Sara Crewe is a real kid in some ways—she likes making up her own fairy tales, plays with dolls, and misses her daddy when he drops her off at school. But she manages to be more than just a little kid when she encounters rather unfortunate circumstances. In true orphaned-child fashion, Sara beats the odds and the mean adult in her life (ahem, Miss Minchin) and manages to rise above it all—at the mere age of eleven.
Sound familiar? This process of growing up when everyone is out to get you is pretty much the plot of every young adult novel ever. A Little Princess is in good company there.
No, there are no magical creatures. (Unless you count Emily.) But there is Magic, and even the characters in the book acknowledge that this sounds a lot like a fairy tale. The children of the Large Family think that "she will be so rich when she is found that she will be like a princess in a fairy tale" (17), and the girls at Miss Minchin's agree that the story is "quite as wonderful as any Sara herself had ever invented" (18).
So: a noble little girl abused and wretched, who's eventually whisked away from her misery to a life of fantastical wealth? Sounds a lot like a fairy tale to us. She even has a magical helper in the form of the Lascar's monkey and Melchisedec the rat. (And the first rule of fairy tales is—always be nice to the animals.