To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “Tips for Magicians,” a new middle grade book by Celesta Rimington. The title sounded cute—but I realized the book is much more than “cute.” It’s a powerful and touching story of a boy who loses his mother in an unexpected accident, and we see that the grief and the resulting damage to his family seems overwhelming. Harrison’s mother was a beautiful classical singer, and she performed all over the world. His father was her stage manager, and since her death he’s been working a lot. We don’t know if he needs to work or wants to be busy to assuage his grief, but he’s gone a lot. Since her death, Harrison’s father can’t stand to hear music in their home, and Harrison has been grieving not only the loss of his mother, but the loss of the music that both he and his mother loved and shared together.
Harrison has started to do magic tricks, and he’s really good at it. He really misses his mom, and it’s made doubly difficult by the fact that his dad won’t talk about her or even allow her music in their home. And her music was a huge part of their lives together; his mom had taught Harrison how to sing in harmony with her. Music and art was an important part of everything they did. She took Harrison to the DC Mall and they participated in a group art activity and his mom introduced him to friends, including some homeless people who lived on the mall. His mom was beautiful in every way that counts. Inside and out. She seemed to bring beauty to everything they did. So her loss is overwhelming to Harrison.
When Harrison’s dad tells him that he’s taking a road job managing a group and that Harrison will be living with his Aunt Maggie in a desert town called Muse, Harry (his mom’s nickname for him) is shocked and hurt. He lost his mother and now it’s as if he’s losing his father, as well. But he remembers the town of Muse from when his family lived there when he was five. There is an amphitheater there that is in the middle of the desert and his mother performed there. Every year there is an art contest, and there was a muse who granted a wish to the winner.
But while Harrison enjoys living with Maggie, and he makes friends at his new school, he sees that the muse has fled the town of Muse, and no more wishes are granted. That makes Harrison sad because what he really would like to wish for is for his father to give up traveling and come to Muse to live with Harrison. An assignment for their art class is to create an art project that is entered in the yearly art contest. Harrison enlists his friends to figure out how to get the muse to return. Some strange occurrences happen which give them hope that they might be able to entice the Muse back. There is also the mysterious dog Harrison names Obsidian, after the black shiny stone. Obsidian appears and runs away, and he doesn’t seem to have a home. When Harrison and his friends try to catch the dog, he escapes into the desert.
We learn lessons from each of Harrison’s friends. Marco, who stutters, was granted a wish when he was younger. But everyone wonders why he didn’t wish for his stutter to disappear. The way Rimington explains it is beautiful. Marco explains why he didn’t make that wish, “But I don’t have to talk like everyone else to be okay.” And that’s a beautiful lesson, just as their friend Chloe doesn’t want to be a visual artist like her famous father.
We learn that the best wishes are unselfish wishes, and that music can be magic. Music can connect us with those who have passed, and the scene where Harrison sings with a recording of his mother at the amphitheater is one of the most touching I’ve read in a children’s book. Tears were streaming down my face, and I thought how hard it would be to do this book as a read aloud because I’d be crying at this point, no matter how many times I read the book.
Special writers can bring that type of emotion to print. Celesta Rimington is one of them. I’d highly recommend this book for children from 4th grade through middle school. It would be a fabulous choice for a class read. There is diversity of many kinds and adversity of many kinds that children, and adults, overcome. It’s a must have for school libraries and for classroom bookshelves. Word of mouth should keep the books off the shelves.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Crown Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.