The Magic in Changing Your Stars
This time-slip novel for middle-grade readers inhabits the modern small-town life of eleven-year-old Ailey, then sends him, by way of magic, to the 1939 Harlem childhood of his grandfather. Both are talented dancers who are crippled by stage fright. Ailey freezes at his audition for his school’s production of The Wiz. He learns that his beloved grandfather, now seriously ill, was also a dancer who had missed an opportunity to audition before the famous Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in his youth. Add the gift of tap-dancing shoes never returned to Robinson and a wish on a star, and Ailey is transported to the bustling streets of Depression-era Harlem in his bathrobe and Black Panther pajamas.
He soon finds his grandfather, called “Taps,” dancing on a Harlem street corner for tips, and enters a world full of dangers, the abiding care of strangers, and the love and devotion of his ancestors. The two boys recognize common insecurities about allowing their talent and hard work to shine. They help each other overcome and change family and dancing history.
This novel uses the clever device of naming characters for African Americans who have made important contributions to American history, from poet Jupiter Hammon to inventor Benjamin Banneker to playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Both modern and 1930s segments spark with life through good dialogue and characterization, although the plot might have moved along at a more galloping pace. The devotion of grandfather and grandson is especially moving in scenes at the family’s Harlem apartment and as Ailey teaches Taps to rap (“What are you, a poet?”).