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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Upside-Down Magic is the first installment of a new series from bestselling-author collaborators Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins about middle schoolers grappling with magical powers that don't quite work as planned -- powers that land them in what female protagonist Nory describes as "a particular class for the worst of the wonky." Reluctant readers and kids who get hassled for being "different" will like this fast-moving tale for its relatable issues, appealing characters, and plentiful humor, some of which involves poop, especially from some of Nory's more out-of-control transformations. A mean prank puts a kid in serious danger, but his friends save the day. This is a fine choice for families looking for books with diverse characters; Nory is biracial, and racial differences among the kids are treated matter-of-factly. The middle school principal takes a firm stand against bias and bullying: "I will not tolerate unkindness about race, gender, orientation, family background, religion, weight, magical abilities, favorite candy, or anything else that distinguishes one person from another."
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What's the story?
Ten-year-old Elinor Boxwood Horace, who goes by Nory, is hard at work practicing her magic for the entrance exam at Sage Academy, an elite school for kids with magical powers. It ought to be easy -- after all, her older siblings are doing great there, and her father is the headmaster. Unfortunately, every time she tries something perfectly simple, such as turning into a kitten, some other critter gets into the act, and when she turns into a half-dragon/half-kitten, aka dritten, she flunks the test big-time. And not only does she have to move in with her aunt Margo and go to public school, she's stuck in the UPSIDE-DOWN MAGIC class for kids whose magic is a bit off. Classmates include airborne Andres, who floats above the ground; Pepper, whose "gift" involves terrifying everyone; and Elliott, who freezes things instead of setting them on fire. All she can think of is becoming "normal" so she can leave the class behind and go back to her family -- but when the chance comes, will she take it?
Is it any good?
Best-selling authors Mlynowski, Myracle, and Jenkins deliver crowd-pleasing elements like slapstick humor and heartfelt emotions in a tale of middle schoolers whose powers are a bit different. Nory's hilarious misadventures (let's just say drittens, bittens, skunkephants, and other creatures have a lot of fun making a big mess, which Nory then has to deal with), her struggles to fit in, and her discovery of new possibilities will keep the pages turning and will resonate with just about every kid whose life isn't 100 percent perfect. With a sequel already in the works, there's more to look forward to.
Upside-Down Magic also gets points for its matter-of-fact, non-preachy handling of diversity: The characters' ethnicities are as varied as their magical powers, which is mentioned briefly and not belabored. "Why are you black when your aunt's white?" Nory's new friend asks. "My dad's black. My mom was white," she says, and that's pretty much the end of it as they get on with the story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about being different in some way -- and why some people use others' differences as an excuse to be mean to them. Do you know any examples among the people you know?
Stories about kids with magical powers are pretty popular. How does this one compare with others you've read?
If you had a chance to do something you really wanted, but it would involve leaving all your friends behind forever, what would you do?
- Authors: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Emily Jenkins
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic
- Publication date: September 29, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 208
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.