Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reluctant Heroine: High Time for Heroes (Magic Tree House #51) by Mary Pope Osborne

Jack sat in a sunny spot on the front porch, studying a book of magic tricks. He was planning a magic show.

"Hey," Annie tapped on his screen door. "Let's do something."

"I'm already doing something," said Jack. He took another sip of lemonade and added more tricks to his list.

Annie gasped. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"That whooshing sound," said Annie. "Like the tree house just whooshed into the woods!"

It's midsummer, and Annie has ants in her pants, craving action. As usual, Jack is in the middle of a project and has reluctantly followed Annie's false alarms into the Frog Creek woods several times this week, but this time the Magic Tree House is really waiting for them there, with another Merlin mission to follow:

Dear Jack and Annie,

I hope you enjoyed your time with the Houdinis. I ask you now to find the third secret of greatness from a woman named Florence Nightingale.


Annie is psyched! She's already done a project on Florence Nightingale for school. "I feel like I know her! I can't wait!" she says.

But the magic tree house takes them, not to England where Florence lived, or the Crimea, where Nightingale became famous as the "Lady of the Lamp," nursing the wounded in the war, but to the dusty, fly- and mosquito-ridden banks of the Nile near Thebes in Egypt in 1850. Jack and Annie meet up with the Bracebridges, an English couple traveling with Miss Nightingale who agree to introduce them. This mission seems a cinch to Annie, who figures she'll just ask the founder of nursing her secret of greatness, the magic ring of truth will glow when Florence shares her secret, and they'll be done.

But Miss Nightingale is nothing like the Florence of Annie's school project. She seems curiously detached and reticent and quickly denies that she is either famous or gifted in nursing. Her current interest seems to be in anthropological research in Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Travel in Egypt is a quite acceptable dalliance for a young unmarried woman of the time, but Florence admits that although she is interested in nursing, her parents would never allow her to pursue a professional life of any sort. Annie speaks up to disagree, but the Bracebridges and Florence point out that her duty is to do as her parents require her.

Annie is confused, but Jack points out that they have no choice but to follow Florence into the Valley of the Kings and try to talk to her some more. Annie rents two donkeys from Ali, the son of Mustafa the guide, and Jack packs up his leather pouch with Merlin's provisions--Egypt Travellers' Handbook, the vial with the magic mist, and hands Annie the ring of truth to wear, and they are off into the desert.

But along the way the two are sidetracked when they try to rescue a baby baboon from a pack of jackals. The baboon escapes up a cliff, but can't get back down.

"We have to go get her!" said Annie.

"We can't climb up there!" said Jack.  "Only the best rock climbers in the world could get up there."

"We can do that!" said Annie. "The mist. We can use the magic mist and make a wish to be great rock climbers."

As it did before, the magic mist of Avalon grants a great talent, enabling Jack and Annie to scale the cliff like experts and retrieve the little baboon. But they can't resist sitting down to rest and take in the amazing view of the Nile and the pyramids in the distance, and when they are half-way down the cliff, the hour of magical talent that the mist offers runs out. and Jack and Annie fall to the bottom. Annie has a badly sprained ankle, and Jack's shoulder and arm are too painful to move. The two time travelers find themselves longing for the quiet safety of the Frog Creek woods. But help appears in the form of Florence Nightingale, who gets them back to the Bracebridges' boat and treats their injuries, and in the course of the night, comes to a decision about her future that will change her life and the future of medicine.

"How to say it..." said Florence. "... I truly believe, deep in my heart, that one's life must have meaning and purpose."

Jack and Annie hardly need to look at the glowing ring of truth to know that they have their third secret of greatness for Merlin, in Mary Pope Osborne's latest, Magic Tree House #51: High Time for Heroes (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2014). The two return home to add meaning and purpose to humility and hard work in their list of secrets of greatness and to wait for the fourth and final Merlin mission. Osborne's engrossing mixture of history and time-travel adventure continues to enthrall beginning chapter readers, and as always, lends itself easily to several core curriculum strands, including character education, for classroom use.

The nonfiction companion book for this novel is Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #28: Heroes for All Times: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #51: High Time for Heroes (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2014), providing insight into the lives of a variety of heroes who changed history, from John Muir to Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman to Gandhi.

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