Quicksmiths

Middle grade & YA books with music

Are you a musician, or do you just love music? Perhaps you know someone who does. If so, try these  personal recommendations to keep up your reading tempo. Scroll on to explore middle-grade and YA fantasy must-reads with musical themes, followed by an extra section of musical books set in the real world.

If you find this list useful, and want to get a copy of a recommended book, please consider purchasing them using the Amazon links on this page or via Bookshop.org. These links pay a very small commission and it helps me (Loris) to keep writing as well as supporting the brilliant authors whose works are recommended here. Quick reviews and links for Quicksmiths books are included at the top for those who haven’t read them.

Fantastical musical tales

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith

Kip Bramley receives a mysterious invitation to join Quicksmiths, a school for sideways thinkers who harness Strange Energy to create impossible inventions. Guided by the riddles of the enigmatic Eartha Quicksmith, Kip and his friends uncover ancient secrets and face mind-bending challenges in a world where hidden science bends reality out of shape.

Things to love

  • Nailbiting countdown: Ten riddles must be solved in ten days, if Team Glowflyer are to find the mysterious treasure known as the Ark of Ideas – ideal for middle-grade action addicts.
  • Instrumental inspirations: Whimsical instruments created using the Strange Energy Thoughtwaves await you – from the Heartsichord which plays how an audience is feeling, to the deadly glockenspiel which infuses its listeners with anger.
  • Interactive: The book contains a bonus visual riddle and hidden object game, so you can participate actively in the story, as well as solving the ten riddles along with Kip and his friends.

Top tip: Visit the Fun Stuff area of the Quicksmiths website to get help with finding all the Quicket symbols in the book, and solving the bonus riddle hidden in the ten illustrations.

Reading range: 9-13

The Myriad Mysteries of Eartha Quicksmith

In book 2 of the upper middle grade Quicksmiths series, Kip and his friends face old enemies and new dangers, and discover that Strange Energy is even stranger than they had first imagined. When a freak accident separates the team, Kip and Timmi are plunged into the Myriads, a labyrinth of multiverses swirling with danger, surprise and intrigue.

Things to love

  • Multiverse mayhem: Take the oddest things you can think of, throw in some eyestalks, a ziggurat, some purple mini-gorillas, and a shapeshifting scarab beetle, shake them up in a bag of other odds and ends, and you might just end up with something like the Myriads.
  • Instrumental Inspirations: I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like the Memoria Technica – the bizarre glass piano which plays Eartha Quicksmith’s secret 400-year-old messages in musical form.
  • Interactive: The book contains a bonus visual riddle and hidden object game, so you can participate actively in the story, as well as solving the main riddles along with Kip and his friends.

Top tip: Don’t be daunted if you can’t crack the riddles on your own before the characters do – don’t forget Team Glowflyer has six members all helping to solve the riddles!

Reading range: 9-13

The Mystwick School of Musicraft

Amelia Jones dreams of attending the Mystwick School of Musicraft, where students use music to cast spells. As she navigates her way through auditions and challenges, Amelia must master the art of musicraft to unlock her magical potential and protect her new friends. With grand musical sequences and a plot that hits all the right notes, this book will keep readers of all ages spellbound.

Things to love

  • Magical melodies: Imagine a world where music is more than just sound—it’s a source of magic. At Mystwick, students learn to play instruments that produce powerful spells, giving every note a power of its own.
  • Instrumental Inspirations: From enchanting flutes to magical orchestras, the book is a symphony of musical enchantment. Amelia’s journey to master her flute and other instruments is filled with captivating musical moments.
  • Facing the Necromuse: Amelia not only has to deal with school pressures and competitions but also faces the dangerous Necromuse and his mysterious orchestra.

Top Tip: Tune in to the audiobook version for an immersive experience with original compositions that bring the magic of Mystwick to life. Perfect for aspiring musicians and fantasy lovers!

Reading range: Ages 8-12

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Luna, a girl with magical abilities, is raised by a good witch who accidentally feeds her moonlight. As Luna grows, she must learn to control her powers - enchanting songs that resonate with the natural world. Her journey to uncover the mystery of her past and her musical heritage is intertwined with the lives of those in her village and far beyond. Perfect for fans of whimsical fairytales.

