The Magic Half, Annie Barrows, (2008, 211 pages) strikes me as a perfect book for a third-grade girl. It was no shock that I loved it because the Ivy and Bean book series by the same author is about the finest I’ve found for my second-grade daughter.
Although Miri in The Magic Half has five kids in her family, she is often lonely. That’s because the others are all paired up. She has a set of older twin brothers, and a set of younger twin sisters. The four are closest with their twin. The family has recently moved into a big old house in the country. A few days after her family moves into the house, Miri finds something odd in her new attic bedroom. It’s the lens of an old pair of eyeglasses, taped to the baseboard. She picks it up, looks through it, and is transported back to 1935.
There is another family living in the house in 1935. A girl Miri’s age named Molly has the attic room. Molly takes some convincing to make her believe Miri is not a fairy! Molly has no mother and her dad seems to have abandoned her. The mother of the house is Molly’s aunt. The whole family–Aunt Florence, cousin Sissy, but especially her older cousin Horst are cruel to Molly. This boy was so mean, so nasty, so awful thorough and through, my hands were practically in fists just reading about him. Miri learns she can return to her own time by looking through one of the lenses of her own glasses which happened to break a couple of days earlier. But she can’t relax in her own time. Not until she does all she can to save Molly from Horst.
The time travel device of the eyeglasses was original. I liked how Miri was surprised twice by the time travel magic: first when she figured out she could go back in time with the old lenses, then when she realized she could return to her time with her modern glasses.
The main characters were likeable. Imagine going back in time in your own bedroom and meeting someone with whom you could be friends! Horst was a despicable villain I loved to hate. The plot was suspense-filled as Miri worked desperately to get back to Molly before Horst did something terrible to her.
There is an innocence to the story that I think could strike just the right chord in a girl of a certain age, but might not appeal to older reader. Here is an excerpt, from Miri’s point of view:
After all those years of wishing for magic, it had finally happened. To me, she thought to herself. It happened to me. An earthquake of joy shook her. “Oh boy,” she whispered. Magic is real, her mind sang, magic is real–and it happened to me. “My heart is jumping all over the place,” she said to Molly.
Chad’s family in Voices after Midnight, Richard Peck, (1989, 181 pages) do not actually move to a new house, but rather are staying for two weeks in New York City in an old house they’ve never seen before. Their dad needs to be in NYC for business and the parents decided the whole family would go along.
Chad and his younger eight-year old brother Luke start hearing voices in their house, only at night. Then they get glimpses of a New York City of a long time ago. They stroll around Central Park and for a few minutes see a contingent of marching soldiers, wearing old-fashioned uniforms and carrying muskets. They catch sight of a building under construction which was actually completed long ago. This bits and pieces method of time travel did not work for me. I had questions. Namely, why was no one else seeing these old buildings and people from the past? It was not always even clear to me if the brothers were momentarily going back in time, or if people from the past were breaking through to present time.
Chad was a believable character. I liked reading about the way he looked out for his younger brother. But Luke was described as a mystical genius who didn’t care about normal eight-year old stuff. He didn’t seem real to me. And the way their sixteen-year old sister was depicted as a boy-crazy, fashion-crazy, airhead, much like a character from a second-rate sitcom really turned me off the book.
The author referred to many pop culture items in Voices After Midnight that were big when the book was written. I understand this decision. Kids reading it in 1989 probably enjoyed seeing brand names of things they liked mentioned, and it probably helped draw them into the story. But it doesn’t hold up. I’m old, and even I can’t remember what “Beastie Boy-type shoes” or “an Atari ST” looked like. For readers of today, those references just pull a reader out of the story. Contrast this with Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander, reviewed in another post. When I read Time Cat recently I assumed it had been written a couple of years earlier, and was shocked when I read the copyright date of 1963. There was nothing that dated that book.
In my opinion, the plot of this book fell flat on its face. In most time travel stories, some people of the past have an urgent problem with which the main characters feel they need to help. In this book, the individuals needing help were a brother and sister that lived in the house in 1888. However, their problem was revealed only at the end of the story, and seemed kind of random. There were clues about the dilemma, but it wasn’t like the whole story led up to it. Richard Peck has written a book a year for thirty-nine years! Interestingly, this famous Newberry-award-winning author actually says in this interview, “I don’t know how to plot”.
Author interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv_aPsuv28g
Overall, Voices After Midnight didn’t hang together for me. Yet one book blogger told me this was her favorite time travel book. What am I missing, Joanne?! It’s possible I read it too fast. If you’re looking for a book specifically about New York City time travel you might enjoy the references.
Next Post: Time Travel, Just a Couple Days Back
The Power of Un, Nancy Etchemendy, and
15 Minutes, Steve Young