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  • Susan Stoderl

Magical Realism Enlightens Middle-Grade Book Series, Sophia of the Bright Red Sneakers

During my book launch on September 12, my co-host Jess Kotzer asked me what drew me to the magical realism genre.

In magical realism, everyday life settings are imbued with magical occurrences that are treated as ordinary. Sophia and Pedro think being able to telepath between themselves and certain animals is no different than a talent—like someone who is an excellent skater or can play the piano well.

Just as small children have imaginary friends, Sophia and Pedro have real-life animal friends who serve the role of imaginary friends. Imaginary friends can be the result of a child’s creative imagination, or a way of creating a world that is more comfortable or hospitable. The friends provide something that is missing from their real world. The telepathic animals complete Sophia and Pedro’s fractured families without discounting the adults who love them. The animals are smart and know firsthand the world is a harsh place—such as when the animal poachers kill Jack the Polar Bear’s mother—similar to Sophia’s parents dying in a suspicious car wreck when she was a few months old. Pedro has to worry about his mother’s immigration status and the fact his family must live most of the week apart when they deeply love each other.

The animals can comment upon a situation or what’s happening in their world in a satirical and humorous manner, but the intent is a serious reflection upon something not just or right. They project what the humans are thinking.

Real ravens are great inventors of tools to help themselves in the real world. They also mate for life. Wahoo's inventions allow him to live nicely in a harsh human world and to help the kids he fosters. When Jack’s mother is killed by the poachers, Wahoo adopts Jack as his son in gratitude for Jack’s mother always making sure Wahoo had the leavings of her hunts. Food was hard to find for an Arctic raven. Wahoo, as a mature bird who still mourns his mate, has no reason to stay in the Arctic Circle, so he follows his adopted son to the New York City Central Park Zoo.

For me, magical realism involves mysticism—a sense of spiritual communion with the character’s world. I didn’t realize this until I was filling out who the most influential authors were on my work for my Goodreads profile. They are William Kent Krueger, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and James Lee Burke. In each of their writings, there is always a spiritual component, with deep revelations about humanity, sometimes very dark.

In the interview with Jess, I said I was attracted to magical realism because of loving myths, which is true. But what are myths if not magical realism? However, I think my magical realism is a result of the influence of my favorite writers. There is certainly an amount—in some cases a large amount—of darkness in their writing, but their writing focuses on bringing light to that darkness. They place humanity under a powerful microscope tempered with empathy and understanding.


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