SEPT / OCT 2015: BY RACHEL KOVACINY
Like a lot of Christians, I get a little jumpy around the word “magic.” After all, the Bible warns us that when magic refers to doing magic spells and using supernatural power, we’re not supposed to get involved. Which is why, although I don’t mind reading about magic in fiction now and then, I prefer that it’s clearly pretend, not inserted into the real world. I like my magic to stay in made-up places like Middle Earth or Narnia or Alagaesia and not invade London or Paris or Tennessee.
All of this is why I was a little hesitant about A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. I mean, look—it has the word “magic” right in the title! I definitely wasn’t going to let my son read it without checking it out first myself.
As it turns out, the magic in this book has nothing to do with things like witchcraft, divination, sorcery, or consulting the dead. It’s more like a heightened sense of wonder, a metaphor for being able to see things in the world others miss. It’s fantastical enough to be clearly made-up, and it’s a cheerful and helpful sort of imaginary magic, nothing dark or scary.
The story concerns Felicity Pickle, a lonely sixth-grade girl. She’s shy, she sometimes stutters, and oh yeah: she can see words. Not just words written in books or magazines or on computer screens — she sees words as people say them. She sees descriptive words hovering around people, around things. Words in car exhaust and melted ice cream and sighs. Words everywhere! Which is a pretty fabulous metaphor for being a writer, I think. I don’t physically see words around people’s heads like halos or rising up out of a river, but words do pop into my head when I look at something or someone. Words are everywhere for me too.
Felicity collects many of the words she sees by writing them down — sometimes in a notebook, sometimes on her shoes or her skin, anywhere she can in order to capture them. She desperately needs the joy those words bring because her life is uneven and unhappy. Her mom is an artist who moves Felicity and her little sister Frannie Jo all over the US. She’s done that ever since Felicity’s dad left the family a few years ago.
As the story opens, the Pickles move to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, to stay for a while with Felicity’s Aunt Cleo. Midnight Gulch used to be filled with the whimsical, imaginative magic that enables Felicity to see words. There’s still a little magic left in the town, where some people make ice cream that brings back memories, others can capture memories inside objects, and sometimes certain people hear music no one else can hear. But most of the town’s magic dissipated decades ago after the music-making Threadbare Brothers dueled with each other and both left town, doomed to wander and roam.
On Felicity’s first day at school in Midnight Gulch, the most magical thing of all happens: she makes a friend. Felicity has never had a real friend before, and she is thrilled that this boy named Jonah does not care that she stutters, doesn’t think it’s weird she can see words, and genuinely enjoys spending time in her company. Through Jonah, she gets to know the other eccentric people in Midnight Gulch and eventually solves the mystery of why the magic left with the Brothers Threadbare.
Like Edward Eager and J. K. Rowling, Natalie Lloyd uses magic not just as a flashy way to get a reader’s attention, but also as a metaphor for things we all struggle with. Things like knowing we’ve got talents and abilities but not being sure if anyone else will value them. Or not realizing how important the love of family members is. Or letting memories of things long past keep us from enjoying the present.
Did I let my seven-year-old son read this? You bet I did! I don’t have to worry that he’s going to learn any magic spells or supernatural things from it. Instead, I hope it helps him see the world as a fantastic, wonderful place where unexpected joy lurks in everyday surroundings. I hope it teaches him to extend friendship to people who truly need it. I hope it gives him an appreciation for his own sisters and their love and affection. And I hope it confirms his love of words and the power they contain. ♥
When she’s not writing, Rachel Kovaciny passes the time by reading, baking, watching movies, crocheting, blogging, and homeschooling her three children. Her least favorite activities are house-cleaning and wearing shoes, and she’s been known to go to great lengths to avoid both. She blogs about books, and also has a personal blog that talks about movies and other important things.