Not-scary magic

Not everyone wants the pants scared off of them on Halloween. Some people like their witches sweet and their HobGrackles cuddly.

heppermann_sadie's storySadie's Story, the first in the Backyard Witch series by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge, introduces readers to nine-year-old Sadie, her cat — and the small witch who takes up residence in the plastic playhouse by Sadie's family's garage. Morgan, a.k.a. Ms. M., may be somewhat unreliable with spells and hexes, but she's great company and quick with a gag. Best of all, she's a birdwatcher witch, or ornithomancer, and Sadie herself soon gets bitten by the birding bug. Sprightly prose will pull in chapter book readers, and spot illustrations by Deborah Marcero keep the page design lively. (Greenwillow, 7–10 years)

mlynowski_upside-down magicThough her father is headmaster of the prestigious Sage Academy of Magic and Performance, Nory's own magic is wonky. After a disastrous showing at her Sage Academy entrance exam, Dad sends Nory to live with eccentric Aunt Margo to attend a school that offers a special program for "the worst of the wonky." Upside-Down Magic is a collaboration among three authors — Sarah Mlynowski, Emily Jenkins, and Lauren Myracle — and there's no telling who did what, in a good way: the writing is seamless. The book is light but not inconsequential, and its multicultural and differently-abled cast will be welcomed by a broad audience. (Scholastic, 7–10 years)

pearce_pip bartlett's hiode to magical creaturesAfter a unicorn mishap at school, the nine-year-old (human) protagonist of Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures is sent to her aunt's for the summer, where she helps run the family's veterinary clinic. Then the town is infested with Fuzzles (combustible dustlike creatures that live in underwear drawers), and Pip and her pals — plus a scaredy-cat unicorn — investigate. Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater's fast-paced prose is lively, witty, and gripping. Stiefvater's black-and-white textured illustrations show the griffins, HobGrackles, and other magical creatures that inhabit Pip's world. An accessible fantasy for independent readers not yet ready for Rowling. (Scholastic, 7–10 years)

Gypsy Beaumont, star of Ingrid Law's Switch (and little sister of Savvy protagonist Mibs), has just turned thirteen and is starting to get the hang of her particular magical ability, or savvy — seeing people's pasts and futures — when things go "wackadoo." Soon after envisioning her own death (or so she thinks), Gypsy loses her original savvy and gains a surprising new one: stopping time. This comes in handy as her mother, big-brother Samson, and little-brother Tucker reluctantly travel to Colorado, through a blizzard, to retrieve prickly Grandma Pat, suffering from "Old-timer's disease," as Tucker calls it. In typical Law fashion, whimsy abounds, with vibrant supporting characters and helter-skelter pacing. (Dial, 9–12 years)

From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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