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Book Review

Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Upside-Down Magic” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In a world where everyone has magical abilities, fifth-grader Nory Horace struggles. Her sullen, distant father is the headmaster of Sage Academy, a prestigious school for kids with exceptional magic skills. Nory’s older siblings, Hawthorn and Dalia, attend Sage. Hawthorn is a Flare, meaning he’s a person with fire talents. Dalia, a Fuzzie, has a magical gift for working with animals. Flickers, Flyers and Fluxers round out the standardized Five F's.

Nory is a Fluxer, but not a very good one. A Fluxer should be able to turn into a well-behaved animal on command. But Nory’s magic is unusually big and “wonky.” She can rarely control it and often ends up turning herself into a combination of several unruly animals at once. When this happens at her Sage Academy entrance exam, her father informs her she has been rejected.

Nory’s father and siblings say little about Nory’s failure. A few days before the new school year begins, she learns Dad is shipping her off to live with Aunt Margo. Margo is their mother’s sister, a woman they haven’t seen since Mom’s death six years earlier. Nory is distraught to learn she will attend Dunwiddle Public School, where she’ll be part of a special education-type program called Upside-Down Magic (UDM).

Nory’s classmates are an ethnically diverse group of kids. The common thread is that none can control their magical abilities properly. Their positive, enthusiastic teacher, Ms. Starr, urges each student to reveal his or her magic on the first day.

One boy, Andres, is a Flyer who must remain leashed to the ground so he doesn’t float away. Another boy, Bax, turns into a rock when he’s under pressure. Nory’s new friend, Elliot, is a Flare whose short-lived fires turn into ice.

Ms. Starr tells the kids that they won’t be using derogatory words like wonky to describe themselves in this class. She doesn’t like the rigid way the Five Fs are traditionally taught. Instead, she uses “centering” techniques and interpretive dance moves to help the kids embrace their uniqueness and examine their emotions.

Nory and her classmates feel the stigma of being UDMs. Elliott still wants to hang out with his old gang, but his former friends shun and ridicule him for being in UDM. Nory gets angry with them and accidentally turns into a skunk-elephant. She accidentally sprays the bullies with skunk scent. Her classmates become annoyed at her for making the UDMs seem even weirder.

Nory’s father refuses to take her calls. Hawthorn and Dalia phone Nory secretly and urge her to practice her magic harder so she can come home. Nory decides she will train herself to be normal and test out of UDM. She apologizes to Elliot for the spraying incident and invites him to join her in her quest to get back into traditional classes.

The two practice magic together, using a technique that allows them to block out all emotion and think inside their “box of normal.” Both kids are excited when they discover they can master their magic this way. They demonstrate their controlled magic before the principal and feel confident he will let them out of UDM.

One of Elliott’s old friends bullies Andres by burning a hole in his leash. As he floats, untethered, into the air, Nory and Elliott know the only way to save him is to think outside the box of normal and use their wonky magic again. Elliott freezes the leash to squelch the flames. Nory turns herself into an oversized bluebird and pushes Andres back to the ground.

The principal arrives and praises the UDM kids for thinking so quickly and creatively. He says this incident shows that kids like Nory and Elliott will only reach their full potential if they stay in UDM class. Nory and Elliott are disappointed on some level, but they both feel proud of the way they used their unique skills to save their friend.

Aunt Margo throws a party for Nory and her classmates. During the event, Nory’s siblings call and ask how she’s doing in her quest to become normal. She hears the pity in their voices when they learn she must remain in UDM. She hangs up and enjoys the afternoon with her new friends, realizing she likes being upside-down.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Every character has some type of magic power. Some have talents with fire, and others can train animals. Some can become animals, while others can fly. Most people are able to control how they use their magic, but kids like Nory and her UDM classmates struggle to harness their powers in the expected manner.

Ms. Starr guides the class through “centering” activities similar to yoga with an Eastern religious element.

Authority Roles

Nory’s mother died six years before this story begins. Nory’s father is emotionally distant. He sends her away to live with her aunt when Nory fails the entrance exam to Sage Academy. He offers no explanation or apology.

Aunt Margo, Mom’s eccentric sister, takes Nory in and helps her adjust to her new life. Ms. Starr tries to help her UDM kids understand their feelings and how their emotions impact their behaviors. She believes in trying new methods to help the students embrace their uniqueness rather than become like everyone else.





Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Nory and her siblings sometimes deceive their father so Nory won’t get in trouble for problems caused by her wonky magic. She also lies to her classmates about her fears.

Bigotry: The principal, Mr. Gonzalez, tells a bully he won’t tolerate bigotry, including unkindness about race, gender orientation, family background, religion, magical abilities, and various other things.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12




Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins






Record Label



Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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