Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca

One warm June day, Jack and Annie, siblings living in Frog Creek, PA, receive a message via carrier pigeon.  The message is from their friend Teddy, asking them to come to Glastonbury, England immediately, their help is needed.

When Jack and Annie arrive in Glastonbury, they are met by Teddy who tells them they have arrived on June 4, 1944, two days before the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France by the Allies forces and the beginning of the end for the Nazis.

Teddy and Kathleen, who iare really young enchanters from Camelot, have been made agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) by Winston Churchill to do undercover work in countries occupied by the Nazis.  But now, Kathleen is still in Normandy, France and needs to be rescued, but they only clues to her whereabouts is a coded riddle she sent Teddy by carrier pigeon.

Jack and Annie's job is to parachute into France and find Kathleen within 24 hours - they need to be gone by the time the invasion begins.  Jack and Annie are told to try to find members of the French Resistance to help them, but to avoid the Nazis, who are everywhere.  But when they land in a French field, they are spotted and chased by Nazis using a dog.  Jack and Annie hide in a barn, calm the dog down and are found by a man and his wife, whose sons were members of the Resistance.

The couple feeds them, and help to figure out the riddle from Kathleen, then they give Jack and Annie two bikes and some money, and send them on their way.  The road to Kathleen is fraught with both friend and foe, but eventually the two find her and now, they must figure out how to get her back to England. It seems Teddy forgot to give them the magic wand Kathleen needs, since her innate magic seems to have disappeared.  Not only that, but Kathleen has acquired some fellow travelers she is determined to get out of France, a group of very young Jewish orphans, which means a bigger, more noticeable plane will be needed for the rescue.  Oh yes, and a large vehicle to get all of them to the pickup point.  And there is only a few hours left before the invasion begins, with all its bombing and shooting.

Can everyone be rescued in time and will Jack and Annie find their way back to Frog Creek?

This is an interesting chapter book.  It is longer than the previous Magic Tree House books and the subject matter is much darker.  And since the magic wand was forgotten, Jack, Annie and Kathleen have to rely on their own skills to solve problems and figure out how to escape France before the invasion.

Osborne gently introduces the reader to Hitler and the Nazis, and though she never uses the word Holocaust, Teddy does tell Jack and Annie that "[the Nazis] have killed countless innocent civilians, including millions of Jewish people." (pg 25)  This may sound a little watered down, but consider the age of the reader and that for many this may very well be an introduction to that "darkest hour" of modern history.

i didn't expect to really like this book, but I did.  With a willing suspension of disbelief, I found the story compelling and exciting, and I felt it was very clear that Osborne is comfortable with her characters and knows her audience.  Things do work out nicely in the end, which is OK when you have magic on your side (and yes, there was some surprising magic used in the end).

At the back of the book, there is a "Track the Facts Behind Jack and Annie's Mission" that includes lots of information ranging from the use of pigeons in war, the German Enigma machine, and other interesting facts, all age appropriately described.

Besides the colorful cover illustration, showing Jack, in all his fear, and sister Annie parachuting into France, there are some wonderful black and white double page illustrations throughout the book, all done by Magic Tree House illustrator Sal Murdocca.

I have to confess, I have never read a Magic Tree House book before this.  Sure, my Kiddo and all her cousins read and loved them when they were in elementary school.  So did the kids in my classes, which made me happy since most of them were not yet reading at grade level.  But I did hear Mary Pope Osborne speak at a BEA Children's Author Breakfast one year, so I knew that author Mary Pope Obsorne is a very generous donor of her books to kids who might not otherwise get copies of them.  And I could help but wonder how many kids have become readers thanks to the Magic Tree House books?

You can read a two chapter sample of Danger in the Darkest Hour HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. This sounds great! I have never read a Magic Tree House Book before, but I know they are a huge hit with all the kids I know. I really should read one to see what they are like- and this sounds like a good one to start with . Thanks for sharing!

    1. As I said, I never read one either, but thought this was a good one to see what the Magic Tree House was all about. It was interesting, and I can see why kids like them so much. As a former teacher, I say bravo to books that will draw even reluctant readers in.

  2. Happy New Year Alex, thanks for your visit!

    I have to confess, I’ve not read any of the Magic Tree House books either, but this one sounds interesting enough to make me think I will.

    Considering the age the book is aimed at a gentle introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust (is that even possible?) with some magic and make believe thrown in seems like a good idea.

    Thank you for welcoming me back to the happy world of blogging! Barbara

  3. The Magic Tree House sounds familiar ... I must have heard about this series somewhere though I haven't read the books. The mission of these 'Young enchanters from Camelot' is inviting and my primary school students might really enjoy this one.

  4. My son just read it and there was no dog that chased them, it was a nazi on a motorcycle and they hid in a milk truck not a barn. Hmmmmm. Just thought I would point that out for parents that haven't read the book. The summary above was not accurate to our copy of the book.

  5. I apoligize for taking so long to respond to your comment. I had to wait until the library had an available copy of this book. As you say, the children did indeed hide in a milk truck, but that was later in the story.
    When they first parachut into France, they are behind enemy lines so there are Nazis everywhere. They hide in a barn just after landing when they hear voices and a dog barking. One of the men called Fritz and his companion are searching for the persons who had just parachuted into that area. The kids hear the dog barking and hide in a barn, and although the dog, a German shepherd, finds them, Annie manages to calm the dog, who then leaves the barn without alarming the men.

    Perhaps I shouldn't have said "they are spotted and chased by Nazis using a dog" and said "they are spotted and than searched for by Nazis using a dog."

    I stand corrected.