The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

Happy, happy Monday! I am kicking off the week with poet Chris Baron. He dropped by to chat with me about The Magical Imperfect, Angel Island, novels in verse, story, empathy, and more. I wrote the words in purple, and Chris wrote the words in black. Thank you, Chris! 

André Ceolin’s cover illustration and Trisha Previte’s cover design for The Magical Imperfect is pure magic. I am astounded at the way they have so profoundly captured the spirit (and the setting) of this story. We sat down as a family to look at the cover together for the first time—we counted down—3…2….1! Then my kids were jumping up and down while I did the adult version of that—crying. I am so thankful for Andre, Trisha, and the whole team for their insight and imagination!

The Magical Imperfect tells the story of deep family connections and finding empathy in the most difficult and unexpected places.

Of a small town between the Redwoods and the Sea in Northern California where a community of immigrants accept each other and form meaningful bonds even though they come from so many different places.

Of an unlikely friendship between outcasts: Etan, who is selectively mute and spends most his days working with his grandfather on main street, and Malia who lives near an ancient grove of redwoods and never leaves the house because of her skin condition.

Of the magic that brings them together and changes their world.

Did you know The Magical Imperfect is about a richly diverse community of people who came to the United States through Angel Island? Most of us know about Ellis Island and the approximately 12 million immigrants who arrived at the Port of New York and New Jersey. But not many people know that—from 1910 to 1940—the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco served as the processing and detention center for nearly half a million people from China, Japan, South Asia, Korea, Russia, Mexico, Europe (including Jewish people), and the Philippines. There are so many undiscovered stories about these incredible souls. The Magical Imperfect finds its heart here. (I also need to mention this important book, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, by Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Oxford University Press.)

Novels in verse are my native language. I’ve always loved the idea of the image being the truth and beauty of a story. I was (and I am now with my own kids) the slowest picture book reader ever because I like to stare at every atom of the image and the words swirling together. To me it’s pure poetry--pure story.

I think this was my initial draw to novels in verse. I love the way verse can shake up our expectations of a story even as traditional story elements—like plot, setting, conflict—are still all present. I think that poetry speaks to the heart. We see with more than just our eyes, and the music of poetry helps to make words sing directly to us. This can be so helpful--especially when dealing with more difficult subject matter. I think young readers see and feel, but aren’t always good at “talking about” what they experience. Novels in verse can help articulate the internal landscape in a unique way.

Novels in verse relate to all kinds of readers. There is space on the page, measured breaks, pacing, music, and movement of lines that a reader of almost any level can find their way into. The structure of verse creates an intimacy with a reader that allows them to hear the tone and cadence of a character’s voice. This can create even stronger connections for readers.

Story is sacred. Story is everywhere. Stories make us human, build empathy and bring us together. If I know someone’s story, I find myself connected with them in a way that transcends my own selfishness and breaks down barriers. Stories saved my life growing up. I remember reading Lord of the Rings or Bridge to Terabithia, and—even though these stories are fiction—I learned so many truths about life in those pages.

This world is so overwhelmed with information and instant facts, but most of human history is told and remembered through story. With my kids, we end every night by reading a story, and then when the lights go out, we take turns telling stories to each other. Maybe they are about space, or giant frogs, or mole people, or a girl at school, and even though we call it fiction, truth is powerfully present in each one. I imagine so many families across so many cultures doing this through the ages--whether they are making their way through the most challenging dangers, tucked away safe and snug in bedrooms, or perhaps even walking along the bay on a crisp San Francisco Evening. Stories bring us together.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me... what connects me to a story like this?

The answer would be:

This story is full of personal connections. I grew up in the bay area, and clearly I love writing about it (like in ALL OF ME), but I have always been drawn to stories of empathy, magic, healing, and hope because this is what I needed to get through difficult times in my own growing up. (and now :)) This is true for my wife as well who has dealt with a chronic skin condition her entire life. There is also a deep connection and exploration of family here—both on our Jewish side, and on my wife’s side of the family, who immigrated from the Philippines. Like so many stories, THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT is a fictional journey through the truth of who we are and who we hope to be.

Look for The Magical Imperfect on June 15, 2021. 

Chris Baron’s Middle Grade debut, ALL OF ME, is a novel in verse from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. Learn more about him at


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