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Magic in the Mix: Annie Barrows

Book: Magic in the Mix
Author: Annie Barrows
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

Magic in the Mix is the sequel to The Magic Half by Annie Barrows. Whether there will be other books in this series is unclear, but I do hope so, because these books are delightful. They are time travel books, with plenty of ordinary family drama. Barrows uses the idea that magic is causing the time travel as a way of "setting things right." This allows her to gloss over any pesky details about paradoxes and the like, and just focus on the characters and the story. It is impossible to write about this second book without giving away the ending of the first, so if you are new to this series stop here. 

As Magic in the Mix begins, Miri and Molly are settling in to their new life as twins, sandwiched between older identical twin brothers and younger identical twin sisters. They remember an alternative timeline in which Molly lived in the 1930s and Miri was lonely as the only non-twin in the family, but the magic has slid Molly seamlessly into the family, and no one else has any idea that she wasn't always there. As long as I don't think about the details too much, I find this premise charming. 

Miri and Molly hope that the magic that seems to dwell about their house will send them into the past again. But they get more than they bargained for when the chance to set something right in the past threatens to separate them forever. Magic in the Mix dwells extensively on Civil War (with an author's note at the end to give interested readers a bit more context into the real historical underpinnings to the story). 

Things I like about this book:

  • Molly and Miri have a reasonable degree of independence, and yet have a careful and observant mother. They are left alone in the house together for an afternoon, but only after a long list of instructions. 
  • Molly and Miri's relationship with their two older brothers feels particularly realistic - a mix of wrestling and insults, with flashes of protectiveness on all parts. 
  • The integration of history about the Civil War into the story is not didactic, and might even inspire kids to want to learn more about that. There is real danger for those traveling back into a war zone, but Barrows keeps things from being too terrifying or stomach-churning. She also slips in some little details, like the fact that a Civil War-Era bedroom would be likely to smell less than pleasant due to the presence of chamber pots. 
  • Molly and Miri have to use their wits, and figure things out. There's not quite a mystery, but there's a solution that readers may want to try to spot themselves. The whole time travel adventure involves a bit of a puzzle. 

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

"A whole day with the house to themselves. In a family of eight, this was a rare and precious event. An opportunity. An occasion not to be squandered but to be spent judiciously in an activity that their parents would be happier if they didn't know about. Miri and Molly grinned at each other. They could do anything. They could do nothing. And whatever they did, no one would know!" (Page 38)

"The two girls had edged out the barn door and gone toward the corner nearest the house. Their appearance caused pandemonium among the chickens, but then, everything caused pandemonium among chickens. They sidled part the pigs, who watched them with utter boredom, and a dignified goose, who decided that they weren't worth biting. Now, though, they had arrived at the point of no return: To get to Molly's grandmother, inside the house, they had to cross the open lawn." (Page 64)

There's just a nice balance between humor, tenderness, and excitement in Magic in the Mix, as there was in the first book. These books are perfect for 8-10 year olds, especially girls, who like magic and/or family stories. I look forward to introducing these books to my daughter when she's a bit older, and I do hope that Barrows writes more in the series. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries serving middle grade readers. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Source of Book: Library copy

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).