Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Snakes Alive! A Crazy Day with Cobras (Magic Tree House #45) by Mary Pope Osborne

The winds blew harder.

"What's happening?" cried Annie. Suddenly two figures ran out of the woods.

"Teddy!" cried Annie. "Kathleen!" said Jack.

"You must come with us to the tree house!" cried Teddy and Kathleen.

"We made a terrible mistake! We desperately need your help!"

Jack and Annie are used to having the Magic Tree House appear suddenly in the Frog Creek Woods and finding Morgan or Teddy or Kathleen waiting serenely inside to send them forth on their missionm, always providing a guidebook and something magical to assist them in their mission. But this time is different.

Teddy and Kathleen are in trouble. Without telling Morgan, they have been trying out her forbidden Book of Spells and have turned Merlin's beloved penguin to stone and cannot undo the spell without mortal help.

Jack and Annie soon find themselves on their way to a land distant in time and space--to the time of the building of the Taj Mahal in India--with a mission to recover the first of four powerful items that will allow the spell to be undone. Equipped only with a potion that can make them grow smaller and larger, the two kids find themselves dressed in silken finery, impersonating ambassadors to the court of the powerful Mogul, a ruler so mighty that no one is allowed to speak to him without his permission, on pain of death!

Annie and Jack are more frightened than they have ever been, even at the court of the Empress of Austria, but when they bow low before the Mogul, he presents them with a gift, just the emerald they have been sent to find. Then the elephant to which they have been assigned to ride out of the Mogul's court suddenly breaks out of the proession and charges into the jungle, where she dumps them to find her lost baby. In the turmoil Jack drops the emerald, and before the two can locate it, a giant King Cobra seizes it and takes it back to her nest. Will Jack and Annie fail their mission and be stuck in medieval India forever?

Very few children's series ever make it into double digits, much less close to fifty sequels, but Mary Pope Osborne's best-selling Magic Tree House has now turned over 45 on the series-o-meter and is still going strong. Pope's latest, Magic Tree House #45: A Crazy Day with Cobras (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2011) has all the right stuff to keep this series going--well delineated and likable characters, a unique but historically solid setting, plenty of adventures for the two youngsters on a mission, and a comfortable ending with a familiar feel as the two return back to the same spot and moment in good old Frog Creek. It's a formula that works here and will probably work as long as Mary Pope Osborne continues to come up with fascinating places in time and space for her heroes to visit. Sal Murdocca's delightful retro-style drawings and an abundance of incidental learning embedded in the story raise this solid beginning chapter series above the ordinary fantasy adventure.

For further information, pair this one with its companion book, Magic Tree House Research Guide #23: Snakes and Other Reptiles: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #45: A Crazy Day with Cobras (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2011) by Osborne and sister Natalie Pope Boyce, to extend the fantasy fun into the wonder of nature science.

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