Things to love

  • Moonlight, magic and mystery: Luna’s magic is closely connected to the moon and nature. The interplay of mystical themes, music, and moonlight creates a unique and delightful fantasy.
  • Instrumental inspirations: Luna’s songs have the power to control natural elements, summon powerful forces, and bring life to inanimate objects.
  • Magical cast: Characters include the wise and kind Xan, the poetic swamp monster Glerk, and the tiny yet brave dragon Fyrian. Luna also faces the sinister Sister Ignatia, who thrives on the sorrow of others.

Top tip: Best enjoyed on moonlit nights with the curtains open, and soft magical melodies in the background. Read aloud occasionally to fully appreciate the musicality of Barnhill’s writing

Reading range: 10-14

The Nevermoor Trilogy

Morrigan Crow, a cursed child destined to die on her eleventh birthday, is whisked away to the magical world of Nevermoor by the enigmatic Jupiter North. In this fantastical world, Morrigan must compete in a series of trials to join the Wundrous Society and uncover the truth about her extraordinary abilities, including a surprising connection to music. Three is a magic number - I recommend the triology.

Things to love

  • Hidden city: The secret city of Nevermoor is a vibrant world filled with odd sights and peculiar traditions. The Hotel Deucalion is a marvel in its own right with its own quirky personality and residents, including Fenestra, the unusual head of housekeeping. Transport in Nevermoor includes the Wunderground train system, and the Brolly Rail (I’ll let you guess what that is!).
  • Instrumental inspiration: Music plays a significant role in Nevermoor, with enchanted instruments and rhythmic challenges woven into the trials Morrigan faces (no spoilers!) These tests require her to think creatively and trust her
    newfound friends, and all the while the threat of the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow is looming.
  • Fantastical creatures: The world of Nevermoor is populated with an array of magical creatures from talking cats to vampire dwarfs and of course dragons. Fans of mythical beasts won’t be disappointed.

Reading range: Ages 8-12

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru Shah, a middle schooler with a penchant for telling tall tales, lights a forbidden lamp on a dare, unwittingly unleashing an ancient demon. With the help of a mystical musical instrument and guidance from wise beings, Aru embarks on a quest to save the world from impending destruction. There are five books in the series, all worth every penny.

Things to love

  • Cultural kaleidoscope: The rich detail of Hindu mythology offers a deep dive into emblems of folkelore less commonly explored in mainstream literature. Characters like Hanuman, the monkey-faced demigod, and the Council of Guardians, including apsaras and sages, bring these myths vibrantly to life.
  • Instrumental inspirations: The celestial conch, a magical musical instrument, is crucial to Aru’s quest. This conch’s music has the power to summon divine beings and influence events, making it an essential tool in Aru’s battle against the demon.
  • Witty wonders: Packed with the kind of humorous moments and clever dialogue I can’t get enough of. Aru’s guide, a pigeon named Boo, adds both wisdom and comic relief. Aru’s banter with her pal Mini, and the quirky, sarcastic characters they meet along the way is a joy.

Top Tip: Take the opportunity to brush up on your Hindu mythology to fully appreciate the cultural references.

Reading range: 9-12

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

Twins Alex and Conner Bailey are transported into a magical book that leads them to the Land of Stories, where fairy tales come to life. To return home, they must find the ingredients for the Wishing Spell, encountering enchanted musical instruments and magical creatures along the way.

This is the first in a six-book series, so if you love it, as I did, there are plenty more to enjoy.

Things to love

  • Fairytale fusion: The Land of Stories reimagines age-old fiction in hilarious and unexpected ways. Goldilocks is now a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood rules her own kingdom, and Queen Cinderella is about to become a mother. These familiar characters take on new roles and adventures, adding depth and excitement to the story.
  • Instrumental inspiration: During their quest, Alex and Conner encounter enchanted instruments including a magical harp and a flute with unique powers, helping them to reach faraway places or find help in unexpected ways (no spoilers!)
  • Siblings in sync: Alex and Conner’s sibling bond and teamwork are at the heart of the story. Their humorous back-and-forth make them hugely relatable for middle grade readers.

