Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Miracle, & Emily Jenkins
Grades 3-6, 198 pgs
Almost Fifth-grader Nory has a problem. She is expected to attend her upper-level education at the prestigious Sage Academy for magic, where her father is head master and both her siblings attend. But Nory's magic isn't "normal". Her talent is that of a "Fluxer", the ability to transformer herself into animal form. Only Nory doesn't transform into a simple animal. She turns into a weird hybrid animal, which she has an impossible time controlling. After a particularity disastrous admissions test, Nory is declined admission to Sage. Instead Aunt Margo, an aunt she barely knows, shows up and whisks Nory away (literally--she's a "flyer") and takes Nory to her home, where Nory must attend Dunwiddle School in a special class for children with "upside-down" magic. Nory meets a friend on the way to school named Elliott, who is a "Flare", but instead of setting things on fire, Elliott freezes them. Their new teacher is Ms. Starr and she attempts to show the magical misfits, who include a flying boy who can't come down, a boy who can't help transforming himself into a rock and getting stuck, and a girl who terrifies animals, that "different" isn't "bad". Nory begins to make some friends in her class, until a disastrous incident in the cafeteria alienates her new classmates. Eventually the kids come around and welcome Nory back to the fold. Nory and Eliiott devise a plan to escape the "misfit" class and re-enter main-stream magic. A mysterious book appears on Nory's desk instructing her on how to contain her "good" magic in a box and push out the "wonky" magic. Nory and Elliott practice like mad to control their wonky magic and eventually schedule a re-due with the principal to try to place out of their present class and into the mainstream. The demonstration goes well, but is it enough to place them in the traditional class? And do they want to be there anyway? And who put that book on controlling the magic on Nory's desk in the first place? All is revealed by book's end.
The powerhouse team of Mlynowski ("Whatever After" series), Lauren Myracle (too many series to mention), and Emily Jenkins (also known as E. Lockhart) create together an exciting new series of books for young people. Much lighter and for a younger audience than Harry Potter, the novice wizards' adventures are more humorous than sinister. The troubles Nory and her friends share with their wonky magic could easily translate to children with learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, or really anything that makes kids feel set apart from their peers in a learning environment. The class for upside-down magic learns that there are advantages to their differences and start to embrace them instead of trying to hide them. They also learn to not seek the approval of "haters', but instead to surround themselves with kind and accepting people, which they manage to find. Nory's aunt is kooky, yet supportive and loving, and is a better fit for Nory as she struggles with rejection from her father. Ms. Starr is the Mary Poppins for the upside-down kids and is a teacher that any kid would love to have in their life. This is a story about friendship, self-acceptance, and embracing differences. Even though most major plot lines are resolved, issues are left to explore in further installments, such as Nory's relationship with her family, and the back story of Ms. Starr. Girls will be drawn to this book over boys, but it could be enjoyed by both genders. The cover is irresistible and between that and the team of authors, I predict this book flying off my shelves. I plan on ordering two copies of this title for my library and anticipate it becoming an instant best-seller.