Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Magic Trumpet: A Good Night for Ghosts (Magic Tree House #42) by Mary Pope Osborne

"You are trapped here now. Trapped forever!" said the ghost of Jean LaFitte.

"Play, Annie, play!" said Jack.

"I can't!" said Annie. "We used up all the magic! It's just an ordinary trumpet now!"

"Here, give it to me," said Dipper.

Dipper put the trumpet to his lips. He drew a deep breath and then he blew.

And the rest is history. Or in the hands of Mary Pope Osborne, historical fantasy. In this second Merlin Mission adventure, Magic Tree House #42: A Good Night for Ghosts (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2009) Jack and Annie travel to the New Orleans of 1915 with the urgent mission of persuading the young Louis Armstrong to return to his first love, New Orleans jazz. Louie, then nicknamed "Dipper" for his favorite tune, "Dippermouth Blues," has just returned from two years at the Waifs' Home, where he was sent for a youthful misadventure. Now fourteen, Louie has "The Money Blues" and is determined to stay out of trouble with the local street musicians, work hard at his three jobs, and help support his family. Although Jack and Annie spend a day following him around and urging him to play his horn with his old street band, Louie is adamant that he has put all that behind him.

As in their previous book, Magic Tree House #41: Moonlight on the Magic Flute (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)), in which their magic flute restores the love of music to the young Mozart, Jack and Annie's mission is to help Louis Armstrong also turn his genius to providing happiness to the world. Equipped with Merlin's magic flute, now transformed into a magic trumpet, and a research guide, A History of New Orleans Music, the two shadow Louis, helping him deliver coal, wash dishes at The Greasy Spoon, and unload bananas down at the docks, as they try to persuade him to pick up his cornet and make some music. Dipper calls them a couple of "potato heads" for working for nothing, but as they drive the coal wagon through the French Quarter, he treats them to a bit of scat singing ("Skid dat de dat") as he points out that there's music in everything he hears.

But Jack and Annie stick to their mission, and when all else fails, they pull out their History of New Orleans Music and show Louie his future biography. And when he proves that his trumpet can make even Jean LaFitte's ghost dance on All Saints' Eve, he resolutely sets off to fetch his cornet and heads for a riverboat gig with his old band that night, and as Jack and Annie's tree house rises over the city, the sound of that unforgettable cornet is heard from the river--and American music is changed forever.

In her prologue to this book, Mary Pope Osborne recalls a seminal few weeks in New Orleans:

I always knew it was only a matter of time before Jack and Annie and I would have an adventure in New Orleans with Louis Armstrong, and now I can say it was one of the best adventures I ever had.

Osborne evokes the sights, smells, and social scene, good and bad, of early twentieth century New Orleans, titling each of her chapters after an Armstrong recording--"Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "Potato Head Blues," "Heebie Jeebies"--and sets the climax of the story in the old blacksmith shop said to be haunted by pirate LaFitte and his crew where the three youngsters take shelter from a twilight storm. There is plenty of atmosphere and historic detail folded skillfully into the latest in the series, and, as always, Sal Murdocca's black and white pencil illustrations give form to the text perfectly. A companion book, Magic Tree House Research Guide #20: Ghosts: A Nonfiction Companion to A Good Night for Ghosts (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)), provides classroom resources just right for the upcoming spooky season. Together with its predecessor, Magic Tree House #41: Moonlight on the Magic Flute (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)), these two books also provide great tie-ins for an across-the-curriculum music study. Somehow I think that Mozart and Armstrong have a lot in common. Just imagine what their ghosts might have to say to each other about the joys of making music! (How about October biography book reports with readers dressing as the ghosts of their subjects, sharing their life experiences with each other?)

Fans can take a look at a intriguing trailer which provides a visit with Mary Pope Osborne as she talks about research, writing (and re-writing) here.

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  • his book just came out and we read it in one sitting. My kids and I love the Magic Treehouse series. We recently got "Magic Treehouse the Musical" CD and I would recommend it to any Magic Treehouse fans. It follows the story in the series "Christmas in Camelot."

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