Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spies Behind Enemy Lines: Danger in the Darkest Hour (Magic Tree House House) by Mary Pope Osborne

"JUMP, JACK!" Teddy yelled.

Falling through the air, Jack forgot everything--legs together--face earth--arch back--spread arms--count to five. But miraculously, he remembered, Pull rip cord!

As the chute's white canopy opened above Jack, it yanked him backward. The billowing silk slowed his downward plunge. Jack clutched his field pack as he drifted through the night air.

The drone of the spy taxi engine faded into the distance. Teddy was gone. Not far away, Jack could see Annie in the moonlight, floating to earth. He was filled with as strange happiness as they both drifted in a dreamlike fall.

Suddenly the earth rose up to meet him. Jack hit the ground with a thud.

"We're in France! We did it!" Annie called from nearby.

When they unrolled the message from a little red canister delivered to them by carrier pigeon from 1945, Jack and Annie knew that they wouldn't be in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, much longer.

This time the two time travelers are summoned, not on a Merlin mission, but on an undercover mission to help the French Resistance, alerting them to the coming D-Day Invasion that begins the end of World War II. The Magic Tree House delivers them to the Allied airbase at Glastonbury, England, where a huge air armada is about to take off to bomb Nazi installations and railroads in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. There they find their old friend, Teddy, in uniform as an agent of the Special Operations Executive, who asks them to parachute into the farming area near Caen to find Kathleen, who is missing on her mission with the French Resistance in the countryside about to be bombed by the Allies. Time is short, and Jack and Annie's special skills are needed to get her back to England before the Invasion.

Jack and Annie are shown the secret "V for Victory" sign to recognize the Resistance fighters and given only a cryptic rhyme and the promise of the help of the magic Wand of Dianthus.

Three miles east of Sir Kay's grave,

Cross a river to find a cave.

Look for knights and small, round cows--

A crack in the rock beneath the boughs.

It's only as the two are dangling from their chutes that they realize that Teddy has neglected to put the Wand in Jack's field pack. With no magic to help them, Jack and Annie realize that they are on their own behind Nazi lines and surrounded by truly deadly danger.

"I guess that means we'll have to help Kathleen without magic," said Annie. "But that's okay. We have lots of skills."

"Like what?" Jack asked grimly.

But the brother and sister find that they do have the right skills--to smile bravely and pretend to be French, to get people talking long enough to gather useful information, and to decode the rhyme and find Kathleen hiding a group of Jewish orphans in a cave accessed by the crack in the rocks by the river.

Now, their mission will be accomplished--if only Jack can resurrect his driving skills, learned in an old truck he was allowed to drive around the fields at Great-Grandpa's farm, well enough to drive an old bread truck loaded with Kathleen and the orphans through the Nazi checkpoint to the field where Teddy will land to take them back across the English Channel in the long night before the Longest Day.

In her new Magic Tree House Super Edition #1, best-selling author Mary Pope Osborne has the skills to take her beginning chapter book readers across the divide and into middle reader historical fiction. Used to the thrills, chills, and spills in the earlier and simpler series, Osborne's practiced readers will find themselves inside a darker historical fiction story where Annie and Jack are in real danger as they escape from the Nazis just in time to alert the French Resistance that it is time to start sabotaging railways, armament dumps, and bridges and tunnels to help the Allies establish a foothold in Europe.

Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2015) drops young readers back into a time when the fate of Europe really hung in the balance and when the courage of many brave people saved the future world we now live in. An exciting and enlightening look back at a time that shaped our own, one from which most eyewitnesses are now vanishing, this rather realistic book makes a good introduction to the many novels and accounts of World War II waiting ahead for middle readers.

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