Who hasn’t pictured them-self with a wand in hand casting spells, talking with animals, granting wishes, or saving the world? Books that spark our imagination are, well, magical. Fantastic stories help our hopes and dreams take flight. Those not-in-real-life things become real and make the impossible seem plausible, if not possible.
Long before Harry, children’s bookshelves were filled with wonderful, magical books that took “reality” in new, adventurous directions. Mary Poppins and Alice (in Wonderland) come to mind, as do Aslan (of Narnia fame, Dahl’s Matilda, and Peter Pan. There are so many others; in fact Goodreads has a list with 882 books!
Today’s list includes books you’ve not likely heard of, but that we would match well as read-alikes for some of the classics in the genre.
The Story of Princess Olivia by Charles D. Egbert
| illustrated chapter, ages 7 to 12 |
Olivia feels sorry for her parents. The Royal Bank account is empty, and they are sad. She really and truly wanted to help them, but doesn’t know how. When she went to the forest to dream up an idea, all she found was Hissy, her new pet snake! Meanwhile, the evil Count Carlos Maximillian von Dusseldorf was lurking about, looking to get rich. He spotted Olivia and, with the help of Georgette his Magical Minion, he kidnaps her for ransom. But remember, the royal coffers are empty! Will the King and Queen be able to save Princess Olivia?
Reminds readers of Roald Dahl.
Don’t mistake this for a “girl book.” The Story of Princess Olivia reads like a classic fairy tale (complete with a bad guy). Wordplay, humorous events, and quirky characters all add to the joy of reading this original fairy tale.
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
| middle grade, ages 8 to 14 |
When Vilna Lutz sent Peter (10) to the market, he expected the boy to return home with fish and bread. Instead, Peter spent that coin on a fortuneteller hoping she could tell him where to find his sister Adele. Surely, she could tell him where to find his sister Adele.
When the fortuneteller told Peter to “follow the elephant,” he was perplexed. There were no elephants in Baltese … well, until one fell through the roof of the Bliffendorf Opera House. Surely the path to Adele would be easier, right?
Reminds readers of old movie mystery or a Charles Dickens-like story.
Teen reader (13): The story has a feel of magic, but it’s not the main focus. Hope, dreams, and family are what shine through. The Magician’s Elephant is reminiscent of a fairy tale. I definitely recommend buying this book and keeping it forever. It can be reread and is suitable for most ages.
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou
| middle grade, ages 9 and Up |
Bostonian Kai is in Texas this summer, visiting her Great-Aunt Lavinia Quirk. Lavinia, whose personality matches her name, didn’t have kids or many guests, so Kai is on her own. Within a few hours of arriving in Texas, two things happened: she found The Exquisite Corpse, and she met Doodle, the girl across the street.
At the same time, Houstonian Leila is soaking in Lahore, Pakistan. She is happy to be away from her sister and excited for an “authentic cultural experience.” Exploring her uncle’s library, she spotted a book with an intriguing title: The Exquisite Corpse.
When the girls open their copy the first time, they see nearly blank pages. Then, they start adding words – not realizing the other is writing. But there’s someone else, too, because a story appears. They go back in time to the lives of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his first love, Edwina Pickle. Lelia and Kai could not tear themselves away from the book. Separately – and yet somehow together – the girls learn how we are connected to each other and through time.
Reminds readers of Aladdin, Pippi Longstocking, and The Princess Diaries.
Contemporary and realistic, but magical, too. Except for one pretty stereotypical bully, all the other characters are vivid and unique. The layers are exquisite, and readers can be in the past and the present at the same time in beautiful ways that are, as the story illustrates, connected. Believe it or not, The Exquisite Corpse is not the most magical part. But to explain it would reveal too much of the story.
This would be a great read-aloud at bed time, listening to as an audio book, or reading independently. Reluctant readers will appreciate the short chapters.
The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas [The Magic Thief, Book 1]
| middle grade, ages 9 to 16 |
Connwaer (aka “Conn”) is a thief who picks pockets and locks. When he lifts a magic stone from Nevery, one of the town’s highest ranking wizards, his life is changed forever. Touching that stone should have killed him, but it doesn’t. Nevery decides to bring Conn to his home, making him a servant and apprentice magician. Conn is now saved from a life on the street … but how safe is the city? This is the beginning of Conn’s journey to helping save his town from evil that is stealing magic.
Reminds readers of Harry Potter series or The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.
Teen reader (12): I was drawn to this book when I saw the word “magic” in the title. I thought it was going to be a good book after the first page, and I was right. It was a really fun book to read.
Parent reviewer: This is a great alternative to Harry Potter for kids who love magic and adventure but don’t like text-intense or “dark” books.
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