The Art of the Swap by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone. Simon and Schuster Kids, 2018.
Hannah is the caretaker’s daughter in the Elms, a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. She annoys the docents by listening in on tours and correcting their mistakes – most of them don’t know the history as well as she does. She’s fascinated with the mystery of the long-ago heist of the portrait of 12-year-old Margaret Dunlap, painted by Mary Cassat. The portrait vanished just before it was officially unveiled in 1905, though a replica was made and now hangs in its place, on top of a large mirror.
One day, touching this mirror causes Hannah and Margaret – or Maggie – to change places or perhaps minds with each other. Hannah thought she knew all there was to know about Maggie’s world – but it’s much harder than she thought to fit in, especially while trying to sneak where she shouldn’t to solve the theft that’s just about to happen. Maggie, meanwhile, has lots of modern technology and attitudes about women to catch up on, all while trying to help Hannah from afar. The book kept a light tone while still looking at the restrictions on people of all classes in 1905.
The Magic Misfits: the Second Story by Neil Patrick Harris. Read by Christina Hendricks. Hachette Audio, 2018.
I haven’t read book one here, because just this one was nominated for the Cybils. We open with Leila, locked in the closet of her orphanage, desperately trying to pick the lock in the dark so she can catch the tail end of Mr. Vernon’s magic show. When she escapes, she’s adopted by Mr. Vernon and his husband, the other Mr. Vernon! Flash forward to the present, where Leila and her adoptive brother Carter are members of a kids’ stage magic club, along with wheelchair-bound Ridley, siblings Ollie and Izzy with New York accents, and Theo with a British accent. Together, they are the Magic Misfits, each with their own magic specialty.
Out of the blue, a member of Mr. Vernon’s similar childhood gang, the Emerald Ring, turns up. She’s now Madame Esmeralda, famous stage psychic. But is she back for the reason she claims to be?
This is fun and fast-moving, with a plot strongly reminiscent of Annie. It’s only slightly magical, and I was confused about the time period – the technology here stops at rotary phones, but we have an openly gay couple adopting children. We definitely need more fun books with same-sex parents, though, so I’m not complaining! NPH himself reads the magic instructions that appear between chapters, while Christina Hendricks ably narrates the story for the audiobook. You’ll want to start with the first book, but this is definitely a fun series for the younger middle grade reader.