. An enticing, empowering tale about finding the courage to be yourself.
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Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

This series really has such a fantastic premise at its heart. After all, I can’t be the only one has dreamed of spending an afternoon with a favourite book character. Tilly’s adventures through the pages and the added mystery of what happened to her mother make this a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging page-turner. But which book would you choose to wander into?

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The brilliant opening story in the adventures of Tilly – the perfect heroine for all bibliophiles everywhere. Characters from classic children’s novels wander off the pages and join forces to help Tilly to discover what happened to her long lost mother. A tremendous reminder of the role of imagination in the pursuit of truth.
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The Imaginary by A F Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett

I’m a huge fan of A F Harrold’s books, they’re unique and wonderfully atmospheric. He manages to expertly balance being funny, scary and poignant. And the pairing with Emily Gravett is just spot on for me. Amanda finds out what it’s like to suddenly see your imaginary friend. But can she help save Rudger from the sinister Mr Bunting, who is trying to sniff him out?

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The Imaginary is a wonderfully moving, at once funny and startling story about friendship and the ability to dream things up – and one boy’s brave determination to protect both. Brimming with unforgettable characters, surprising twists and stunning illustrations by Emily Gravett, The Imaginary is a treat from start to finish.
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Skellig by David Almond

This is still one of my favourite books of all time and one I return to regularly. Michael’s family moves to a new house, but it’s an unsettling time – not just because of the move, but because his baby sister is seriously ill. Feeling alone and frightened, Michael stumbles into the dilapidated garage and finds a strange magical creature who needs his help. David Almond is such a master at layering the magical over the everyday. His writing both grounds us in this world and stretches us beyond. He never reveals everything, but leaves our imaginations free to explore and play with the story and ideas.

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A modern classic, Skellig is a life-affirming story about friendship and the power of kindness. At once deep, humorous and haunting, Almond’s Carnegie Medal winning tale is filled with huge emotions, quiet courage, abiding hope, and a fair bit of magic.
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Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

This is a magical story about friendship. When Livy returns to Australia to visit her grandmother after five years apart she discovers she has forgotten someone very important. Someone greenish and dressed in a chicken suit. But now it’s time to keep her promise and help Bob find his way home. I love the gentle telling of this story. It’s full of warmth and humour and Bob is a character who has stayed with me long after the final page was turned.

Bob
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Filled with warmth, wit and cosy magic, Bob is a whimsical and inspiring story of camaraderie and trust. Delightfully depicting the friendship between a girl and a mystical creature in search of a way back home, Bob explores the timeless questions of identity, belonging, loyalty and affection.
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