The Magical Reality of Nadia  – Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly, illustrated by Douglas Holgate

The Magical Reality of Nadia  – Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly, illustrated by Douglas Holgate. Scholastic Inc., 2021. 9781338572285

 Format: Uncorrected proof

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

 Genre: fantasy

 What did you like about the book? 6th grade is starting, and fact-loving Nadia Youssef is excited to reunite with her group of friends, the so-called “Nerd Patrol,” and especially her BFF Adam.  A local museum has announced a contest for students to create a project that will be turned into a museum exhibit, and Nadia and her friends are certain they can win.  There is a new boy in class, Jason, whose bullying behavior and racist comments threaten to disrupt the bond between Nadia and Adam, as well as the Nerd Patrol’s unity and their success in the museum contest. Complicating matters even further is the arrival of Titi:  a 2,000 year old Egyptian teacher, who has been trapped in a hippopotamus amulet due to an ancient curse. Nadia spent the summer visiting family in Egypt and returned to her California home with the amulet as a souvenir, and she unwittingly releases Titi, but he only appears as an animated figure on the open page of her math notebook. Despite practical, factual Nadia’s initial resistance, Titi soon becomes a mentor and confidant for her. They figure out that Titi can free himself by helping Nadia solve seven problems.  He starts out with her math homework, but using Egyptian folklore, humor, and magic, finds a way to help Nadia rebuild her friendships and form new ones, and enlighten her community about her – and everyone’s – immigrant experience.

This take on the very important themes of confronting prejudice and promoting empathy is refreshingly humorous, realistically warm, and also somewhat unique in the introduction of the magical aspect and the focus on cultural history.  The dialog among Nadia and her friends is believable and authentic, as is the loving family dynamic between her and her parents, even while readers are expected to believe there is a cartoon Egyptian in Nadia’s notebook.  An  author’s note at the beginning provides some context, likely of more interest to adult readers than young ones; Bassem Youssef is a political satirist who based the book loosely on his own daughter following their family’s move to the U.S. from Egypt.  Comic book style illustrations lend further flair and humor to the story, and a prologue and epilogue set in Ancient Egypt hint at further tales to come.

Anything you did not like about the book?  Other adult characters ring a little less true – the school principal in particular is a caricature – and Titi is pretty obnoxious, bordering on unlikeable, at first.

 To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary fans of books like Save Me A Seat or American as Paneer Pie will certainly enjoy it!

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 2/16/2021

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