From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 3-Ben fears everything from speaking up to being laughed at to scary things under the bed. Finally, he decides he needs to get help. Consulting the Yellow Pages under Help for Cowards yields a listing for Magic Tree. So Ben makes an appointment and sets off to meet the tree, which proves to be an adventure full of dragons, enormous spiders, witches, and more. Alarming as this is, Ben keeps his cool because the magic tree told him on the phone that the wild woods were harmless. Once he finally gets to his appointment, there is little left for the tree to do-Ben has exorcised his cowardice simply by making the journey. While the fun and quirky text will keep readers and listeners engaged, the illustrations truly bring the story to life. Irresistibly detailed cartoon characters in black outlines pop out of the fuzzy, rich-toned background paintings, creating pages that readers will want to pore over. Unfortunately, the print is small and a bit hard to read, especially when it falls into the darker regions of the illustrations, but it is worth the effort. While conquering fear and gaining confidence usually entails a longer struggle, Ben's story is a delightful one.-Julie Roach, Cambridge Public Library, MA
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K-Gr. 2. Offering children "magic" as a placebo to boost faltering confidence is an old premise; it's given an odd but visually striking treatment in this Dutch import. Sick of having no backbone, fraidy-cat Ben checks the Yellow Pages under "Help for cowards" and calls up the strangely named Magic Tree: "Magic! That's just what I need." The real solution, though, is in Ben's journey to the consultant's office in the wilderness, where the anticipation of forthcoming magical aid helps him through encounters with "wild, weird creatures." The story's logic can be muddy, especially surrounding Ben's uncharacteristic boldness and the creatures' true natures, and the book's insubstantial font can be difficult to decipher against van Hout's textured, paint-splattered backgrounds. However, the double-page paintings will read well from a distance, with elements that garner both goosebumps and giggles (a dragon wears a Band-Aid; a witch sports pink houseslippers). Try this in the context of classroom discussions of emotions, perhaps with Kevin Henkes' Wemberly Worried
(2000). Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved