A holy mission

By A Contributor

Mary Pope Osborne (with illustrations by Sal Murdocca); Random House,
publisher. 2011. 128 pp. $12.99, in hardcover.

Kids are hooked on the discovery of the Magic Tree House, and where it takes them is unknown until Jack and Annie say the magic words that transport the brother-sister team on their journey to yet another period in time.

“Dogs In the Dead of Night,” which is number 46 in the Magic Tree House Merlin Mission series, may not seem like a book for children and their parents to read over Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

However, it will blend in nicely, thanks to Mary Pope Osborne, who could very well recommend this one for pure holiday enjoyment. It has thrills and, of course, chills (Jack and Annie travel to the Swiss Alps, and yes, the weather is freezing there, with heaps of snow drifts, grand mountains and dangerous avalanches.)

In this book, the two kids are on a mission to locate and find four unique items to break the spell that has been put on Merlin’s beloved penguin, Penny. Poor Penny has been turned into a stone statue and without those crucial four items, well…it’s what grownups call “curtains.”

The tree house spins and twists, with the children holding on tight, and it settles on a cliff overlooking the Swiss Alps.

They trudge through the snow and fight off bitterly cold winds. When they are buried in snow, they think it’s the end of the line. It turns out that they are rescued by a group of monks and their faithful, dedicated four-footed “saints,” the St. Bernards.

Jack and Annie survive and have much to be grateful for:

• Their lives have been saved.

• They learn about monastery life. (There did exist a Saint Bernard Monastery in the 1800s, in the Swiss Alps, and Father Laurent, known as Laurent Murith, was a botanist and naturalist, who collected many flower specimens over the years. And there was a real dog named “Barry” that resided at the monastery with his pals.)

• They are impressed by historical facts presented to them by the monks, and just about can’t believe their eyes when they meet Napoleon Bonaparte and some members of his French army.

Most of all, during their stay, the children appreciate the company of the monks and their brave dogs. They find inner courage to seek what they are after and actually take part in a successful rescue when they get to be St. Bernards for one hour. They understand how it feels to be part of nature, acquiring a more keen sense of smell, sight, taste and touch, plus it didn’t hurt to speak dog language for brief moments in time.

Osborne has received standing ovations and applause from children, parents and teachers. The author provides the imagination to get young readers started and does not forget how to keep them involved in the story. She provides fantasy and also points out historically spectacular events and important people.

In the Merlin Missions series alone, Osborne has written 17 different books. She also has made great contributions to the 28 Magic Tree House books and features separate nonfiction books, Fact Trackers, that serve as companion guides, including the subjects of rain forests, dog heroes (a companion guide to “Dogs In the Dead of Night”), the American Revolution, U.S. presidents, space, dinosaurs, ancient Greece and Rome, dolphins and sharks, polar bears and the Arctic, ghosts, leprechauns, snakes and other reptiles, the Titanic, a book titled “Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens,” and many other titles.

There is a lot more to Osborne’s Magic Tree House series. Kids and parents can enjoy Jack and Annie on stage. For details, see In addition, there is now available “Magic Tree House: The Musical CD.”

Carol Wright is a freelance writer and resides in Winfield.

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