Full disclosure: I am a big Harry Potter fan. My heart was leaping for joy when our older daughter tore through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and then decided to dress up as Harry Potter for Halloween last year. Imagine my secret disappointment when she stopped reading the second Harry Potter book halfway through the book. However, after hearing her explanation, I couldn’t fault her reasoning. She explained that she was worried that the books might get too scary for her, so she wanted to wait a while before continuing with the series.
Enter the Upside-Down Magic books!
Upside Down Magic books by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
These books feature a group of kids who have “wonky magic.” They live in a world where most people’s magic fits neatly into a few categories: Fluxers, Fuzzies, Flyers, and Flares.
Each of main characters have powers that don’t fit neatly into the typical categories. For example, Fluxers are able to change into different types of animals. A black kitten is one that many Fluxers begin with before working their way up to more complicated animals like flamingoes. Nory is a Fluxer who often combines animals to become things like a dritten (dragon + kitten) or a skunkephant (skunk + elephant). On the other hand, Bax is a Fluxer who is only able to change into rocks and other inanimate objects.
These kids with unusual magical powers come together at Dunwiddle Magic School in a newly created upside-down magic class (UDM). This class is taught by Ms. Starr, who accepts her students for who they are and encourages self-awareness through various teaching techniques.
Each of the UDM students struggles to accept his or her unique magical powers. Many of the other students at Dunwiddle make fun of the UDM students and ostracize them. Some even make the UDM students the targets of their bullying tactics. While some of the UDM students have supportive families, others do not and struggle to gain acceptance at both home and school.
As a parent, I appreciate how the Upside Down Magic books address issues of differences between people and emphasize the importance of accepting yourself. I also like how the main characters are a multicultural bunch. Furthermore, one character has a hearing aid, and what’s even better is that it’s not the central feature of her character. These books also reinforce the power of teamwork and the importance of friendship.
There are superficial similarities between the Upside Down Magic books and the Harry Potter books, the most obvious being that both are about kids with magical powers. Both Hogwarts and Dunwiddle train students in how to use magic and have set up friendly competitions between the main groupings of students at the school (though these competitions sometimes become not so friendly!) The main characters in both books struggle for acceptance among the rest of the students at their respective schools. There is even a sport invented for each series: Quidditch for Harry Potter and Kittenball for Upside Down Magic. Since the Upside Down Magic books are geared toward a younger audience, they don’t delve into the deeper issues that are prominent in the Harry Potter books such as good vs. evil, destiny, and resistance against unjust authority.
While the Upside Down Magic books don’t transport me to a different world the way the Harry Potter books do, I’m thankful that both of our daughters love them. I hope that some day they will serve as a bridge for us to enter the magical world of Hogwarts together.
Have you enjoyed any magical books for early or middle-grade readers? Feel free to leave recommendations here!