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About the Author
Simon Cooper has illustrated many children’s books and lives with his family in the English countryside.
Read an Excerpt
Joe peeked around the stage curtain and gasped. “Wow! It’s packed. Look, Matt!” He nudged his best friend, who was busy digging inside an old top hat.
“I’m sure I put the flowers in here,” Matt said, turning the hat upside down and giving it a thump.
It was Friday night, and families and friends were jammed into the school’s auditorium to watch the kids compete in the sixth-grade talent show. Joe could see his mom and dad and his little brother, Toby, in the front row. His sister, Sarah, had gone to a friend’s house for the night instead. Toby was leaning forward, his eyes glued to the stage. He couldn’t wait to see Joe and Matt’s magic act. They’d been practicing for weeks.
“Joe, where’d the knotted string go?” asked Matt, patting his coat pockets nervously.
“I’ve got it here,” Joe said, holding it up. “Stop worrying, Matt!”
Their principal, Mr. Hill, swept past with a clipboard in his hands. “Five minutes to curtain!” he called. “Form a line in the order you’re going onstage, please.”
As he spoke, the stage lights flickered eerily above their heads.
“Ooooooooooh!” The children giggled.
“Oh no!” groaned Mr. Hill. “The last thing we need is a power outage.”
“Must be the wind,” said Nick the Stick, the tallest boy in Joe’s class. “It’s blowing hard out there—a tree branch nearly hit our car on the way here.”
As he spoke, Nick was spinning a basketball around and around on one finger.
Joe and Matt exchanged a look. Nick was amazing at ball tricks. As well as being the basketball king of the school, he could roll a ball down his back and flick it back up over his head.
“We’ll never beat Nick’s basketball routine,” said Matt. “And look—there’s the twins’ dog! They’ve trained her to do tricks.”
Smartie the dog was doing a routine with her owners, Ava and Molly—two girls in Joe’s class. A little further back, Joe could see Spiker and Harry practicing their yo-yo moves. In the corner, another group from Joe’s class was warming up for a gymnastics act.
Mr. Hill looked around. “Where are Leonie and Natalie?” He peered at his clipboard. “They’re supposed to be the first act.”
Mr. Hill looked over at Joe and Matt. “If they’re not here soon, you two will have to go on first.”
“What?” squeaked Matt. “I’m not ready yet! Joe, have we got all the props?”
“Yes! Check your pockets. They’re definitely in there. We already went through everything, remember?”
Both boys were wearing long, dark overcoats with deep pockets and wide sleeves, perfect for hiding things—and losing them! Joe had borrowed his coat from his granddad. It was a bit big and smelled of pickled onions, but Joe thought it made him look mysterious.
“Ta-da!” said Matt suddenly. He produced a squashed bunch of paper flowers from up his sleeve.
“What about the rabbit?” asked Joe. It was one of their best tricks—pulling a cuddly toy bunny out of a seemingly empty top hat. “Is it definitely in there?”
Matt nodded. “Yeah, it’s hidden at the bottom.”
“One minute to curtain!” called Mr. Hill. “If Leonie and Natalie don’t appear in the next ten seconds, you boys will have to go on first.”
“We’re here!” wailed Leonie, clambering up the steps in a pair of bright red shoes. Natalie was right behind her. “We were just having a last-minute practice!”
Just then, the sound of piano music rang out from the front of the stage.
“Quick! Places, everyone!” hissed Mr. Hill.
The children crowded into the wings of the stage and Mr. Hill signaled to Joe’s classmates Ben and Simon, who were in charge of props and scenery, to open the curtains.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” boomed Mr. Hill, squinting in the glare of the spotlight. “Welcome to the sixth-grade talent show!” There was a loud round of applause.
Joe felt a rush of excitement—he’d never performed in front of people before. He hoped none of their tricks would go wrong.
“I’d like to introduce you to our two judges,” continued Mr. Hill. “Miss Bruce, sixth-grade teacher, and Mr. Shah, the vice principal.”
The judges stood up and gave the audience a wave.
“And now, please welcome our first act, Leonie and Natalie with their recorder duet.”
“Earplugs at the ready,” Matt said with a giggle.
Leonie scowled at them and flounced on to the stage with Natalie. They launched into a squeaky performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Joe rolled his eyes and Matt snickered. Mr. Hill glared at them from the other side of the stage so they tried to look serious, but it was tough—especially when Smartie the dog started howling along to “Yankee Doodle”!
As soon as Leonie and Natalie took their bows, Ben ran on and removed the music stand, while Simon dragged Joe and Matt’s magic table (which was really a school desk with a shiny tablecloth draped over the top) onto the stage.
Mr. Hill stepped forward. “Please put your hands together for Joe and Matt’s mysterious magical mayhem!”
There was an eruption of clapping and a few loud whistles from Matt’s dad up front.
Joe and Matt stepped out. There was a whole room full of faces staring back, grinning and clapping.
Joe took a deep breath. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen . . .” His voice sounded small and tight. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Tonight we’ll show you how to make things vanish . . .”
“And reappear!” added Matt, reaching forward and producing a shiny coin from behind Joe’s ear.
“Wow!” Toby gasped in the front row.
“Making things appear can be useful,” said Joe.
“Especially if you’ve forgotten your mom’s birthday present!” said Matt, whipping out the fake flowers from up his sleeve.
There was another round of applause and more whistles from Matt’s dad.
Awwhoooooo . . .
Then Joe pulled the string from his pocket and held it up. “As you can see, there is a knot at the end of this string. But it’s easy to make it disappear. All it takes is the magic word . . . Alakazam!” Joe gave the string a tug, and the knot was gone!
There was a small round of applause and a few grins from the grown-ups who already knew the trick.
“And now, I will bring the knot back!” Joe gathered up the string in his fist and said the magic word again. This time he pulled the other end of the string down and the knot mysteriously reappeared!
Toby’s eyes opened wide. “How did they do that?” he called out, looking in admiration at his big brother.
“For our next trick we need a volunteer,” called Joe. He was starting to feel confident.
Toby’s hand shot up. “Me!”
Matt grinned and called him onstage.
“Take a look inside this top hat,” said Matt, holding it in front of Toby. “Check there’s nothing inside.”
“It’s empty,” said Toby.
“Not for long!” Joe waved his hands mysteriously above the hat, then pulled out a bright yellow handkerchief . . . and then two more.
“Wow!” Toby beamed.
As the applause died away, Matt continued. “Let’s see if the hat’s magic will work one more time.”
At that moment, the lights flickered and then went out, plunging the hall into darkness. In a blink they came back on again, and Joe saw a white rabbit shoot out of the top hat and land with a thud on the table. But it wasn’t the cuddly toy he’d been expecting. It looked almost real.
“Where did you get that rabbit from, Matt?” he whispered.
But Matt didn’t seem to have noticed it. He was still digging around inside the top hat. “I can’t get the rabbit out. It’s jammed!”
Joe frowned. “But Matt . . .” His words trailed off as he looked at the rabbit.
It turned its head and looked directly at Joe. Its eyes were glowing ghoulishly.
“Hi, Joe, my name’s Fluffy,” the rabbit squeaked. “I’ve got twenty-four hours to save my owner, and I need your help!”