My favourite time when I was a child was going to bed. After my brother and I were tucked in, we’d be treated to stories from our father’s imagination – always with two boys named after us. My brother loved action adventures; I thrilled at magic tales and spells. The story would inevitably have both and we’d drift off to dreamland with fantastic visions in our heads. That’s the feeling The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris conjures for me – even as a grownup.
The multitalented Harris is an Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor, comedian, singer and dancer, star of the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother and Broadway musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch and father of two kids. And, it turns out, he writes really well, too.
Locke Is Key
In his middle-grade fantasy book debut, Harris introduces us to the world of orphaned runaway child Carter Locke. Carter excels at magic – not wizards and witches and spells, but sleight of hand. Card tricks, classic misdirection, that kind of thing. After the death of his parents, he’s sent to live with his Uncle Sly, who recognises his nephew’s talent and teaches Carter everything he knows.
Alas, Uncle Sly is a thieving sort who uses his tricks to steal from unsuspecting marks. Carter is, of course, appalled by his uncle’s behaviour because he just wants to bring joy and laughter to the world.
Upon realising that Uncle Sly has stolen a diamond necklace from the elderly widower they’re staying with, he decides to run away (after returning the necklace). This leads us to the story’s heart, where we meet other magical children who join Carter on his adventures.
There’s Theo, a tuxedo-clad musically-inclined boy who can make objects appear to levitate; Leila, an expert lock pick and escape artist who was an orphan but has been adopted by two dads; Ridley, an incredibly smart girl confined to a wheelchair; and the twins Olly and Izzy who sing, tap dance and entertain at the Grand Oak resort.
All’s Fair At The Carnival
After fleeing from his uncle, Carter arrives in the town of Mineral Wells. There he runs into a travelling “Carnival Spectacular” put on by a man named B.B. Bosso. Touring the sideshows of spider ladies, nail-eating babies and strong men, Carter – thanks to his magic training – realises that something nefarious besides entertaining the crowds is going on.
Carter also finds his way to “Vernon’s Magic Shop – Purveyors Of The Impossible”. He meets the mysterious Vernon, one of Leila’s adopted fathers, who subtly begins to help our hero.
Harris keeps the plot moving at a brisk pace with all sorts of twists and turns. The book is definitely skewed towards young readers, and Harris takes great care in using age appropriate vocabulary. But where necessary, he also cunningly weaves in definitions for words potentially unfamiliar to his young audience.
An Engaging Opener
Throughout the book, two things are interspersed to break up the story. There are chapters with magic lessons that teach us how to do tricks, like roll a coin on our knuckles or move an object using our mind. And then there are the charming illustrations by Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton that provide pictures of key moments and also show us how to perform certain illusions.
As the first of a trilogy, Harris has crafted a great opening to his series. The Magic Misfits is a great book to read aloud to youngsters, or to be read alone by a child starting down the lifelong reading path. Delivering engaging characters, high stakes and quick-paced action, this book will surely keep children enthralled to the very end.
The Magic Misfits
Author: Neil Patrick Harris
Publisher: Little, Brown, children’s fiction