Illustrated by Lissy Marlin
Illustrated by Kyle Hilton
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 21, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.
After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded illusionists. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they’ll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso’s villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.
(Psst. Hey, you! Yes, you! Congratulations on reading this far. As a reward, I’ll let you in on a little secret… This book isn’t just a book. It’s a treasure trove of secrets and ciphers and codes and even tricks. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll discover more than just a story–you’ll learn how to make your own magic!)
(* This is just a clever word for “Greetings!”)
Do you believe in magic? Hi there. Yes, I’m talking to you. Well, do you? Do you believe in magic?
If you’re anything like the boy in this book, you might say no. But I assure you, there is magic all around you. It’s true. Don’t believe me? Look into my eyes and tell me you don’t see magic!
See what I did there? Eyes… i’s…
(You can stop laughing. I wasn’t that funny, was I?)
But let’s be serious for a moment.
Magic can mean different things to different people. For some, it is pulling a rabbit from a top hat or sawing a person in half and then (hopefully) putting them back together again. For others, magic is a crisp autumn’s day or a tender hug from a loved one. For me, magic can be a story, a game, a puzzle, or a surprise that takes my breath away in a single, furious gulp.
You see, magic comes in all shapes and sizes and colors and tastes and smells and feelings. Magic may even come in the shape of a book—perhaps the very one you’re holding now. Or not. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
But sometimes you might have a hard time remembering to seek out the magic in the world, just like the boy in this book. You might be too busy twirling cotton candy or too distracted by birds sitting on the windowsill or too tired from organizing the attic to notice—but I assure you, magic does exist. You just have to know where to look. (Use your nose! Or your tongue! Or your eyes! Or your brain!) Of course, sometimes you can make it happen yourself.
Would you like to learn about magic? I thought you might. Very well. Repeat after me: SIM SALA BAM!
I’m sorry—I don’t think you actually said that out loud. Please. Repeat. After. Me: SIM SALA BAM!
Louder. SIM SALA BAM!
Brilliant. You’re proving to be a good student.
Now turn the page.…
WAIT, WAIT, WAIT… HOLD ON… STOP!
Silly me. I think I must have mesmerized myself with all those i’s earlier. I almost forgot one last vital thing before we get into the meat and potatoes of our magical story. (Drumroll, please!) First, I must explain.…
In the darkness of a train yard, somewhere on the far edge of town, a shadowy figure emerged from a thick curtain of fog. The person looked back once before dashing alongside several rows of empty train tracks.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you might flinch when imagining a shadowy figure emerging from a nighttime fog in a nearly abandoned train yard lit only by distant streetlights. But you needn’t worry here. It was merely a skinny boy named Carter Locke.
If you were to worry about anyone at this moment, it should be the man who was not far behind—the man who was chasing Carter through the train yard, bellowing: “Carter! Get back here! Don’t you run from me, boy! I ain’t going to hurt you!” This was a lie. The man very much intended to hurt Carter.
Thankfully, Carter knew it. So he pumped his legs and clutched his satchel and strained through the murk to see which line of cars was chug-chug-chugging down the tracks and out of the yard. The wail of a horn blasted Carter’s eardrums, and he stumbled across a rail.
Several rows away, there came a familiar metal clanking. A rusty but colorful chain of cars clacked by, catching speed and whisking away the mist. Carter could see clearly now. He jumped over the tracks and raced to keep up with the moving train. From down the yard, the cars kept coming and coming and coming. Red, blue, green, yellow, purple, redder, black, orange, redder still.
The colorful train reminded Carter of the first magic trick he’d ever seen: a gentle hand coming close to his face and pulling a red silk handkerchief from his ear, which was tied to a yellow one, which was tied to a blue one, which was tied to a green one, and so on, and so on, and on and on. It was one of the few memories Carter had of his own father.
Instinctively, Carter touched his satchel, as if to make sure the small wooden box was still inside. It was.
Carter ran alongside the train, eyeing each passing car for a place to board. Behind him, footsteps sounded in the gravel. Then a gruff, cruel voice rang out. “Carter! Don’t you dare hop on that train!” The clanging and banging did not drown out the man, who sounded closer now than before—almost directly behind him. “I’ve got eyes and ears in every town between here and Timbuktu! You’ll never escape! Hear me? Never!”
