by Bryan Patrick Avery
Well, Summer is coming to a close. This means that I’ve spent a fair amount of time away from home the past few months. Practicing magic can be a struggle on the road, but it also reminds me that it is the journey, not the destination, that matters. Being away from our comfortable surroundings can bring challenges, but those challenges push us, and can make us better. The same is true in stories.
When our characters journey away from the familiar, they learn things about themselves that might not have otherwise discovered. This makes them, and their stories, more interesting. This month, we’ll take a look at three middle grade novels where the characters embark on a journey and end up better for it.
“The Magic Misfits”, written by award-winning actor (and magician) Neil Patrick Harris, tells the story of Carter, a young, very talented magician who lives with his crooked uncle. We first meet Carter as his is running away from his uncle, hoping to leave that chapter of his life behind. With no food, money, or plans, he ends up in the small town of Mineral Wells. Through an older magician in town, Carter meets several young magicians who, much like himself, are outcasts. When they discover that the head of a circus that’s come to town is out to rob the city blind, Carter and his friends construct the ultimate magic show in an attempt to save the city.
What makes Carter’s journey so engrossing for the reader is the fact that he literally can’t go back the way he came. This means he must find a way to make this new life work, whether it’s in Mineral Wells, or elsewhere. This is what James Scott Bell refers to as the Doorway of No Return and it propels the story forward, ratcheting up the stakes at every turn.
Perhaps one of my favorite runaways can be found in E.L. Konigsburg’s “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”. Claudia Kincaid, tired up being taken for granted by her family, decides to run away. She can’t go just anywhere, though. She must find the perfect place. Once she finds it (the New York Metropolitan Museum) she and her brother Jamie execute a (mostly) well thought out plan.
Readers are pulled into the story as we see how the siblings will fare in the city, what they’ll eat, and where they’ll sleep. Most importantly, though, we wonder when they’ll go home. When a new statue arrives in the museum, complete with a mystery to solve, Claudia decides she must solve it before she can return home.
This book is over fifty years old and has withstood the test of time. One of the most unique things about it is that it is told from the perspective of Mrs. Frankweiler, instead of the children. This gives the story a unique voice for middle grade (Mrs. Frankweiler is truly unique) that compliments the story quite well.
The second of Kirby Larson’s wonderful Audacity Jones books is “Audacity Jones Steals the Show”. In this book, Audacity is once again recruited for a mission, this time in New York City. There, she and her best friend Bimmy meet Houdini, and must stop a plot to interfere with his latest magical wonder, making an elephant disappear. The suspense is enough to keep any readers engaged, but Larson’s depiction of Audacity’s reaction to the New York, and the people she meets there, gives the story a depth that keeps the reader turning pages even in less suspenseful moments.
As an added bonus, the story is told from different character’s points of view, including that of Audacity’s cat. This allows the reader to better bond with the characters and allows for a larger story landscape. Larson’s book is well worth the read for it’s entertainment value, but writers can learn a lot from his approach to storytelling as well.
Well, that’s all for now. Happy writing, and have a magical month!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature a surprise reprise from over nine years of archives.