Hocus Pocus Practice Focus: The Making of a Magician by Amy Kimlat
Review by Michael Close
Back in the days when I was out in the real world, performing regularly, I would sometimes be asked the question, “Why aren’t there more female magicians?” I didn’t have a definitive answer, but I had some possibilities.
I knew that the need for concerted (often solitary) practice is not a reason women shied away from magic as a hobby. Mastery of a musical instrument also demands constant practice (long, long, long hours in a practice room), but there is certainly no shortage of virtuoso female musicians who (from a young age) have been willing to pay that price. This also holds true for the world of athletics and sports.
(Activities in sports and the arts have an advantage over conjuring: there are established training systems for learning and mastering the necessary skills. Generally speaking, magic is sold as if owning the trick immediately makes the purchaser a magician. This can lead to a mistaken impression of just how much study and practice goes into becoming a good magician. I’ll have more to say about this in a moment.)
Boys are often attracted to magic in an effort to compensate for a lack of social skills. Performing a few tricks can attract the attention of classmates, and knowledge of the “secret” places the fledgling magician in a position of power. Unfortunately, this emphasis on the secret (“I know how it’s done and you don’t”) is also the reason so many magicians come across as jerks. Using magic tricks to gain “power” in a social situation doesn’t seem to me like a route women would take.
Because magic has been male dominated for so many years, the literature of conjuring is geared toward men. As Lisa Menna pointed out in a March 18, 2013, article in The Atlantic, “Most magic that you learn assumes that you’re wearing a jacket with long sleeves, and a pair of pants with pockets – so that if you put your hand in your pocket to put your pen away, you can secretly take out your gold coin. But you don’t have a pocket in your gown! So you have to rework it into your purse or something.” Running into obstacles like these could be discouraging to the neophyte.
Magic organizations have traditionally been boys’ clubs. It would be easy to be intimidated in an environment where the lone female participant is often viewed as “fresh meat” by any members who haven’t outgrown their childhood social ineptitude.
These, then, were the reasons I offered when asked about the scarcity of females in magic. Recently, I realized that the fact I am a white male blinded me to what was probably the major reason so few women get interested in magic: there were no role models. If a young girl saw a woman in a magic show, she was an assistant, getting shoved into a box, sawn into halves, and eventually restored so she could jump out of the box. Few and far between were the female magicians a young girl could watch and think, “Someday I want to do what she does.”
Fortunately, in the past few years, this situation has changed. Not only have female magicians broken through the “all-boys” barrier, they have become skillful, entertaining performers, displaying their talents at the many magic venues around the country and on television. I have been very impressed by the female magicians who have appeared on Fool Us (and there have been quite a few). While seeing these excellent performers may certainly stimulate an interest in magic in younger girls, watching a performer does not provide information on what it takes to perform magic competently.
All of this brings me to the subject at hand, Hocus Pocus Practice Focus: The Making of a Magician, a new book for young readers by Amy Kimlat. Amy’s last name may be familiar to you; her husband is Kostya Kimlat, who completely beat Penn & Teller with a fabulous Triumph routine a few years ago. Amy became interested in magic at a young age. Unfortunately, during a performance for her eighth-grade class, a slight fumble during a Cups and Balls routine (the extra ball accidentally rolled into view), embarrassed and demoralized her. She put magic aside for many years. Her interest was revitalized when she married Kostya.
Hocus Pocus Practice Focus tells the story of Mila, a young girl who becomes interested in magic after seeing a performance by Greta the Great at her birthday party. Mila encounters a few mishaps when she tries to imitate Greta without understanding how magic works (these are tricks, with secret methods and procedures that must be practiced).
Fortunately, Mila acquires an unexpected mentor, who guides her on the right path to learning magic. (Mila is also lucky that her local library has the hippest collection of magic books in world. This is just one of several clever Easter eggs scattered throughout the book.) Mila studies, practices, and a year later performs a successful show.
Hocus Pocus Practice Focus: The Making of a Magician delivers an important message to its young readers. Success at an endeavor (whatever that subject might be) requires more than just innate talent; it demands study, concerted practice, and guidance. This is especially important with magic, which is so often marketed with the misleading phrase, “It’s easy when you know the secret.”
Hocus Pocus Practice Focus: The Making of a Magician is geared toward young readers three to eight years old. It would be the perfect gift for a child who has expressed an interest in magic (especially after seeing the wonderful performers on TV now). I recommend it.
By the way, Amy has extended a generous offer to the readers of this newsletter. Go to AmyKimlat.com/Close and you can download a PDF of the book to peruse for free. You can leave a review on Amazon.com.
Available October 25, 2022, from: Amazon.com
Price: Hardcover $19.99, Kindle $5.99