Top Tip: Watch modern twists on classic fairytales like “Shrek” or “Puss in Boots,” and enjoy having a family discussion about what all these stories have in common, and what sets them apart.

Reading range: Ages 8-12

Echo

Echo weaves together the lives of three children across different eras, all connected by the power of a magical harmonica. From pre-World War II Germany to Depression-era Pennsylvania and 1940s Southern California, this harmonica brings hope and courage in times of adversity.

Things to love

  • Tapestry of tales: Historical fiction with a touch of fantasy blends three interconnected stories. Journey through the trials of Friedrich, facing Nazi oppression in Germany, Mike, an orphan navigating the Great Depression, and Ivy, who deals with racism and the impact of Japanese internment camps in California.
  • Instrumental inspiration: The  harmonica finds its way into the hands of each child, symbolising hope and unity. This simple instrument transforms into a beacon of resilience, and makes its presence deeply felt throughout the story.
  • Echoes of experience: Each child’s story resonates with themes of injustice and perseverance, hope and courage: Friedrich’s passion for music under Nazi rule, Mike’s bond with his brother in a harsh orphanage, and Ivy’s fight against racial segregation.

Top Tip: Get hold of a harmonica and practice a few notes to get you in the mood before you read.

Reading range: 9-13

The Sound of Stars

In a dystopian future where Earth is controlled by the alien Ilori, all forms of art, including music, are forbidden. Seventeen-year-old Janelle "Ellie" Baker runs a secret library. When M0Rr1S, an Ilori who loves human music, discovers her library, they form a unique alliance to save humanity through the power of music and stories. Yay!

Things to love

  • Forbidden art: In an oppressive world, the banning of music and books creates a tinderbox of danger and rebellion, in which Ellie’s secret library becomes a symbol of resistance and hope. This is written for anyone who has ever suffered for their music or their art.
  • Instrumental inspiration: Music is a central theme in this narrative. M0Rr1S’s fascination with human music and Ellie’s clandestine efforts to preserve it highlight music’s power to connect and heal, even across different species.
  • Sci-fi culture: The Ilori, who control Earth, maintain a strict society devoid of creative expression. Born in a lab, M0Rr1S was raised to follow the Ilori’s emotionless ways but is irresistibly drawn to human art, especially music. The advanced technology and cultural rigidity of the Ilori contrast sharply with the human spirit of creativity, improvisation and resilience.

Top Tip: Make a playlist of alien or space-inspired tracks, and don’t forget the original Star Wars Cantina cafe tune!

Reading range: 12+

Real-world musical tales

Bud, Not Buddy

During the Great Depression, Bud Caldwell, a ten-year-old orphan (or is he?) sets off on a journey to find his father. Armed with a suitcase filled with flyers of a jazz musician he believes to be his father, Bud’s journey is both heartwarming and humorous as he navigates the challenges of life on the road.

Things to love

  • Jazz-age journey:  Readers are transported to 1930s America as the sound of jazz echoes from speakeasies and Flint, Michigan, comes alive with descriptions of gritty streets, the clanking of assembly lines, and the warmth of makeshift homes in the camps.
  • Instrumental inspiration: Music and a riddle are at the heart of Bud’s journey, as the jazz flyers in his suitcase are his only clues to finding Herman E. Calloway. Budding musicians will love the scenes featuring band rehearsals, performances, and the camaraderie among musicians, highlighting how music becomes a beacon of hope and resilience for Bud and others during tough times.
  • Humour and heart: Bud’s voice is both witty and thoughtful, making him a character that middle-grade readers will instantly root for. I took notes from his “Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” – never too late to learn!

Top Tip: Jazz isn’t just a genre here; it’s a symbol of hope and a beacon guiding Bud on his quest. Also, listen to jazz!

Reading range: 12+

The Clockwork Three

In a city teeming with secrets and adventures, three children—Giuseppe, an orphaned street musician; Hannah, a maid in a grand hotel; and Frederick, an apprentice clockmaker—find their lives intertwined as they embark on a journey to uncover their pasts and shape their futures.

Things to love

  • Steampunk splendour: A richly imagined world  filled with magical, old-world charm and technological marvels, from intricate clockwork creations to hidden treasures.
  • Instrumental inspiration: Giuseppe’s green violin is a crucial element of the story. It’s not just a source of hauntingly beautiful music but also a key to his past and a beacon of hope for his future.
  • Historical inspirations: The fictional city is inspired by real historical elements, blending the charm of late-19th-century American coastal cities with imaginative details. The hidden  passages and mechanical creations are based on real historical craftsmanship and urban  legends.

Reading range: 9-13

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

In 1849, California is the place to be, but not for Lucy Whipple. Her mother drags her from their comfortable home in Massachusetts to the rough-and-tumble mining town of Lucky Diggins. Lucy dreams of returning east, but the trials and adventures of the Gold Rush era slowly reshape her dreams and her understanding of home.

Things to love

  • Gold Rush adventure: The Gold Rush was a vibrant, transformative and often chaotic time in American history. Vivid descriptions of the dusty, bustling streets of Lucky Diggins, the relentless noise of pickaxes, and the sights of panning for gold provide a rich backdrop for Lucy’s story.
  • Instrumental inspiration: Music plays a subtle yet significant role in the story, providing comfort and a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. Lucy’s connection to the folk songs and work chants of the miners reflect the era’s hardships and hopes.
  • Dear diary: Like “Dear Mr. Henshaw” by Beverly Cleary and “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” Lucy’s diary provides a personal glimpse into her life during challenging times, but her resilience and wit rarely flag.
Top Tip: Keep a journal like Lucy – it’s a great way to keep track of the stories you read, and how they mirror your own life.

Reading range: 9-13

Freewater

Homer and his sister Ada escape from a plantation in the Deep South to find refuge in a hidden community called Freewater, deep in the swamp. This safe haven is home to other runaway slaves, along with freeborn children, each with their own stories of struggle and resilience. Freewater becomes Homer and Ada's new home as they navigate the complexities of newfound freedom and resistance.

Things to love

  • Secret sanctuary: Freewater is a gloriously self-sufficient society in the midst of nature, complete with camouflaged tree patrols and clever traps to protect against intruders. Homer and Ada’s journey through tangled vines, secret doorways, and over a sky bridge captures the ingenuity and resilience of this hidden haven.
  • Instrumental inspiration: Spirituals and songs are woven throughout the narrative, reflecting the characters’ emotions and personal stories. The music becomes a lifeline, echoing themes of hope and resistance.
  • Daring rescue plan: Homer and Ada must dig deep to find new courage when Freewater is threatened by a unexpected danger, and after all that’s happened they must risk everything to save their mother.

Reading range: 9-12

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Ten-year-old Zoe dreams of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall, but instead ends up with an organ when her bumbling father buys it by mistake. Despite the setback, Zoe enters an organ competition and discovers that perfection comes in many forms.

Things to love

  • Father-daughter duo: Despite his social anxiety and odd quirks, Zoe’s dad is a kind and loving father, who builds her a practice space and encourages her musical journey. Their bond is filled with humorous and touching moments, highlighting the beauty of imperfect family relationships.
  • Instrumental inspiration: The music in Zoe’s life serves as a metaphor for her personal growth and resilience. The quirky organ becomes a character in its own right.
  • Music teachers who rock: like all music teachers, Mabeline Person offers more than just lessons, providing Zoe with wisdom and encouragement. Her advice to focus on the joy of playing, rather than perfection, is timeless.

Top Tip: Zoe daydreams about her musical future. Daydreaming is awesome and we should all do it more often. Create time in your day to daydream and see where it takes you.

Reading range: 9-12

Do you have your own recommendation for a middle grade or YA book with music at its heart that belongs on this list? Don’t delay – send a message by Thoughtwave Lens here!

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