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Magic by the Book    by Nina Bernstein order for
Magic by the Book
by Nina Bernstein
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Nina Bernstein's Magic by the Book has a similar premise to series I've enjoyed for younger kids - Mary Pope Osborne's delightful Magic Tree House stories and David McPhail's Edward series (e.g. Edward in the Jungle). In all of them, kids are transported to fictional realms of adventure via the magic in a book.

The summer stretches ahead of three children - Anne (11), Emily (9) and Will (6). They've been to the library and filled a basket with books, 'greedy for the long, lazy days of reading ahead.' Will is playing ball with neighbors when Anne and Emily notice a book they don't remember picking from library shelves. Stamped inside, they find 'Date Due: Not Yet.' When they open the book, it describes them, right where they are under a 'copper beech tree'. Reading on, they're pulled into an adventure in one of their favorite stories, in Sherwood Forest, where they soon meet Robin Hood and Maid Marion. Though they make foolish mistakes, they also use details they remember from Robin Hood and The Scarlet Pimpernel to survive medieval dangers and win the day.

Next, it's Will's turn to stumble on the book and fall into adventure. His sojourn reflects his fascination with insects. Will ends up in Jardinia, a world of giant bugs, where small Gnomblins send him on a series of thrilling quests. They quote rhymes to him, including the phrase 'For when there's a will, there's a way'. Young Will feasts on giant raspberries, rides a grasshopper, and defeats the evil Forficula, Sorceror of Death Mountain. Though the magic seems to prevent their parents from worrying about Will's absence, Anne and Emily do, and feel guilty for having excluded him from their games. But Will meets all the Gnomblins' challenges, saves Jardinia, and even sorts out his reading difficulties along the way.

The third adventure begins after the book is stolen by a suspicious character. All three siblings fall into the world of Tolstoy's War and Peace, which Anne has been reading. This time, they must remember a riddle song sung by their mother and a story told by their father in order to save, not only themselves, but also the magical book, from a werewolf sorceror. Magic by the Book celebrates reading by basing an entertaining set of adventures on volumes that can be found in any library - it's a good choice for the middle school crowd.

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