October 09, 2014


43 Old Cemetery Road, Book Five: Hollywood, Dead Ahead. By Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $6.99.

Magic Tree House #3: Mummies in the Morning—Full-Color Edition. By Mary Pope Osborne. Illustrations by Sal Murdocca. Random House. $14.99.

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker (#30): Ninjas and Samurai. By Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce. Illustrated by Sal Murdocca. Random House. $5.99.

Magic Tree House Survival Guide. By Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce. Illustrated by Sal Murdocca. Random House. $12.99.

     Now available in paperback, the fifth book in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series is as offbeat-humor-packed as it was when the original hardcover came out last year. The Klise sisters have a great deal of fun with Hollywood stereotypes here while telling the story, as always, through printed matter: letters (the only way ghost Olive C. Spence can communicate with the living), newspapers, scandal sheets, even a transcription of a climactic movie scene. In this book are a slimy, scheming studio owner named Moe Block Busters (“more blockbusters”); his even slimier and more-scheming assistant, Myra Manes (“my remains,” with a pun on “mane” as hair, which turns out to be important); and his almost-equally-slimy would-be successor as studio head, Phillip D. Rubbish (self-explanatory). There is also a 92-year-old star who has won every Hollywood award except an Oscar and is therefore named Ivana Oscar. And there are Luke Ahtmee (“look at me”), image-makeover specialist, and tooth-makeover specialty dentist Dr. Miles Smyle, and (back home in Ghastly, Illinois) an overreaching and overconfident handyman named Hugh Briss (“hubris”) who gets his comeuppance, or come-downance, in the end. The rollicking plot has the odd family trio of Olive, Ignatius B. Grumply and Seymour Hope cheated out of their work by Moe Block Busters, who is determined to create a film that instead of featuring Olive will be about an evil ghost named Evilo (“Olive” spelled backwards). A horrendous contract and ridiculous makeovers combine to infuriate and depress Iggy and Seymour, while an even worse contract including a “death clause” almost makes the awful movie into Ivana Oscar’s final performance. But eventually the tables are appropriately turned, and everything works out all right for everyone except the bad guys, Hugh Briss, and FAA inspector Don Worrie, who may tell travelers “don’t worry” but who finds Olive’s presence on flights both worrisome and puzzling. Whether as first-time visitors to the house of the title, or as returning ones, readers will find much to enjoy here.

     The more-formulaic (+++) Magic Tree House series gets some reconsiderations and some renewal from three new entries in the sequence. Mummies in the Morning was the third book (there are now more than 50), and it retains some of the attractive naïveté of the early missions, in which it was Morgan Le Fay rather than Merlin sending Jack and Annie back in time. This book refers to the first two, Dinosaurs Before Dark and The Knight at Dawn, noting that they took place two days and one day earlier, respectively. Mummies in the Morning has not been changed for this reissue, but all the illustrations are now in color, and kids who may have missed the first 28 books (the “Morgan Le Fay” series) should enjoy the now-familiar litany of discovery and mild eeriness (here, in the form of the ghost of an ancient Egyptian queen) in which Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca specialize. Also new is the 30th Fact Tracker (these were originally called Research Guides). These are nonfiction companion books for the later entries in the fictional series. However, this particular book, Ninjas and Samurai, refers all the way back to Magic Tree House #5: Night of the Ninjas, which did not previously have a factual companion. Like all these nonfiction entries, in which Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce collaborate as authors, this is a once-over-lightly look at the history behind the fictional story – which kids will need to read for the companion book to have its intended tie-in effect. Those who do read Ninjas and Samurai will find out about a Japan vastly different from the modern country and about the wars and warriors that dominated it for many centuries.

     Also new on the “factual” side of the series is Magic Tree House Survival Guide, which differs from the Fact Trackers in not being tied to one specific book. Instead, it refers to a number of the adventures that Jack and Annie have had throughout the sequence, then translates their fictional experiences into real-world information about genuine disasters – explaining how to survive them. Only series readers will immediately understand remarks such as the one that Jack and Annie “had help from friends like a brave knight, a mouse named Peanut, and even a Spider Queen.” But at least in theory, Magic Tree House Survival Guide is for anyone interested in preventing the worst from happening in such dangerous situations as getting lost, being caught in dangerous weather conditions, encountering frightening animals, and so on. There is information here on telling time without a watch (or cell phone!), finding water in the wilderness, coping with lions and alligators, surviving extreme heat and cold, making it through an earthquake and volcanic eruption, and more. And the book contains a special attraction: a compass built into the cover, just in case kids get lost in the woods somewhere but happen to have this book with them to help them find their way out. The information here, although accurate as far as it goes, does not go very far; like the rest of the Magic Tree House books, this one is quick and easy to read but is not intended as any sort of in-depth guide to anything. Still, fans of the series will find Jack and Annie to be their usual pleasant (if rather uninteresting) selves as they offer survival information, and anyone who wants to know more about the issues raised in Magic Tree House Survival Guide will be able to find numerous more-thorough books to provide it.

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