Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Secret of the Catacombs

If you’re looking for a Christian alternative to the Magic Tree House series then take a look at Secret of the Catacombs, the first book in the Catacombs Mysteries series.

Author Mary Litton says she was inspired by the popular aforementioned series. True to her word, there are numerous similarities between the two. Like Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House, Secret of the Catacombs features two characters—a third grade boy named Will and a second grade girl named Molly. The storyline parallels the structure of a typical Magic Tree House story too, with a magic book (a Bible) that teleport the characters back in time, where they must complete a mission before it is too late. Likewise, Will and Molly are also given specific objects that will help them complete their task, and they (and therefore the reader) have access to vital information particular to the time period. In addition, the story is accented by black and white line illustrations, drawn by Aleksandra D. Chabros in a fashion reminiscent of Magic Tree House.

However, unlike the Magic Tree House series, Will and Molly are given their missions from an angel (as opposed to sorceress Morgan Le Fay) and they must recall Scripture passages and lessons learned in Sunday school class in order to complete their task. They are also teleported from the basement of their church instead of a tree house. Why the differences? As Litton puts it, “I wanted to write a fun mystery chapter book series for early readers to learn and explore the fundamental Bible stories and understand how those stories still apply to their modern lives.”

In this first book, Will and Molly are introduced to the reading audience. They then discover the secret time portal. Plus they get their first mission: to save horses from being swept away in the flood and get them back on board Noah’s ark.

What I Like: As always, I am an advocate for more Christian fiction chapter books for early readers, so I welcome this refreshing new series. The pdf file I read was attractive—clean in mechanics and well written. I also like how the book uses (as Litton puts it) “key memory verses and story references” to help children “become more familiar with the Bible’s books, chapters, and verses.” Some might object to how closely Litton follows the Magic Tree House formula, but I didn’t mind. After all, my own series was born out of a desire to write a Christian alternative to Junie B. Jones, and, eight books later, has taken on a life of its own. I suspect this series has the potential to do the same.

What I Dislike: The illustration of Mrs. Smotherly, Will's Sunday school teacher, was cartoonish compared the realistic nature of the rest of the pictures, and the inconsistency bothered me. Also, while the story was enjoyable, it did not hold enough tension (for me) to make it irresistible. (Ironically, I feel the same way about many of the Magic Tree House books... and it is a major bestselling series!)

Overall Rating: Very Good, although I believe Magic Tree House fans would rate it Excellent.

Age Appeal: None is listed, but it seems well suited for the K-2 grade level.

Publisher Info: Windy Knob Press, 2012; ISBN:978-0615615820; Paperback, 74pgs., $5.99

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