Hello friends! I hope December has treated you well. We just finished the first book in a long series and I think it’s a crowd pleaser, particularly for those who enjoy stories about magic but who may not yet be interested in the Harry Potter series or it’s just not their style. The Upside Down Magic series by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins provides the right amount of magic and realism for young readers.
Nory Horace is a typical 9-year-old in many ways. She enjoys hanging out with her friends and she loves her family, which includes her father and an older brother and sister. But when we first meet Nory, she’s hiding from everyone in her garage. She’s trying to morph into a small black kitten, which may sound absurd but in Nory’s world, it’s about the easiest thing in the world to do… for most people.
You see, Nory lives in a world where most have been endowed with varying degrees of magical powers. In this world, when children begin 5th grade, they attend special schools that help them better hone their skills. And to Nory, there is no more prestigious school than Sage Academy. Her sixteen-year-old brother Hawthorne is enrolled there, as well as her 13-year-old sister Dahlia. They are both model students who never struggled to harness their magic. They don’t understand why Nory has such a difficult time controlling herself when she attempts the easiest of spells.
Oh, and her father just happens to be the headmaster of Sage Academy. He is a stern man who doesn’t appreciate his youngest child’s efforts. He seems bothered by the task of parenting a non-perfect child in this magical plain. And that brings us back to Nory, hiding from her family in the garage. She’s trying desperately to transform herself into a black kitten, which is the first animal that beginner Fluxers (students with the ability to become animals) learn to become.
But unfortunately, while Nory is often able to conjure a black kitten, she’s not able to remain one for long. Instead, she often becomes a mashup of at least two animals and often, destructive ones, at that! It’s the night before she auditions for a spot at Sage Academy and if she doesn’t get this right, there’s no way she’ll get in. Her dad won’t be able to help her and besides, he likely wouldn’t anyway. He really is a cold father figure, I mean, the man’s name is Stone! Nory knows she’s on her own.
She concentrates hard; the world goes blurry around her, her heart beats faster and she can feel her body stretching and shrinking. She realizes that she’s now a kitten. Great, she did it! But something’s wrong. Her mouth doesn’t feel right. Kittens don’t have teeth that feel like these. They’re long and sharp. In fact, they feel like the could chomp through wood. But why would a kitten want to chomp through wood?
As you’ve possibly guessed, Nory has morphed into what she later refers to as a bitten – part kitten, part beaver! And she has a one-track mind to eat wood at any cost. Not finding much to gnaw on in the garage, she ventures into her father’s office. She swiftly eats through four books and the legs of her father’s desk before she’s discovered by her brother. He freaks out and scares Nory back into her human form. He’s disgusted by her bitten, which makes Nory feel instant shame and embarrassment. He tells her that she has to get control of her magic. That she’s started to go really wonky and NOBODY likes it.
In this world, wonky is basically a slur, meant to describe those who have magic that doesn’t fit into 5 pre-set categories. Fluxers like Nory are meant to effortlessly transform into certain animals. Flares had fire talent (like Hawthorne). Fuzzies like Dahlia can communicate with animals. Flickers can disappear and make other things invisible and Flyers, well, they can fly. If your magic doesn’t look exactly like others in your group, it’s seen as odd and undesirable.
The morning of the audition inevitably arrives and Nory finds herself standing alone with several professors, including her father, in the grand Hall of Magic and Performance at Sage Academy. Her dad makes no attempt to put her at ease. She goes through several tests to rule out her place in the other magical categories before she arrives at the Fluxer exam.
She surprises herself by immediately becoming a black kitten. The professors make notes and her father comes to inspect the details of her transformation. But unfortunately, her kitten sense of smell immediately smells fish on her father’s hands. He often has salmon for breakfast and the scent proves intoxicating to Kitten Nory. She feels her jaw begin to unhinge like a snake. Was she a snake? A snitten? Whatever she is, she chomps down on her father’s hand. After several agonizing seconds, she finally releases her grip and reverts to a simple kitten. Whew, maybe she still has a chance?
But no, because just as she thinks she might still be able to salvage this test, she realizes that she’s sprouted enormous wings, three times bigger than her kitten body. She was now a dritten, a dragon-kitten hybrid! But still, she thinks maybe she can still get into Sage Academy after all. She uses her wings to demonstrate her Flyer abilities. Then she breathes fire to show her grasp of Flyer skills. She was doing it! She was a triple talent! Surely, she was acing the test. Except what if she isn’t? The sudden doubt causes Nory to lose her concentration and become a human girl again.
The teachers look disdainful. Her father clutches his injured hand. Nory knows the worst is about to come. One of the professors announces that there is no place for her wonky magic at Sage Academy. He goes on to say that her magic is damaged. She looks to her father but he agrees. He denies her admission in a most cold, formal way.
From this point on, Upside Down Magic follows Nory’s story after she is essentially banished from the family home by her father. Her aunt Margo (her deceased mother’s sister) arrives to pick her so she can live with her. This comes as a complete surprise to Nory, as no one mentioned a move to her. But still, what choice does she have? She leaves with her aunt to begin a new life, in a new town, at a new school. Will she also make new friends? Will she be accepted? Will others call her magic wonky? Is there a place for people like Nory to belong?
Upside Down Magic is fun series about accepting the things that make you different and finding a group of people who accept you and feel good about yourself. Though Nory’s family is surprisingly awful, her aunt and new friends are a bright spot in her life. Through their acceptance and support, Nory is able to harness her magic; maybe not in the way that others would but in a way that is completely of her own making. It’s a feel good series for 8-12 years olds who enjoy stories about magic, friendship and unlikely heroes.