Carter tried not to think about what would happen if the man caught him. Instead, he focused on the locomotive. Light glinted off the heavy wheels below as they rolled upon the tracks. The problem with trains is that they are made of metal and each car weighs a literal ton, if not more. Once they’re moving, they move quickly. If Carter got too close—if he tripped—it would all be over.
A bright yellow train car was now edging past him. Yellow reminded Carter of a bird he once saw locked up in a cage in the window of a pet store. Weren’t birds designed to fly free? Carter took it as a sign that this was the one to reach for, the one that would take him far away from here. Its ladder was just out of reach.
Jumping a train in motion may have been hard or even scary for some—but Carter had done it so many times, it came as naturally as plucking a coin from behind someone’s ear or shuffling a deck of cards with only one hand.
Unfortunately, the man who was chasing Carter found it easy too. As Carter was about to clasp the ladder, the man grabbed Carter’s satchel and dragged him to the ground.
“No!” Carter yelled.
They both tumbled across the gravel, rolling beside the wheels of the yellow car that went bump-bump, bump-bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump-bump over the rickety tracks, echoing the flutter of Carter’s panicked heartbeat. He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if the train left without him.
So Carter didn’t stop moving. He twisted his body until the rolling turned into a somersault. As he pitched himself forward, head over heels, Carter yanked his bag away from the man’s grip, planted his feet on the shifting gravel, then leapt toward the train’s last car. A ladder hung down from the rear, next to an open door. Carter’s fast hands grabbed the bottom rung, his taut tendons holding him tight. Climbing up and onto the ladder, he pulled his feet up and clung to the back of the now-racing train.
After catching his breath, he moved all the way to the top, taking a seat on the car’s roof. The wind whipped his hair around. The train’s horn cried out again from up ahead.
Looking back, he saw the man kneeling by the tracks, arms raised in anger, screaming into the night and quickly shrinking into a dot that eventually disappeared in the murky distance. Carter waved good-bye. To the town. To Ms. Zalewski. And to the man who was chasing him—though if it had been possible to wish the man a bad-bye, Carter would certainly have done that instead.
The sky turned a beautiful blue as the sun came up. After some time, the familiar rocking and loud metal-churning of the train calmed Carter’s heart and brought a yawn to his jaw. So he climbed down and into the train car. Inside, hundreds of boxes were stacked on wooden pallets. Plopping himself on the floor beside one such stack, Carter placed his satchel underneath his head like a pillow, then drifted off to sleep, dreaming about hope and fate and destiny and adventure, as well as a fleeting thought or two about the possibility of magic.
Surprise! It’s time for a little flashback!
I understand how frustrating it is to pause a story right in the middle of the action, but there are a few things you should know about Carter before I tell you what happens next. Things like: Who is this kid? And why was he running? And who is the man he was running from? I promise we’ll get back to Carter’s escape soon enough. And if we don’t, I’ll let you lock me up in a tight straitjacket with no key. Oh, the horror!
But anyway… onward!
Carter learned how to do magic tricks from his uncle. And they were just that: tricks. There was no magic involved. How could there be? Everyone knows there is no such thing as magic—or so Carter believed.
At a very early age, Carter stopped trusting in wonderful, happy, fantastic things. It wasn’t his fault. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
You see, Carter was born to two lovely people. His mom had a smile that shone like the sun on a perfect day at the beach. And his dad could pull coins out of ears and make a deck of playing cards vanish into thin air. They all lived in a tiny red cottage with white trim on a wooded and winding road outside a small northern city. One afternoon when Carter was only a few years old, both of his parents failed to come home.
They also failed to come home the next day. Or the day after that. When the babysitter called the police, Carter hoped it was only one of his father’s tricks. But after another day passed with no word, Carter had to face the cold hard truth: His parents were not coming back. It was their final vanishing act.
Young Carter was taken in by a distant relative named Sylvester “Sly” Beaton. For the sake of convenience, we will call him Carter’s uncle.
Uncle Sly was a wiry little man who always dressed in a brown tweed suit with frayed seams and patches that covered moth-eaten holes. He wore his long, greasy hair tied back in a messy ponytail, and the whiskers of his patchy beard barely covered his pointy chin. Uncle Sly told people he got his nickname because he was like a fox, but Carter always thought that his uncle looked more like a weasel, which made sense because Uncle Sly often acted like a weasel too.
