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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Magical Realism/ Historical Fiction: The New IT GENRE

As mentioned in an earlier post and well-worded by loyal reader Leonard magical realism/historical fiction seems to be this years new IT sub genre!

As fun as it would be to debate the meaning of magical realism I will leave you with this BookRiot article and definition: a story that uses magical elements to make points about reality. In the wise words of my better blogging half Steven.

“Sometimes genre placement can lead us to rate a book based on how it fits into what we’ve read before; or how it breaks away from conventional forms. Those are worth considering as we evaluate, but in the end we have to focus on the specific choices the author makes and how they contribute to the book’s individual elements of distinction.”

Genre info being said, let’s take a look at three titles “THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO,” “ALMOST THERE AND ALMOST NOT” and “THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY,” that can loosely be called “historical fiction/ magical realism” and see if they are Newbery worthy!

THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO by Shing Yin Khor. I binged this one over the weekend and it may be my most recent frontrunner. Folklore, historical fiction, magical realism- this title has it all. Of course it’s a graphic novel so I must do the obligatory line of HOW MUCH ARE WE JUDGING THE PICTURES VS/ THE TEXT? But really, I think the themes in this book of identity and destiny ring so strong that this book must be considered.

This featured title ALMOST THERE AND ALMOST NOT by Linda Urban is dedicated to Leonard (so I’m waiting to hear your thoughts). Characterization stands out most to be here, watching great-great-great-great aunt Eleanor come to terms with who she is and her past, California figure out who she is and what she needs and Aunt Monica find herself after her husband passed away.

THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY was very reminiscent of HURRICANE CHILD to me. I think Marie Arnold did an excellent job tackling racism and fitting in with a magical element. These difficult themes can seem impossible to balance and Arnold succeeded.

What do you think of these three titles or any other historical fiction/ magical realism (PEACEMAKER AND OPHIE’S GHOSTS) could possibly fit the bill.

About Emily Mroczek-Bayci

Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at


  1. I loved Ophie’s Ghosts, particularly the melding of historical with supernatural. THe connect between Clara and Ophie was so real. I also loved how well Ireland used other points of view in different parts of the story.
    I hope to read The Legend of Auntie Po someday. Definitely hope it becomes an audiobook.

  2. Rox Anne Close says

    I enjoyed reading THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY by Arnold. I loved the rich Haitian culture sprinkled throughout the book and the references of Haitian respect for magic. I would have like to know even more about the Haitian magic culture and the ancestral world. I thought the ‘Interpretation of the Theme’ was strong. As a reader, you really experience the discrimination and hardships that Gabriella went through, navigating her new life in the United States, and tackling the issues of trying to assimilate without losing her own culture and trying to be true to herself. The protagonist, Gabriella was strong, She was funny, yet sensitive and observant, with a wonderful gift of being able to see what others typically don’t see. She had many lessons to learn. I really enjoyed the character of Rocky the Rat, he was funny and clever. Overall I think first generation immigrants can strongly relate to Gabriella and what she was experiencing.

  3. Loyal reader here! But I read ALMOST THERE AND ALMOST NOT over 5 months ago, so I’m going to be fuzzy. I remember thinking this book was really easy to underrate. On Goodreads, I wrote, “There are topics and themes and devices here that are in many other recent books, books that get lauded for being “unflinching.” But I actually think it must be much easier to write those kinds of books (because there are rather a lot of them) than what Linda Urban does here which is kind of unique.” I think Urban does “flinch” from difficult potentially traumatic subjects, but out of compassion she doesn’t write a book that hammers young readers (and get called brave for it.) I wrote she found “[her] own, often luminous, way to tell this story, [which] seems to me more courageous than books that seem to make a point of being raw.” It’s too bad we can’t compare this with some of last year’s books (like maybe A Game of Fox & Squirrels) because I think that would help convey what I am trying to get at.

    I liked OPHIE’S GHOSTS too. Rather similar book, yes? As an older person, Urban’s quieter book appeals to me more, but I can readily understand liking OPHIE better.

  4. Meredith BUrton says

    You sold me, Mr. Kim. Looking forward to reading Almost There and Almost NOt.

    I just finished THe Beatryce Prophecy, which I read at breakneck speed. Incredible book. HOw do you all feel about historical fiction with elements of fantasy woven into it? Is magical realism more correlated with “real world” events? BY that I mean, how is magical realism different from fantasy? I’m loving how authors are defying genres more often. It’s nice to be able to have a challenge categorizing certain books.

  5. Rox Anne Close says

    Leonard you enticed me to read your selections. I ordered both books ALMOST THERE AND ALMOST NOT and HARRY VERSES THE FIRST 100 DAYS OF SCHOOL and am reading both this week. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  6. Aryssa Damron says

    Yup! Definitely THE genre of MG this year—but I loved Da Vinci’s cat

  7. Leonard Kim says

    Just finished AUNTIE PO, and I guess I was expecting Auntie to play a larger role. As far as representing imagination-as-lifeline, I preferred FRIENDS FOREVER (though I am not advocating it for a Newbery, especially after having just reread HARRY.) I hope someone can better explain the Auntie Po device to me. There is some assertion that she is created and visible for those who need comfort, but Mei is already so assured and surprisingly unthreatened that her need for Auntie didn’t feel completely credible to me. I think I would have preferred a book with either a lot more Auntie and more mythic or almost none at all and told just as historical fiction.

  8. Jessica Migliorini says

    An older title now, but one that I think fits in this magical realism/historical fiction subgenre is Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.

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