The best books to make you believe in magic

Why am I passionate about this?

I vividly remember the first time a book transported me—it was in Mrs. Paul’s second-grade math class, and I was reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader under the desk. It carried me away to a different world. I’ve been looking for that same magic in every book since, hoping to fall into a picture or open a wardrobe door to another place and time. This list contains a few of my favorites, the stories that have earned permanent spots on my shelves, the ones that get pulled down when I need some enchantment in my life. (And don’t we all need a little magic these days?)

I wrote...

Darling Girl

By Liz Michalski,

Book cover of Darling Girl

What is my book about?

Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy—yes, that Wendy. That is, until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, is missing.  Worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but very dangerous. Holly’s desperate to find Eden and protect her son, Jack, from a terrible web of family secrets before she loses them both. 

A certain reimagined pirate and fairy lend a hand, and while the magic of the classic Peter Pan is there, Darling Girl also explores the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Liz Michalski Why did I love this book?

I love all The Chronicles of Narnia books, but this one is my favorite.

How could it not be, with Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a boy almost as terrible as his name, as well as the giant-hearted talking mouse Reepicheep?

There are battles and adventures galore, but it’s also quieter than the other books in the series—the characters explore the landscape around them and wrestle with who they are and what they are becoming.

Written close to a century ago, there’s dated language and ideas for sure, but I’ve rarely found another story that captures so well the bittersweetness of growing up and facing grief and loss.

By C. S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A beautiful paperback edition of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, book five in the classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. This edition is complete with cover and interior art by the original illustrator of Narnia, Pauline Baynes.

A king and some unexpected companions embark on a voyage that will take them beyond all known lands. As they sail farther and farther from charted waters, they discover that their quest is more than they imagined and that the world's end is only the beginning.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the fifth book in C. S. Lewis's classic…

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

Liz Michalski Why did I love this book?

One of the first ‘grown-up’ magical books I ever read, it’s the gateway drug into the Arthurian Saga series.

Merlin is a young illegitimate boy struggling to find his place in the post-Roman world.

He has a keen intelligence that is often overlooked and a love of the natural world. It’s these two traits, as well as a knack for being in the right place at the right time, that are responsible for so much of his success later in life, as well as a low-key magic. 

A book to savor, with beautiful language and a setting you don’t so much read about as fall into. 

By Mary Stewart,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Crystal Cave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The spellbinding story of Merlin's rise to power.

Vivid, enthralling, absolutely first-class - Daily Mail

So begins the story of Merlin, born the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess in fifth century Britain, a world ravaged by war. Small and neglected, with his mother unwilling to reveal his father's identity, Merlin must disguise his intelligence - and hide his occasional ability to know things before they happen - in order to keep himself safe.

While exploring the countryside near his home, Merlin stumbles across a cave filled with books and papers and hiding a room lined with crystals. It is…

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Liz Michalski Why did I love this book?

Possibly my all-time favorite book ever.

It’s the story of Bod, adopted as a baby by the ghosts of the graveyard and by his guardian, the mysterious Silas, after his parents are murdered.

Living in the graveyard, Bod becomes friends with and is mentored by its inhabitants, who teach him a wide variety of things—how to read, for example, how to behave, and how to vanish. But the people who murdered Bod’s family are always searching for him, and Bod must use everything he’s learned plus his own wits and courage to survive.

The book is a marvelous metaphor for the bittersweet business of growing up, learning about the world, and leaving home. Bonus points for listening to the audiobook, which is read by the author himself. 

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Graveyard Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?

Book cover of The Dark is Rising

Liz Michalski Why did I love this book?

The second in the Dark Is Rising series, the story follows Will Stanton, last of the Old Ones.

On his eleventh birthday, he learns he is a warrior with great power, compelled to take part in the ancient cycle of battle between the Dark and the Light.

Moody, atmospheric, and with a carefully constructed backstory filled with Celtic folklore and the natural world, it’s beautifully written, sophisticated in a way children’s literature rarely is, and has echoed in my mind for years. 

By Susan Cooper,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Dark is Rising as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 11, 12, 13, and 14.

What is this book about?

On the Midwinter Day that is his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers a special gift-- that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. At once, he is plunged into a quest for the six magical Signs that will one day aid the Old Ones in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. And for the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight.

Book cover of An Unkindness of Magicians

Liz Michalski Why did I love this book?

Magic is real. To wield it requires sacrifice.

Its allegiance shifts and changes over time. To hold it, Houses of Magic put on an epic tournament at every Turning, where their best and brightest act as champions in battle. But what the champions don’t know, because their elders have never taught them, is that the magic itself draws from a dark source, and that source is crumbling.

Powerful magician Sydney has emerged from The House of Shadows to fight for a sponsor who wishes to establish his own house. But Sydney has first-hand experience with the darkness.

And she doesn’t want to help restore the establishment. She wants to burn it to the ground.

A fast-moving, gritty, wholly satisfying read. 

By Kat Howard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An Unkindness of Magicians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A remarkable writer." -Neil Gaiman, bestselling author of American Gods

An Alex Award Winner

There is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City and diminishing the city's magicians' power in this fantasy thriller by acclaimed author Kat Howard.

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney-a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney…

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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an impossible choice: betray the animals she’s fallen in love with—or give up her last chance at success and everything she thought she knew.

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…

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