Osbourne, Mary Pope. 1997. Ghost Town At Sundown. New York: NY. Scholastic, Inc.
This book was one of the selections chosen by Scholastic as being similar in genre to Neil Gaiman’s book, The Graveyard Book. The grade level equivalent is 4.3 compared to Gaiman’s 6.0.
The entire series of The Magic Tree House is great as a read-aloud for students. I learned about Magic Tree House books through one of my friends during graduate school. I began reading from them about 3 years ago and find that students love them just the same year after year. When students from my class get into first and second grades, they return to visit me to tell me that they, all by themselves, are now reading about Jack and Annie. What a great feeling!
This particular book is #10 from the series. I have found that it is best to begin at the beginning and stick with the books, in order, until this book. After #10, books can be read out of order, and even into the Merlin Missions, and virtually no information be lost. In my opinion, books # 1 through #10 build Jack and Annie as solid, predictable characters. Even though the plots change, students can still anticipate Jack and Annie’s reactions to their new missions; new riddles; and new adventures they encounter.
I have already read this book to my class, but I can’t remember exactly what month. I do remember that my children loved it, every chapter. But, who wouldn’t? Cowboys; wild horse chases; rattlesnakes; and singing ghosts. As their adventure begins, Jack and Annie met again with Morgan le Fay, the sister of Merlin the Magician. Morgan has acquired Jack and Annie as secretive helpers who gather clues; information; and “things” that help Morgan solve mysteries of history. Each mystery requires that Jack and Annie be transported back into another time period. This time, they will be traveling back into the days of the Wild West. They arrive in an abandoned town called Rattlesnake Flats. Once there, they hear strange noises coming from the saloon. They investigate only to find that no one is there, just a player piano. Annie ventures over to the general store where she and Jack put on more appropriate clothing ~ cowboy boots and hats. Jack’s boots do not fit his feet and he complains throughout the entire book! From inside the general store, Jack and Annie hear loud hoofprints of thundering horses. They hide in nearby barrels, but Jack’s allergies almost give their position away! I think my favorite part of the book is when Jack and Annie meet Slim: “a deep voice stopped him cold ~ hands up or I’ll shoot!” (p. 31).
Slim becomes helpful to Jack and Annie in finding the horse thieves and setting the horses free. During their adventure, Jack learns how to ride a horse; Annie gains another animal friend; and they solve Morgan’s riddle with help from Slim. And, they get to meet the “person” making all of that noise back in the saloon.
When they return to Frog Creek, they get another surprise when they read that the author of their research book is actually Slim!
It would be difficult to compare the two books: Ghost Town At Sundown and The Graveyard Book. Even though they may fall within the same category, their plots are completely different. Using the interest inventory I conducted earlier, I do know that my students would have liked hearing from The Graveyard Book. But, for now, I will keep reading from the Magic Tree House and continue finding pleasure in the ominous adventures of Jack and Annie. Maybe next year . . .