Ten-year-old Ailey Lane is determined to get the part of the Scarecrow in his school's production of The Wiz, and not only because his dance moves are just begging for the spotlight, and he loves coming up with impromptu raps. It's because he always messes things up, and the more people he tells about tryouts, the more he realizes that no one expects him to get it right this time, either.
Everything is shaping up perfectly, though--until it's Ailey's turn at tryouts and he freezes up. Bad. He might be a class clown, but it's totally different having all those eyes on him when he's not just goofing off, and it's like they hit an erase button in his mind. Maybe everyone was right, after all.
Ailey decides he'll never dance again, and when his family asks him how auditions went, he expects a grown-up pep talk about persistence and practice and so on. But Grandpa surprises him--that night, he tells Ailey that when he was younger, he loved tap dancing, and was so good that Bojangles himself tapped with him once and loaned him his tap shoes, saying to bring them back when Grandpa was ready to give performing a shot. But he never mustered the courage to do it, and the shoes, which Bojangles said have a smidgen of magic, are tucked away in a closet, a mark of the regret that Grandpa has carried throughout his life. He has always wondered how far he might have gotten if he had been brave enough to do what he loved. He tells Ailey that he doesn't want him to have regrets, too.
Later that night, Ailey can't stop thinking about Grandpa's story, and he finds the shoes and tries them on. And Bojangles was definitely right about the "smidgen of magic," because when Ailey opens his eyes, he's in Harlem. Harlem in 1939, to be exact.
Which happens to be when and where Grandpa lived and tapped when he was a boy. When and where his greatest regret began.
When Ailey finds a talented boy called Taps performing on the street, he knows that he must have been brought here to give him the encouragement he needs. But nothing seems to go right--Taps definitely isn't convinced that his future grandson has come from the future, Ailey has no idea how to persuade him to take up Bojangles' offer, and there's still the problem of how to get home.
But the two boys have more in common than being family. Taps can tap dance like he was born for it, and Ailey can come up with raps without even trying. On their own, neither quite has the nerve to get up on stage--but maybe together, they can push each other to change their stars.
Ailey and Taps' enthusiasm is infectious, and although I personally am not particularly interested in tap dance, I thoroughly enjoyed The Magic in Changing Your Stars! I liked the combination of time travel and family, and how Ailey meets many members of his family from a few generations back that he's heard stories about--and a few kids and teens he knows as adults from his own time. Every character is named after famous Black people from history, especially performers, and the book includes a list of all of the people mentioned along with a short blurb about their achievements, which was an excellent extra layer. The book itself also has lots of historical tidbits, and many readers might not be able to resist learning more about them! I would recommend The Magic in Changing Your Stars to readers ages eight and up looking for an amusing, engaging celebration of family, friendship, and the courage it takes to do your best.