Zach King, The Magical Mix-Up, Puffin, 30 April 2018, 173pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN:9780241321881
“No more borrowed magic. You need to find your own magic, Zach… No buts,” she insisted. “You lucked out this time, but messing around with other people’s magic objects is just asking for trouble. You need to knock it off…”
The Magical Mix-Up is the second book in Zach King’s zany magical trilogy for middle-grade children. It follows the sequel to My Magical Life, which introduces eleven-year-old Zach King and his magical family. Unlike the rest of his family, Zach is unable to make his signature magical power a permanent fixture and is encouraged to find his place at a regular public school.
In book two, The Magical Mix-Up, young Zach has grown comfortable at Horace Greely Middle School, he has a best friend, a successful YouTube channel and a huge crush on his friend Rachel.
Without the manifestation of his magical powers, Zach has no way of creating the mind-blowing spectacles that once won him thousands of YouTube views and is now focusing on building up the courage to ask his friend Rachel to the dance. Unfortunately for the love-sick Zach, there’s a new kid in town, a cool boy named Hogan from the Australian Outback.
Painfully unaware of Hogan’s malicious plans, Rachel falls for the new boy’s charms and a desperate Zach decides to borrow his family’s magical powers in order to save Rachel from certain humiliation at the school dance and prove himself worthy of her admiration in the process. But, the impulsive Zach’s inability to control his new powers threaten to sabotage all his best laid plans and even Rachel’s shot at becoming class president.
This is a fast paced, lively story with plenty of comedic action and digital references. It’s sure to have mass appeal with today’s tech savvy young readers, fans of humorous diarised tales any budding magicians out there. Many young readers may already be part of the author’s huge online following, as Zach King is a popular modern magician and master of stop-motion film making. The title itself can be brought to life on a phone or tablet screen using a free app from his website.
The narrative is a classic school drama, complete with mean kids, disaffected teachers and the elusive struggle for popularity. Many of the characters are stereotypes, especially the new Australian rival, but the Kings with their numerous magical gifts offer an entertaining twist on family life, and Zach himself is an extremely likable character with a great deal of undiscovered magical promise. Main characters and family members are introduced with full colour profiles and Zach’s personal notations whilst the main body of text is regularly interspersed with brightly coloured illustrations. The chapters are short and moments of slapstick action are presented in an attention-grabbing comic strip format, breaking up the text into manageable chunks and adding a fun, energetic vibe.
Whether this title would encourage a child already obsessed with apps and games to indulge in yet more screen time or help connect a generation of touch screen enthusiasts with the joy of reading is for parents to decide. One thing is for certain, this title and its author are entirely unique and will prove a popular choice for many middle-grade readers.
Reviewed by Lisa Mercer