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‘Magic’ tale enthralls in Whitestone

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The rare treat of hearing an author read was especially exciting for them because the magic begins when two young sisters open a book borrowed from that very library branch. The event was very exciting for the author, too, because it immortalizes (in a fictionalized form) the let's-pretend games she played with her siblings in the yard of their Whitestone home, where she lived from age 6 to 11.Her adult book, "The Lost Children of Wilder," was a National Book Award Finalist for non-fiction that grew out of her reporting work on foster homes for Newsday and The New York Times. One recent article focused on a mother and child literacy program in Flushing, while another concerned immigrants and the vote."Dusk, the long blue dusk of summer, was already falling on the garden by the time they discovered the book," Bernstein began, transporting the students with her words to where 11-year-old Anne and 9-year-old Emily are lying in a hammock, savoring newly borrowed library books. After opening a mysterious book, they suddenly find themselves in Sherwood Forest, home of the legendary nobleman-turned-outlaw, Robin Hood, and are soon feasting with him and his followers. This is only the beginning of the book's adventures. Their 7-year-old brother, Will, has one all his own, involving tiny elf-like creatures called Gnomblins. After reading, Bernstein answered questions. "What inspired you to write this?" Asked one student. "I always loved reading children's books by authors like Edward Eager," she said, "and I always wanted to write one like them." In Eager's book, "Knight's Castle," siblings magically interact with characters from "Ivanhoe," and another of his books is titled, "Magic by the Lake." Bernstein's characters mention several of her favorite authors and characters, and she hopes that this will inspire readers to seek them out, she said. "I always wanted magic to happen to me," she said. "I used to pretend a door in the attic was like the door to another world in 'The Chronicles of Narnia.'""How long did it take you to write it?" Another student asked."It was written in two parts," she said. "Thirteen years ago I wrote part of it in three months. When I worked on the last part of it, it took me another three months to finish it." "Why didn't you put yourself into it?" Asked another."All the characters are composites," she explained. "But Will is partly based on my brother Paul, and Emily is a little like my sister Lynn. I lived in London for two years before we moved to Whitestone, and classmates made fun of my English accent the way they make fun of Anne's in the book." Her real-life siblings are spaced two years apart, as the siblings are in the book. Her father was a correspondent for Time magazine; in the book, the father is the foreign news editor for The Daily Herald.Her answer to "How old were you when you started writing?" was "I was 7." After the questions, a teacher said that the book would be used at PS 79 as a special "read-aloud" selection. There was a reception, which included an apple juice toast to the author, and tables laden with homemade cookies, brownies and fresh fruit salad. The author autographed photos and fliers. Nina Bernstein attended PS 193 in Whitestone from first to third grades, she said. The family's garden included the tree and the hammock featured in the book, while other features inside and outside the house were similar to ones mentioned in the book.She now lives in Morningside Heights. Her two sons, David and Daniel, are grown, but when David was 9, he was the first child to hear (and greatly enjoy) the adventures in "Magic by the Book." Elaborating about her childhood playing behind some of the adventures, she said, "We used to make magic potions, using leaves and petals. We pretended we were knights and acted out sword-fighting." Seeing Errol Flynn in "Robin Hood'"was "another of my inspirations for the book," she said. In "Magic by the Book," reality and fantasy interact in the most surprising and enthralling ways. For instance, when 7-year-old Will gets to read the magical book, he sees, "a full-page portrait of a strange little man peering out from a large hawthorn bush (whose) eyes were bright and curious as a bird's." He wore "a furry, quilted vest of brown and gold, stitched, it seemed, out of a dozen caterpillar skins, and his greenish trousers had a snakeskin sheen. They were tucked into tall boots the color of birch bark, and belted with grass-green braidÉWill looked up from the book just in time to see the little man in the picture look him right in the eye."Riddles offer every reader a chance to join in, by trying to guess them, and ballads add lilting rhythms. Like all brothers and sisters, Anne, Emily and Will sometimes argue, but they are also enormously brave and resourceful."Magic by the Book" was released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux last week. It is available at most major booksellers.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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