Everything about this book is closely modeled on the Magic Tree House series - from the plot line, to the two main characters, to the illustrations, to the cover and title. In this book, Mr. Whittaker sends young cousins Beth and Patrick on a mission to uncover secrets from a mysterious note left by someone named Albert who is about to be locked up in Lord Darkthorne's tower. The children don't know who Albert or Darkthorne are, but they are eager to go back into time to find the sunstone Albert apparently requires.
After dressing them in appropriate period attire, Mr. Whittaker sends the children back in time to the days of the Vikings in Greenland. Here, they meet the historical Eric the Red, and his Christian son, Leif. Eric wants to make them slaves, but Eric locks them safely in a small Christian church where Eric would never dare go. Wanting to complete his mission and find a sunstone, Patrick escapes and nearly gets killed by Vikings who think he's stealing. Leif rescues him and they make their way to a Viking party, where Eric's Christian wife protects the children from the pagan rituals - including sacrifices - there.
Thinking they are unable to complete their mission in time, and unable to find the Imagination Station, the children end up on a ship with Leif, headed to Norway. But when the children see Leif use a stone to navigate, they realize it's the sunstone they need. They make a trade with Leif and once the sunstone is in their possession, the red button to the Imagination Station appears. But not before Beth shows Leif a map of North America and the Viking decides to make his important historical sail there.
The children push the red button and give the sunstone to Mr. Whittaker - only to discover Albert needs them to travel to Rome. Are the kids game? You bet!
What I Like: My 5 year old, who loves Adventures in Odyssey, was delighted to have a book related to the radio series, and I love that this series tackles history with an emphasis on Christianity. Many parents will also be excited to know this book contains no magic, unlike the Magic Tree House books. I also really appreciated it when Patrick showed his faith by standing up to Eric. First, he apologizes for accidentally offending the famous Viking, but when Eric threatens to kill him anyway, Patrick reminds him there is only one God - and he prays silently for that God to help him.
What I Dislike: At one point, Patrick sees a large pot and compares it to a "witch's cauldron;" some parents may object to this phrasing. But mostly, I find it difficult not to compare this book to the Magic Tree House series, it's so closely modeled after it. This first book in the series, in my opinion, falls a bit short - mostly because it meanders. The Magic Tree House books are packed with action and most chapters end in such a way you just have to read more, but Voyage with the Vikings rarely has these qualities. The book is also longer - 108 pages of actual storyline - whereas most of the Magic Tree House books are about 80 pages. In addition, there are just 16 black and white illustrations; these illustrations by David Hohn are very good - but I do find the kids - especially Beth - way, way too thin. I also miss having factual historical information at the back of the book (some puzzles are included there instead).
Even so, however, this book is well done.
Overall Rating: Very Good.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher 9 - 12, but my 5 year old loved it.
Publishing Info: Tydale, 2011; ISBN: 9978-1589976276; paperback, 128 pgs., $4.99.
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Special Info: Visit the Imagination Station website for an excerpt from Voyage with the Vikings.