A runaway street magician teams up with five other like-minded young illusionists to save a sleepy New England town from a greedy villain in The Magic Misfits, Neil Patrick Harris’s debut book for young readers. Released today by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers with a 250,000-copy first printing, this middle-grade series launch meshes adventure, friendship, and self-discovery—and contains codes, ciphers, and magic tricks for aspiring practitioners of prestidigitation.

It’s a thematic combination that well matches actor, comedian, and magic aficionado Harris’s interests. Author of the 2014 adult memoir Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, and an Emmy- and Tony-winning actor of screen and stage, Harris served as president of the Academy of Magical Arts from 2011–2014.

“Two of my favorite things are magic and reading,” the author explained. “My love of magic runs deep—it has been my main hobby and obsession for decades. As a boy, I stumbled upon a small magic shop in a shopping mall near my hometown and, after watching the man behind the counter show me a handful of small effects that I could purchase and learn, I was immediately hooked.”

Beyond the sense of accomplishment that accompanies learning a trick—and making it one’s own—Harris believes that performing magic has wider-reaching benefits. “Quite often the actual secrets are mundane and simple,” he said. “What’s exciting to me is what else magic can teach—real and practical lessons that can be used elsewhere. The ideas of learning secrets but then protecting them; of dedicating yourself to practicing something over and over again; of patience and being willing to improve over time and hone a craft; and of respect—honoring those who have created different skills or individual effects or routines or styles. There’s lots more to magic than meets the eye!”

Since he and his husband have read to their seven-year-old twins since they were born, when Harris considered writing a children’s book he initially envisioned a picture book about a group of kids who use magic to solve problems. But that idea expanded. “After spending time thinking about the potential, it seemed clear that there were more stories to tell within this world,” he said. “So I switched to a middle-grade novel to be able to flesh things out.

Presto! The Right Editorial Fit

The book project that sprang from that decision caught the attention of Rex Ogle, LBYR senior editor of brand, licensed, and media tie-in publishing, when editor-in-chief Alvina Ling showed him Harris’s proposal in June 2015. Ogle’s fascination with magic dates back to his own childhood, when he witnessed a magician bending a spoon with his mind. “For the next year, I tried desperately to do the same—and failed miserably,” he admitted. Yet he never lost his love for magic. When he read the proposal for The Magic Misfits, the editor recalled, “I immediately said, ‘I have to work on this!’ The pitch gave me that same sense of wonder I had when I was a kid. Neil’s passion for magic clearly shined through, as did his sense of humor.”

Ogle was impressed by Harris’s seemingly easy transition to writing for children. “Neil is not just an actor, but one of those people who can’t help but be charming and charismatic,” he observed. “If you’ve seen him on talk shows, you know how easily hilarious and eloquent he is. When we started working together, I told him, ‘Just write like you talk, let your actual voice be the voice on paper.’ Not only did he do that, but he took it a step beyond, and gave the narrative a fantastic narrator.”

Though Harris anticipated that “due to the younger demographic and therefore simpler vocabulary and sentence structure,” writing for children would be easier than writing for adults, he discovered otherwise. “It was oddly challenging,” he said of penning The Magic Misfits. “I actually realized a slight responsibility to educate through those same words and structures, to instill in these middle-grade minds a sense of humor, wit, and words that they may find useful.”

There are currently four books planned in the series, all of which, said Ogle, “we plotted out from the beginning.” Next up is The Magic Misfits: The Second Story, scheduled for fall 2018. A simultaneously released audiobook tie-in to the inaugural book features Harris reading. Asked about the possibility of a future movie tie-in, Ogle sounded a hopeful note. “My fingers are crossed and double-crossed and triple-crossed on this one,” he said. “Reading Neil’s books is like watching a movie about these characters.” And might Harris appear in a film version? “Absolutely! My money is on him playing either Mr. Vernon or the mysterious narrator.”

Harris awaits the time when his own children become hooked on his preferred pastimes of magic and reading. “Now they enjoy watching magic, but are still a bit too young to perform,” he said. “I’ve found that younger kids are so excited to show how things work that they end up performing a trick and then immediately exposing it. An understandable impulse, but counterintuitive to magic as a craft. But I desperately hope that in a year or two, they’ll be donning capes and top hats and making their Papa beam with pride.”

As to introducing the twins to his books, Harris said, “I look forward to that very much. But first, they need to conquer the magical art of learning how to read words!”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris. Little, Brown, $16.99 (Nov. 21) ISBN 978-0-316-39182-4