Pros: easy to read, terrific story, many facts
Cons: a few plot holes, some kids could react adversely to the danger
The Magic Tree House series has so far been a positive experience for me and my son. It was hard to find books that were at his reading level that interested him. Being on the autism spectrum, he was a bit below grade level, but it was time to push him to move on to chapter books. After sampling a few of the series out there that was aimed at this level of reader, we finally found something he liked in the Magic Tree House.
The series is somewhat sequential, although that wasn't apparent to us at first. The stories do stand on their own to a degree, and we would just pick out the stories we liked based on the title and my quick reading of them in the bookstore. Once we realized there were some aspects of the story that were sequential, I began filling in the gaps we had missed.
Vacation Under the Volcano is the thirteenth book in the series. Jack and Annie are a brother and sister living in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. One day they discovered a tree house in the woods near their home. Inside, there were many books. By accident they found out if they pointed to a picture and wished they were there, they would soon travel to that time and place. Every four books encompassed something of a mystery or adventure that the two had. The first was discovering who the tree house belonged to. Most recently, the two had to solve a riddle to become Master Librarians so they could help Morgan Le Fay, the tree house's owner, collect books across time.
In Vacation Under the Volcano Jack and Annie are about to leave on vacation. Annie persuades Jack to take a quick look in the woods to see if the tree house is there. It is and Morgan Le Fay is waiting for them. She has a mission and sends them on a quest for a book in ancient Rome.
Jack and Annie arrive in Pompeii, which was once a beautiful resort town. They walk through the streets and observe what life was like, all the while looking for the library. They hear a warning from an old woman who also points them in the direction to find what they are looking for. All the while, unbeknownst to them, the clock is ticking against them.
Although I have had issues with the danger Jack and Annie encounter in some of the other books of the series, despite the lingering danger here it didn't bother me as much. I think the reason for that is in other stories it is be in dangerous situations. In Vacation Under the Volcano Jack and Annie are in a dangerous time and place due to things just happening. I actually think the way this story plays out can go a long way to helping comfort children who might be nervous in storms and other natural events that can be frightening.
There are a few plot holes in the book that I was surprised my son actually picked up on. One is when Morgan Le Fay manages to transform Jack and Annie into the clothing of ancient Rome before they arrive. Jack's backpack is gone, yet he still has his notebook. My son asked me how that could be and all I could answer was "magic". Like other books in the series, the notebook provides a way for Jack to write things down which emphasizes many facts. However, Vacation Under the Volcano contained so many facts that after a while Jack had to stop writing them down. There certainly is quite a bit here for kids to learn that's packed into an entertaining story.
The book flows nicely and it makes a fine book to read aloud as well as encourage silent sustained reading in young readers. At ten chapters and just over seventy pages, the book is a nice size for adults to read to children at bedtime and have them wondering what will happen next.
The book's illustrations are really interesting ad do add something to the story. The black and white sketches add just enough to encourage a child's imagination and fantasy without being so detailed they can't imagine it for themselves. The pictures near the end illustrate the danger the erupting volcano posed without being too scary.
I liked Vacation Under the Volcano quite a bit. There was a lot of information in a very enjoyable story. It's a book my son has gone back to several times since we brought it home. If the book sparks enough questions, there is also a study guide available for purchase, but we were satisfied enough with this.
© 2010 Patti Aliventi