The world is a hectic, scary place right now for everyone, kids included. So let Neil Patrick Harris‘ new book help your child escape for a little while.
The fourth and final installment of actor/writer Harris’ middle-grade fantasy series, “The Magic Misfits: The Fourth Suit,” is out Tuesday (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 224 pp.). His aim for the series was twofold: To write books that could help instill a love of reading in kids, and to create a story in which readers of all backgrounds could feel seen.
“My real goal with the book was to make it as much of a diversion and a kind of escape as possible, while still maintaining a sense of values and of character and moral codes,” Harris, 47, tells USA TODAY.
Harris, along with husband David Burtka, 45, and 9-year-old twins Harper and Gideon, have spent this unusual summer at their farmhouse on Long Island, New York, save for Harris leaving to film “The Matrix 4” with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in Berlin last month and again next week. Traveling is “cautious, but fine,” he says, noting that Warner Bros. is testing those on set for the novel coronavirus “a lot” and folks in Germany are being respectful and “stepping in line for mask-wearing” even as new cases have significantly dropped in the country since its peak in April.
Back at home, school started up this week for the twins, who Harris is thrilled are now both avid readers. Don’t let the goofy video he posted Sunday of an extremely unimpressed Harper and Gideon fool you – both kids are big “Magic Misfits” fans.
Outside of Harris reading them “The Fourth Suit” – they’re on chapter 5, as of Monday – Gideon is re-reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and Harper is “powering through” the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series.
“Their birthdays are coming up (on Oct. 12) and they’re asking for books instead of video games and that just makes my heart swell, because I grew up working in a bookshop and I just really have an affinity for authors and the stories that they can tell,” Harris adds.
“The Magical Misfits” series, which Harris has sprinkled with his own love for practical magic, is centered on a group of kids who band together to protect their town from evil forces. Each main character has a different background, appearance, family structure and interests, a decision Harris says he made to ensure “people didn’t feel excluded when they were looking for something to read.
“I wanted there to be representation of all these different types of people from all walks of life of how they appear, of how they were raised, and of how they process information, so that everyone can have a way in,” he says. “I think I’ve done a relatively decent job with that.
“We are often divisive in the world, in the country, in our 4th grade classes. It’s sort of how we strive for independence, is by judging differences in others and it’s innate and I just want to make sure that’s recognized and used to a positive advantage.”
Now that he’s finished writing the “Misfits” series, Harris is beginning to look to future projects. Aside from acting in “The Matrix 4,” he has a few producing, directing and writing projects in the mix and a board game coming to Target next month; taking a Taylor Swift-ian approach to getting creative while in quarantine this year.
“I think being isolated as much as we all are, you start wanting to develop your own interests and your own material as opposed to waiting for someone to call and say, ‘Do you want to join forces on this project?'” he says.
But for now, Harris is “legitimately geeked” about having the opportunity to put out another story for kids to read.
“More than anything, my goal with the books and with my children as well, is for them to … take away not only messages about inclusion and acceptance and being OK with vulnerability, but also how to palm a quarter and how to practice and use misdirection in order to be more effective in communication,” he says, referencing the magic tricks sprinkled throughout the series.
“I don’t feel like middle-grade reading material necessarily needs to be incredibly political or affect that kind of conversation, at least for me. And so I want it to be more ‘Goonies’ and then while you’re in the world of hidden caverns and secret messages, you’re more subtly steered toward some conversations that might apply in different ways.”