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BOOKS: Every day magic can happen in a park

Timeless adventure happens in Magic in the Park.

When I was growing up, one of my all-time favorite books was "Baked Beans for Breakfast." Just as fascinating was the author's name: Ruth Chew.

So imagine my surprise when I opened a box of new books and saw Ruth Chew's name on one of the books. Instead of "Baked Beans for Breakfast," it was "Magic in the Park," first published in 1972.

In this short novel, fourth-grader Jennifer Mace moves to Brooklyn. Following her mother's advice, she walks to Prospect Park where she meets an old man who feeds the birds. Yet, something doesn't make sense. One of the trees keeps moving to different locations.

As the story continues, Jennifer meets Mike, a boy from another fourth grade. She and Mike explore an island on the park's pond and find themselves nearly trapped underground with the roots and moles. When they dig themselves out, they find themselves back in the park by the tree.

Later, when Jennifer and Mike explore the inside of the tree, they turn into birds. From that point, they face more adventure and increasing danger.

Although "Magic in the Park" is an intriguing story, it's difficult to know where the disjointed plot is leading. But one thing is certain: as the year progresses into spring, Jennifer develops a strong friendship with Mike and learns to stand up for herself.

"Magic in the Park" definitely has the flavor of an earlier time. Kids (with their parents' encouragement) explore parks alone. Meeting odd people is an opportunity for conversation rather than fear. Mothers are rooted at home.

But the humor is timeless. When Jennifer is a bird, she understands their language when they caw at humans.

"Magic in the Park" doesn't fully explain the mysteries of the bird man and the moving tree. But the ongoing sense of wonder may keep readers interested for another 40 years.

"A Matter-of-Fact Magic Book: Magic in the Park." By Ruth Chew. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014. 144 pp.