The man was not thrilled to have to look after Carter. And Carter was not thrilled to live with this weasel. But that’s what the circumstances were, and so Carter made the best of them.
Like Carter’s father, Uncle Sly knew magic tricks. He could hold a tissue up to Carter’s nose and make him sneeze a waterfall of coins into a glass. Then, one by one, Uncle Sly would make the coins disappear again. This blew Carter’s mind—well, his mind and his nose.
Carter begged his uncle to show him how to do magic. Eventually, Uncle Sly saw that there might be a benefit in having an assistant, and so he taught Carter everything he knew. It turned out Carter was a natural-born magician.
Soon enough, Carter was doing all of Uncle Sly’s tricks—only better. Carter had a special talent. His fingers were long and his tendons were taut, which gave him fast hands and expert card-shuffling skills. He could make coins vanish and reappear across the room. He could materialize playing cards out of thin air. He even revised Uncle Sly’s sneeze trick, using ice cubes instead of coins (which was rather impressive, given the size of the average human nostril).
Now, Uncle Sly wasn’t the type of man to celebrate his young nephew’s ability to change up his oldest and best illusion, but he was smart enough to notice an opportunity when it was sneezing ice cubes right in front of him. So on Carter’s birthday, instead of throwing him a party, Uncle Sly decided to test him. He sent the boy up to a random couple on the street to perform his very first show.
As Carter approached, he nervously slicked his blond mop of hair to the side, pinched his pale cheeks, and opened his blue eyes wide. The couple seemed happy to stop for him. First, Carter presented a deck of cards and asked the woman to choose one and keep it hidden between her two hands, making sure not to show him.
“Now, hold on to it tight,” he said, “while I guess which card you picked.… Is it the queen of diamonds?”
“It is! It is!” the woman gasped. But when she opened her hands to look, she yelped, “The card is gone!”
“Is it?” Carter asked, holding it up in his own hand.
“How did you do that?” the man asked.
“With magic, of course,” Carter said, though the words were just words. Carter didn’t believe in real magic, but he knew a thing or two about making people pay attention to one thing while he distracted them from something else. Growing bolder, he added, “Now, would you mind giving me back the card you’ve taken, sir?”
“I didn’t take a card,” the man said.
“Then what is that in your pocket?”
The man reached into his breast pocket, and sure enough, the king of diamonds was inside.
The couple laughed. With a flick of his wrist, Carter produced a bouquet of colorful paper flowers. He presented it to the woman, then took a bow, just like Uncle Sly had taught him. The couple clapped and clapped and clapped.
The lady kissed Carter on his cheek. The man gave him a nickel. Carter’s proud uncle shook both their hands before hustling Carter away.
Carter beamed like the sun. He had brought joy to the young couple. In earning their smiles, he recalled his own two parents and their laughter. He didn’t care that there was no party. It was still a very good birthday.…
At least until later, when Carter realized his uncle had stolen the man’s wristwatch and the woman’s wedding ring. Uncle Sly had used him. Carter knew too many stories in which villains stole from innocent people. These stories always made him feel as if someone had stolen his parents from him.
What was left of that earlier, good feeling squeezed out of him like a balloon with a leak in it.
Uncle Sly was not an ideal guardian by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite. You already know that he was a thief, but you should also understand that he was a con artist—someone who cheats others by getting them to believe something that isn’t true.
Carter’s uncle enjoyed “short cons.” This means he didn’t go in for long-term scams that took days or weeks to pull off. He did it as quickly as possible, robbing money or valuables off people in the blink of an eye. By the time they realized they’d been robbed, Uncle Sly was gone.
This was the reason why Carter never had a home. He’d never had friends or his own bedroom. He’d never gone to school or had a place that made him feel safe. He and his uncle slept in shelters on good days and in dark alleys on bad ones, constantly moving from town to town to town. After all, when you’re in the habit of making other people’s things vanish, it’s best that you know how to vanish too.
