THE MAGICAL REALITY OF NADIA by Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly is a lot of fun, and it deals with the usual middle grade topics of changing friendships, conflicts and bullying, self-identity, and even group work challenges. All this is intermingled with a healthy dose of magic in the form of an ancient Egyptian teacher who is trapped in an amulet. With “fun facts” strewn throughout the novel and likable main and supporting characters, this will be a favorite read for many adventure lovers.
Nadia, the main character, begins her 6th grade year with pride in her Egyptian heritage and with her best friend Adam by her side. Soon, however, a new kid disrupts her positivity by distracting her best friend and being a rude and bigoted bully about Nadia’s lunches, appearance, and clothing. The novel does a great job following different students’ responses and Nadia’s personal feelings about how the bullying makes her feel. Her choice to stop wearing clothing that celebrates her Egyptian identity will feel heartbreakingly familiar to many of us. (It doesn’t last too long!)
The inclusion of a magical cartoon teacher named Titi (he was trapped for centuries inside a hippo amulet that Nadia brings back from Egypt) ensures that the novel has surprises and twists, and his character is a really interesting addition to the usual middle grade drama. Then illustrations by Douglas Holgate are just as expressive as the characters, and will help readers picture what’s going on. Titi’s abilities grow over time, and his antics are both silly and informative. Did you know that some ancient Egyptian tombs had toilets? Titi makes sure to bring Nadia to one via his magical abilities. He also helps Nadia and her friends pull off an impossible project finale; it feels a bit deus ex machina, but it works.
Especially interesting is the treatment of the different levels of bullying and complicated behavior between friends. An emphasis on communication and understanding is present without being condescending or oversimplified. Happily, THE MAGICAL REALITY OF NADIA is a delightful story that ends with a promise for further adventures in the second installment.