Bob Seeney On Books

The Incredible Magic of Being

November, 2017

I am truly excited about The Incredible Magic of Being, by Kathryn Erskine (2017, Scholastic Press). Erskine is not a stranger to this column. In July of 2011, I reviewed her remarkable Mockingbird (2009, Philomel), a book about which I am equally excited.

In Incredible Magic, our narrator is Julian, a youngster of “9.63” years. Julian is named “after Percy Lavon Julian,” about whom we learn much as the book progresses. We learn that Julian and his family, which consists of his two moms and his sister, Pookie, are moving to Maine. There they plan to start a bed and breakfast and to homeschool Julian.

We also learn that Julian is twice exceptional. (Making this discovery is part of the excitement and wonder of this book, and it’s certainly an expression of Erskine’s creativity and craftsmanship.) In addition to being highly gifted, Julian has some extreme emotional overexcitabilities and super-sensitivities. For example, he explains to us how difficult it is for him to make a simple decision, like deciding how to respond to a classmate’s invitation to play tag. Instead of a simple yes or no, Julian must consider how other kids are feeling: is someone being left out and, if so, should he spend time with that person instead of playing tag? What about the weather, will his classmates get angry with him when he stops and looks at the clouds? Is it the popular kids who are asking him to play and, if so, what are the ramifications? Julian’s explanation of this quandary on pages 140-141 is delightful. Erskine’s craft comes shining through.

The reader easily and quickly falls for Julian. His stated mission in life is to help people find magic in the world. “Magic is all around us, but most people never see it.” Julian is not talking about magicians and their tricks here. He is talking about his family. One delightful example is his description of his sister, Pookie:

“… [I am] leaning away from the black hole and trying not to get sucked in. The black hole is my sister. She didn’t used to be a cosmic phenomenon, but something happens to people when they become teenagers and their brains explode. Pookie’s went supernova.”

This passage introduces an essential element of the novel: astronomy and physics! Julian is fascinated with both subjects, and they are featured throughout the book. If your reader has an interest in one or both disciplines, this is a good hook. Erskine’s handling of these subjects obviously reflects a great deal of research.
Important to Julian’s task of helping people find magic is what he refers to as being a uni-sensor. Julian explains:

“That’s what I call sensing information from the universe. It’s not like someone is actually telling me something. I just know. Pookie says I have Mutant Brain Syndrome and think too much. But I’m not actually thinking; stuff just comes into my head randomly.”

Examples of his uni-sensing occur throughout the book and are important to the plot. I am reminded of Stephanie Tolan’s Welcome to the Ark (latest reprint edition 2009), which I highly recommend.

Julian’s uni-sensing introduces another element of Incredible Magic and that is Julian’s FARTS! Let me quickly explain: throughout the book Julian shares his thoughts in notes, which he calls Facts And Random Thoughts: FARTS! His explanation of uni-sensing in a FART is important for understanding much of what happens in this amazing novel. Additional FARTS at the end of the novel are full of wisdom and humor.

It would be too easy for me to go on and share many of the other little gems found throughout the book, but that would destroy the reader’s opportunity to make discoveries. However, it’s important to note that this book’s many themes and sub-themes make it a possible text for a philosophy class!

Julian joins that select group of wonderful and important characters such as Augie in Wonder, reviewed in my July, 2012, column, and Cece in El Deafo, reviewed in my November, 2015, column. I welcome him to this amazing “club.”

There’s no better way to close than with Julian’s own words: “… maybe you can see the magic in the universe….We’re all connected. Whether it’s in this life or up in the stars. Or in parallel universes. You’ve got to see that.” We’re all connected. Thanks, Julian, for reminding us that we must search for the magic in our own lives.

Happy Reading!

Bob Seney


Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. He has been 2e Newsletter's children's book columnist since 2007. Reach him at

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