Sometimes Uncle Sly even disappeared for days at a time, leaving Carter behind. Carter wouldn’t know where his uncle had gone, if he was hurt or in trouble, or if he’d ever see him again. Yet Uncle Sly would always come back without a word of explanation. Carter knew better than to ask where he’d been, especially with the cruel and angry glint in Uncle Sly’s eye, along with the scrapes and bruises that told their own story.
Left alone, Carter would practice his tricks, or find the closest library. He loved to lose himself in books about ideas like hope and strength and wonder, but also about things like train engineers, gymnastics, and pie recipes. Over time, he became good at fending for himself. He also became an expert cartwheeler and dreamer of sugary treats.
As the years went by, Carter’s patience began to wear down. His uncle was a crook—Carter knew that. Yet he kept hoping that Sly would suddenly pick a town, get a job, and settle down. Perhaps it was a slim hope, maybe even an impossible hope, but hope was one of the few things Carter had in his possession. At least until a particularly brisk spring night…
“See that man over there?” Uncle Sly whispered to Carter. “I want you to go over and nick his watch.” The word nick, while usually a man’s name, can also mean steal.
“How many times have I told you?” Carter said. “I don’t steal.” He’d come up with this rule years ago when he’d figured out what his uncle really did. He promised himself that he’d never be like his uncle. No matter what. It had been Carter’s code ever since.
“You little—” Uncle Sly growled as he grabbed Carter roughly by his shirt. A cop appeared, walking down the street, twirling his baton. Uncle Sly put on a bright smile and hugged Carter close, like a valued son. “—ball of sunshine! Oh, good evening, Officer.”
The officer nodded and kept walking.
When the cop was out of sight, Uncle Sly took Carter by the collar and snarled, “Fine. Then keep a lookout while I work.”
Carter’s uncle’s idea of work wasn’t typical. He didn’t invent the Hula-hoop or operate heavy machinery. He didn’t grow rhubarb on a farm or train zoo snakes to not bite children. Uncle Sly’s idea of work was a con artist’s version of work: stealing from others.
Carter’s fingers rubbed over the rectangular shape in the side of his leather satchel. All that he owned fit into this bag. It contained a deck of playing cards, three cups, three coins (one of which had a deep scratch down its face), some marbles, an extra pair of socks, a rope, his newsboy cap, and a small wooden box with the initials LWL on it. The box appeared to be sealed shut with no way to open it, but Carter didn’t care. It was the only thing he had left of his parents.
“I’d rather just go back to the halfway home,” Carter whispered to Uncle Sly. “My stomach doesn’t feel good.”
“It’s called a halfway house,” Uncle Sly snapped. “I won’t have you acting all sentimental-like. That kind of thinking can be dangerous for folks like us. Now, pull up your britches and get ready to help me out, would ya?”
Carter swallowed a groan as Uncle Sly searched the street for a victim. Minutes later, the cop reappeared, strolling slowly, looking inside shopwindows. Carter whistled, a signal telling his uncle to stop whatever criminal act he was doing. As the officer moved around the corner, Carter looked left and right for any others on patrol. When the coast was clear, he gave Uncle Sly a nod.
Praise for The Magic Misfits:
A 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist for Middle Grade
A 2018-2019 New Hampshire Great Stone Face Book Award Nominee
Nominated for the 2020 Bluestem Award: Illinois' Grades 3-5 Readers' Choice Award
Nominated for the 2019-2020 Nebraska Golden Sower Award (Chapter Books)
- "I read this book with excitement, delight, and the increasing suspicion that it was going to make me disappear."—Lemony Snicket, author of the bestselling series A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions
- "An earnest message about discovering the magic in the world and finding the family that suits you."—Kirkus Reviews
- "The approachable length and lively, funny writing will ensure this book, the first in a series, performs its own vanishing act from shelves."—Booklist
- "A rollicking ride of a magical tale that's wholesomely suspenseful, values friendship, and applauds courage."—School Library Journal
- "[A] good choice for fans of Lemony Snicket and Pseudonymous Bosch. With an emphasis on friendship and individuality, this fast-paced and clever series opener should have readers eager to check out future installments."—Publishers Weekly
- "Fun...A worthy first volume."—BCCB
- "Adventure, suspense, and excitement await these young magic misfits as they learn to trust one another and become friends."—School Library Connection
- On Sale
- Nov 21, 2017
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers