The best surreal, magical stories for silly children and strange adults

Lisa Jahn-Clough Author Of The Kids of Cattywampus Street
By Lisa Jahn-Clough

Who am I?

I admire the way children tell stories—how their imagination veers here and there, how fantasy and reality intertwine, and how magic can happen at any moment. I wrote stories like this when I was a kid and, fortunately, saved many of them. When writing The Kids of Cattywampus Street (my twentieth book), I went through these stories and recreated this narrator’s voice as the 8-year-old me with absurdity and confidence. I wanted to show a range of characters in a diverse world where kids believe in themselves, have the power to use their imagination, can get into and out of trouble on their own accord, are resilient, adaptable, strong, and just plain funny.


I wrote...

The Kids of Cattywampus Street

By Lisa Jahn-Clough, Natalie Andrewson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Kids of Cattywampus Street

What is my book about?

In this delightful chapter book, you'll meet Lionel, Lindalee, Hans, Matteo, Evelyn, Ursula, and others – the kids who live on Cattywampus Street, not far from the Waddlebee Toy Store.

Each of the eleven stories in this magical, mysterious, silly, scary, happy, and sometimes sad chapter book tells an utterly unforgettable tale about one of these kids. Whether it's about Lionel and his magic ball, which knows how to find him after it’s been stolen away; or Charlotta, who shrinks so small that she can fit inside her dollhouse; or Rodney, whose pet rock becomes the envy of all the kids on Cattywampus Street, here are stories sure to charm, captivate, and engage all readers of chapter books and anyone interested in the slightly absurd.

The books I picked & why

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Stories 1,2,3,4

By Eugène Ionesco, Etienne Delessert (illustrator),

Book cover of Stories 1,2,3,4

Why this book?

This is a collection of four related stories that follow a little girl named Josette, her Mama and Papa, and the maid, Jacqueline. Papa tells Josette some absurd stories within the story and everyone has a bizarre and seemingly random imagination. For example, Papa calls cheese a music box, a music box a rug, a rug a lamp, and so on. Mama can open walls. Josette eats the moon, and Jacqueline is one of many Jacquelines. The author, Ionesco was a French-Romanian playwright and considered one of the fathers of “Theatre of the Absurd” in the 1950s and 60s and these stories are surreal. Originally published in the early ’70s, this new edition contains Delassert’s equally surreal, colorful, and expressive illustrations.

Stories 1,2,3,4

By Eugène Ionesco, Etienne Delessert (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stories 1,2,3,4 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Back in print for the first time since the 1970s, these illustrated stories by one of the twentieth century’s great playwrights make ideal bedtime reading for young children. The “silly” stories, as Ionesco called them, are accompanied by nearly 100 full-color illustrations, painstakingly restored by the artist for this brand new edition.


The Rootabaga Stories

By Carl Sandburg,

Book cover of The Rootabaga Stories

Why this book?

These interrelated short stories are whimsical, sometimes melancholy, and often use nonsense language. My parents read these to me when I was a kid and I always listened intently and laughed hysterically, and later I read them to myself. Many of the stories are narrated by the Potato-Face-Blind-Man, an old minstrel of the Village of Liver-and-Onions who hangs out in front of the local post office. That says it all right there. This book creates a magical, fantasy world which provided me with fodder for the rest of my life. These have been a huge influence on me!

The Rootabaga Stories

By Carl Sandburg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rootabaga Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rootabaga Stories By Carl Sandburg


Poison for Breakfast

By Lemony Snicket,

Book cover of Poison for Breakfast

Why this book?

I am a huge fan of Lemony Snicket’s writing style, after all he calls my book extraordinary and claims it made him lose his mind. This latest of his is poignant, witty, and clever. The basic plot tells the one-day adventure of a man who upon discovering a note during eating breakfast claiming that he has been poisoned, sets out to uncover the mystery. But the book is so much more than its plot. It is full of brief moments of pause and philosophy that really get to the true absurdness of life. 

Poison for Breakfast

By Lemony Snicket,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Poison for Breakfast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the years since this publishing house was founded, we have worked with an array of wondrous authors who have brought illuminating clarity to our bewildering world. Now, instead, we bring you Lemony Snicket.

Over the course of his long and suspicious career, Mr. Snicket has investigated many things, including villainy, treachery, conspiracy, ennui, and various suspicious fires. In this book, he is investigating his own death.

Poison for Breakfast is a different sort of book than others we have published, and from others you may have read. It is different from other books Mr. Snicket has written. It could…


Dory Fantasmagory

By Abby Hanlon,

Book cover of Dory Fantasmagory

Why this book?

This young chapter book series wasn’t around when I was a kid but I would have 100 percent loved Dory, aka Rascal, and would have wanted to be just like her. I kind of still do. I love the way the author incorporates Dory’s inner zinging life—it really feels like being in the head of a six-year-old. The first-person narrative writing weaves in and out of Dory’s fantasy and reality so seamlessly that there is really no distinction—which is how life should be for every 6-year-old. This book is sweet, poignant, and absolutely hilarious to boot! 

Dory Fantasmagory

By Abby Hanlon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dory Fantasmagory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Move over, Junie B. Jones and Ivy & Bean! Here comes a lovably energetic little sister with a BIG personality-and an imagination to match!

As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention, and more than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she's too much of a baby for them, so she's left to her own devices-including her wild imagination and untiring energy. Her siblings may roll their eyes at her childish games, but Dory has lots of things to do: outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (aka time-out),…


Sideways Stories from Wayside School

By Louis Sachar, Adam McCauley (illustrator),

Book cover of Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Why this book?

This is a humorous collection of thirty related short stories that intertwine and connect to tell a story of a group of kids and teachers from Wayside School, which was built sideways. All the stories are a bit strange and silly. I love the distinct personality traits of each character and the direct, objective writing style which adds comicality as well as wit to the overall voice and tone of the book.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

By Louis Sachar, Adam McCauley (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sideways Stories from Wayside School as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There has been a terrible mistake. Instead of having thirty classrooms side by side, Wayside School is thirty storeys high! (The builder said he was sorry.) Perhaps that's why all sorts of strange and unusual things keep happening - especially in Mrs Jewls's classroom on the very top floor.

There's the terrifying Mrs Gorf, who gets an unusually fruity comeuppance; Terrible Todd, who always gets sent home early; and Mauricia, who has a strange ice-cream addiction. Meanwhile, John can only read upside down, and Leslie is determined to sell her own toes.

From top to bottom, Wayside is packed with…


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