If you’ve ever been trapped reading a boring book to a young person, I feel your pain. These books are NOT boring. They’re really well written, and the art is beautiful and interesting. Even better, they’re about magic. Strange happenings, special powers, and mysterious characters. What’s not to love? I’d hand them to an adult looking for a light read, and give them to kids as gifts. There are a ton of children’s books about magic, especially picture books, but these are our absolute favorites.
The Moon Ring, by Randy Duburke. A fun picture book that should be on more diverse kids’ book lists! Maxine finds out that her grandmother wasn’t joking about the magic light of a blue moon. The story isn’t particularly complex, but it’s buoyed up by the exuberant art. Will be popular with any kids (or adults) who love comics, animation, adventure, or giraffes.
The lack of diversity in children’s books is a widely discussed and very sad state of affairs. And don’t even get me started on how hard it is to find a character with a disability in a children’s picture book unless it’s an “issue” book! I feel so passionately that all children benefit from reading a wide range of books so I like to show off the treasures when I uncover them. This book is definitely one of them.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. When Annabelle finds a box of yarn that never runs out, everything in her town gets colorful sweaters. When a greedy nobleman demands she give him the box, and she refuses, what will happen? Distinctive art style that really brings the subject matter to life. Barnett and Klassen are children’s picture book superstars, you can tell they really respect kids’ intelligence.
Cows Can’t Fly by David Milgrim. Many children love stories where the adults don’t have a clue, and the kids know the real deal. This is one of those books and it’s really cute and funny. Apparently no one told the cows that their flying was absurd!
Dog Biscuit by Helen Cooper. Bridget is hungry while visiting Mrs. Blair, and finds a stash of dog biscuits in the shed. She eats one. “Oh my,” says Mrs. Blair, “you’ll go bowwow and turn into a dog.” She desperately wishes she hadn’t eaten the biscuit, but by nightfall she’s transformed, and called out into the magical world of dogs. It all ends just fine, but Bridget is truly frightened by Mrs. Blair’s tease, so I think our kiddo picked up on that. Bridget’s mom is 100% comforting and supportive when Bridget confesses, and Mrs. Blair apologizes, so I did appreciate the adults’ reaction to a child’s “irrational” fears. Boy Detective at three years old was really creeped out by this book. We read it again just recently, when he was six, and he found it fascinating.
The Magic Box by Katie Cleminson. I fell for this book because of the art. The gorgeous colors and the beautifully drawn animals are worth lingering over. Any child who’s wanted to do magic tricks, or made wishes, will probably find the story very interesting.
Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin, with art by Ana Juan. If your kiddo likes magic of any kind, this one’s a win. Elena’s daughter scoffs at her desire to follow in his glassblowing footsteps, because she’s a girl. She’s not willing to take no for an answer. Her journey to Monterrey to learn the art is filled with enchantment, and her eventual triumph has us saying “See? Told ya so!” In a nice way, of course.
Martin’s Hats by Joan W. Blos, illustrated by Marc Simont. It’s all about imagination, as Martin’s changing hats lead him through all kinds of adventures and occupations. This one might be harder to find than some of the others here, but it’s worth it.
Tuesday by David Wiesner. No one told the cows from Cows Can’t Fly that they should stay on the ground, and a similar memo never got to the frogs in Tuesday. This is a beautifully painted wordless book that made me re-think my antagonism to wordless children’s books. Wiesner won a Caldecott for this, and rightly so.
Chalk by Bill Thomson. A wordless picture book about art, imagination, and magic, with a diverse cast. Also, a big dinosaur. The visuals are gorgeous, and the story has just enough suspense as drawings in the park take on a life of their own. (See, I might have avoided this if not for David Wiesner, and then I would have missed out!)
Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat by Bryan Langdo. The Old West and magic aren’t topics you usually think of together, but I’m glad Langdo did. I’m also glad that Slim stopped to talk to the coyote, took the proffered hat, and agreed to deliver the letter, because without that, his adventures would never have begun. Note: Pay attention to the alarms on the celebratory chili. When Boy Detective realized what was going on with that, he cracked up.
Journey by Aaron Becker. You’ve probably heard about Journey already, because it’s almost impossibly awesome, and tons of people who have read it have flipped out over it and told everyone they knew, especially on their blogs. But if you have not read it yet, you need to fix that. It’s a wordless adventure book that begins when a bored little girl uses a red piece of chalk to draw a doorway out of her room into a magical kingdom. An homage to Harold and the Purple Crayon, sure, but also its own thing. You can clearly see the influence of Becker’s travels to Japan, East Africa, and Europe. Gorgeous!
Lost and Found by Bill Harley, illustrated by Adam Gustavson. I came across this book randomly, and I’m so glad I did. What starts as a fairly straightforward “kid lost his hat, needs to find it” story turns into something more magical as the narrator overcomes his fear of school janitor Mr. Rumkowsky and starts to dig into the colossal Lost and Found box. I also particularly enjoyed that his group of friends included both girls and boys, as well as multicultural diversity.
The Hired Hand by Robert D. San Souci with pictures by Jerry Pinkney. Gorgeous folktale set in the 1700s at a sawmill in Virginia owned by an African-American family. Dad is hardworking and honest, his son is the opporsite. When a magical stranger arrives to work at the sawmill, the son sees an opportunity… which won’t turn out the way he’d hoped! A lot of powerful themes in this one. (Maybe for slightly older kids since someone does temporarily die.)
Bird by Beatriz Martin Vidal.
This is one of the most beautiful, strangest, most intriguing children’s books I’ve ever read. It begins with a bird flying through a dark sky, while a young person in white is getting ready… for what exactly? Nothing about the narrative is handed to you, but you’re pulled along as the bird makes progress and the young person is clearly waiting for something. I don’t know whether to classify this as fantasy or science fiction, though I lean towards the former. Or maybe it’s unclassifiable.
The back cover says “Let Your Imagination Fly.” If engaging the imagination was Vidal’s goal, she’s succeeded. The art is delicate, sophisticated, and clearly done with great care. (Some of it is watercolor, and some colored pencil, I think?) Absolutely worth reading with a child, or on your own.
The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche
Point 1 in favor of this book: jaw-droppingly beautiful cut paper illustrations. Point 2 in favor of this book: magic. Always good! Point 3: possibly the first children’s picture book I have EVER read with a main character who has a disability, but disability isn’t the focus of the book.
Two sisters find a small bunny out in the snow, and initially bring it in to warm up, but then realize they must return it outside. One sister uses a wheelchair, and she keeps up just fine until one of her wheels gets snagged on a bush. Neither of them can dislodge it, so the no-wheelchair sister sits in her lap for warmth while they try to figure out what to do. This story could just as easily have been the non-wheelchair-using sister getting her foot caught in a hole in the ground, and the girls are clearly both in this together, equal partners.
I am a little concerned that no parents or guardians seem to have noticed these two girls are out in the snowy woods and it’s getting dark. What’s up with that? But I guess the outcome would be less magical if Dad or Auntie showed up with a lantern and some gardening shears.
And that’s the list of our favorite children’s books about magic! Thanks for reading!