________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 32. . . .April 22, 2011


Spells & Sleeping Bags. (Magic in Manhattan).

Sarah Mlynowski.
New York, NY: Delacorte Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House), 2007.
293 pp., pbk., $10.99.
ISBN 978-0-385-73388-5.

Subject Headings:
Humourous stories.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Rebecca King.

***½ /4



And since I am a witch, nothing that could possibly happen this summer can burst my bubble of glorious happiness. I mean, hello? I finally have magical powers! I can zap up anything I want. More handbags? Presto. Tastier food? Kazam. Friends? Zap! Nah, I probably won't cast spells on any possible friends, since enchanting individuals is so morally wrong. But I could if I wanted to.

Why? Because I'm a witch!

But even if nobody in my bunk wants to be my friend this summer—and I don't see why they wouldn't, since none of them goes to my school, and therefore they don't know anything about my previous social mishaps (we were a bit wild and carefree with Miri's powers in the early days)—I won't care.

Why? Because I'm a witch!

Even if Raf doesn't fall in love with me this summer—yes, Raf Kosravi, the hottest guy in my class and, I should mention, the love of my life, is going to be at Wood Lake too—so what? It will be his loss.

Why? Because I'm a witch!

Okay, that's a lie. Not the witch part (yay!) but the part about Raf. I'd care a lot if he didn't fall in love with me. But you get my point.

My ego has gained about seven hundred pounds since I discovered my magic at prom last month.


As Spells & Sleeping Bags begins, Rachel and her younger sister, Miri, are waiting for the bus to take them to camp for the summer. This is a new experience for both of them, and Rachel, the narrator, has some concerns. Of late, her school life has been somewhat embarrassing because she and her sister have discovered that they are witches and have been a little over the top in some of their spells. Rachel is hopeful that, despite having gone to a dance with his older brother, she and Raf, a boy from her school, will connect at camp.

     Being that this is her first time at camp, Rachel, as she boards the bus, is nervous about making friends since most of the girls are returning campers. Rachel is surprised to find that a girl asks her to sit with her:

I am dumbfounded. The girl is smiley and not at all loserish-looking. Her layered curly dark hair is tied into a low ponytail, bangs, clipped back, showing off clear skin, bright eyes, and a big smile. And she's friendly. 'Sure,' I say, plopping myself down next to her on the sticky leather seat, my knapsack at my feet. Perfect! Miri can sit in the empty row across the aisle. It will be just like we're sitting together…except not.

     The bus trip begins swimmingly, though Miri chooses to sit in the front and then embarrasses Rachel by throwing up. Their cleanup, in a gas station bathroom, involves a magic spell that goes slightly awry. This sets the tone for their camp experience. Miri, though younger, is the more experienced witch, and Rachel's spells often fail to have the desired effect. Rachel fits in well with the girls in her cabin, though the returning girls are somewhat surprised that their friends from the previous summer, who are in an adjoining cabin, set up a fierce rivalry of pranks and competition. They have always gotten along so well before. Rachel, however, ignores Miri, who is not getting along well with her cabin-mates.

      Camp life continues with activities such as swimming, sailing, tennis and crafts. However, each time Rachel gets close to kissing Raf, something happens: the lights switch on, the counsellors come in, a colony of bees attacks. A careful reader might begin to suspect that someone else at camp is a witch.

      Even if readers haven't read the first book in the "Magic in Manhattan" series, Bras & Broomsticks, they will quickly become acquainted with the vivacious Rachel. As a first-person narrator, Rachel naturally dominates the book. Author Sarah Mlynowski has a sure touch with her characters, and the action is fast paced. Humourous situations abound. Rachel even learns lessons about family loyalty and friendship. Spells and Sleeping Bags is a skillful, mostly lighthearted romp. Girls looking for this kind of fun will find it highly satisfactory.

Highly Recommended.

Rebecca King is a Library Support Specialist with the Halifax Regional School Board in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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