Friday, April 8, 2011

Attack at the Arena (Imagination Station)

The second in the new Imagination Station series, Attack at the Arena, does a better job of living up to the Magic Tree House books it so closely emulates. In this volume, young Patrick and Beth travel back in time to ancient Rome, searching for a monk's silver cup to help the mysterious Albert, known only through letters that appear suddenly in the Imagination Station.

The kids quickly part ways when a Roman solider carries Beth away, saying she's dressed as a slave of the emperor. Patrick ends up with a kindly monk who tries to help save a "barbarian" war captive fleeing Roman soldiers. Unfortunately, it isn't until the barbarian takes the monk's hidden silver cup that Patrick realizes this is the exact object he must obtain before heading home.

In the meantime, Beth finds herself tending the young, haughty emperor's bird menagerie. And when it's time to see war prisoners die in the arena, the emperor takes his birds along - and Beth, to tend to them. Through an unfortunate turn of events, Patrick ends up in the arena with the war captives. But the monk Patrick befriended not only wants to help Patrick and Beth, he says God spoke to him in a dream and told him to go to the arena that day. He even gets Beth to deliver a message to the emperor: "Are you a Christian?"

The emperor is angry about this question; of course he's a Christian! By law, the emperor must be Christian. The monk points to the silver chalice the emperor is drinking from - and stole from the barbarian. "Your Highness is drinking from a holy chalice," the monk says. "You now use it to salute death." When the emperor asks why he should stop the games his people demand, the monk replies: "Because you say you follow Christ, the bread of life."

The emperor sees the error of his ways, but the games aren't easily stopped. In the end, it's Beth and the birds she cares for that save the lives of the war captives - and Patrick.

Silver cup in hand, Patrick and Beth head home. Mr. Whittaker, the owner of the Imagination Station, tells the kids no one is sure what became of the monk, but that history shows there were no more bloody arena games after he confronted the emperor. And their next trip? Mr. Whittaker has answers about that, too. They will soon be off to China, to seek a golden tablet.

What I Like:
Marianne Hering and Paul McCusker's Attack at the Arena is considerably more action packed than the first book in the Imagination Station series (Voyage with the Vikings). The story also seems more fleshed out and does a better job of revealing Christian history. Both my 5 year old and I agree this book is the best in the series so far.

What I Dislike: My only real complaint is that David Hohn's drawings of the children - and especially of Beth - are weirdly thin. The last thing I want is to expose my daughter to are more images of too-thin females. Those who love the Magic Tree House books should also realize Attack at the Arena is longer than the original MTH books, has fewer illustrations, and has no facts listed at the end of the book.

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: According to the publisher 9 - 12, but my 5 year old loved it.

Publishing Info: Tydale, 2011; ISBN: 978-1589976283; paperback, 128 pgs., $4.99.

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Special Info: See our review of the first book in this series, Voyage with the Vikings.

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