Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Great Escape! Hurry Up, Houdini!" (Magic Tree House #50) by Mary Pope Osborne

Dear Jack and Annie,
Thank you for successfully completing your first mission to find a secret of greatness. Now on your new mission, I would like you to  learn a second secret--this time, from the Great Houdini.

"Oh, man! The Great Houdini!" said Jack "He could escape from anything! Chains, ropes, locks, handcuffs, prisons! He was amazing!"

"Was he a criminal?" asked Annie.

"No, a performer--the greatest escape artist who ever lived!" said Jack.

It's the mid-summer in Frog Creek, and Jack and Annie find Merlin's note in the Magic Tree House a welcome escape from routine--a chance to take a time-travel mini-vacation to Coney Island in 1908 and meet the famous magician Harry Houdini.

The tree house comes down in a curious tree in the Japanese Tea Garden, where Jack and Annie discover themselves dressed in turn-of-the century knee pants with watch pocket for Jack and a jaunty sailor dress for his sister, with pockets full of pennies packed with plenty of purchasing power. The ever-conscientious Jack wants to buy tickets for Houdini's nine o'clock show right away, but the excitable Annie is enchanted by the thousands of tiny electric lights stung everywhere, and she just has to try a Coney Island hot dog, a real waffle cone, and some of Coney Island's famous rides. In a bit of literary irony, the sophisticated time and space travelers Annie and Jack prove a hard sell for the carnival ride shills:

"Trip to the Moon!" a young man shouted to them.

"Been there!" Jack said. "Done that!" added Annie

"Submarine ride! Departing now for the North Pole?"

"Been there!" said Annie. "Done that!" said Jack.

"Kansas Cyclone!" a girl shouted. "Come inside and be blown away!"

"Been there, done that, too!" said Jack. Annie laughed.

Still, thanks to Annie, by the time they arrive at the theater, their pockets are lighter, except for a vial of Merlin's Magic Mist, which enables them to be the world's best at anything. But, as Jack had feared, Houdini's show is already sold out, and the restive crowd outside is threatening a riot because the magic act set to open for Houdini seems to have absconded with the box office receipts and disappeared. How can the kids get inside and meet Harry Houdini to discover his own secret of greatness?

But the resourceful and daring Annie has a plan. Fast-talking her way in to see the stage manager, she sells him on the two of them as an magic act, Jolly Jack and the Amazing Annie, as a replacement opening act. A whiff from the magic vial for each of them turns Jack and Annie into the world's best magicians for an hour and they dazzle the crowd, and once inside the theater, they are sure that, even minus magical prowess, they have the power to complete their mission to discover Houdini's secret of greatness.

But surprisingly the secret doesn't come from Houdini himself, in Mary Pope Osborne's just-published-this-week Magic Tree House #50: Hurry Up, Houdini! (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2013), illustrated as always by the esteemed veteran artist Sal Murdocca. With this fiftieth title in the amazing Magic Tree House series, Osborne displays that she still has the wizardry to transform beginning readers into chapter book readers and whik them away on a summery theme-park mission with her potent magical mix of history, fantasy time-travel, and adventure that never fails to amaze and delight readers and to make the best-selling lists as well.

As is the tradition with Osborne's fiction books, this one is accompanied by a new non-fiction companion book, Magic Tricks from the Tree House: A fun companion to Magic Tree House #50: Hurry Up, Houdini! (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2013) with magic skills for those would-be Jolly Jacks and Amazing Annies among the beginning chapter book set.

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