Candlewick Press, $7.99, ISBN 1-56402-854-2
Puzzle Gamebook, 1996
The Magic Hourglass is an educational gamebook targeted at very young kids. And I bet you are thinking that gamebooks only involve hacking and slashing innocent vampires and hapless witches, eh?
This gamebook aims to introduce several key moments in history of the world. Your Great Aunt Fantasia is a famous historian who is also apparently not of this world, because she has sent you a magical hourglass that allows you to travel back in time. Therefore, what you must do here is to turn to the first scenario where you will play a game of spotting hidden items while studying the almost full-page illustration and matching what you see to the historical references located beside the illustration.
Let me explain. Let’s go to the first scenario or “Remarkable Moment” as it is called here. We get a beautiful hand-drawn and colored illustration of the Eiffel Tower and the people who have gathered to observe and protest. If you are a fan of Horrible History or other similar history books designed to entertain as well as educate, you will appreciate the approach taken by this gamebook as well. So, in this page, you have to do three things.
One, you read the list of descriptions in “the Route”, starting with the description of the angry crowd gathered to protest the erection of the Tower all the way to the description of the top. If you read through all this, you will learn some interesting details about the Tower, such as the name of the architect. You will also try to match each item in “the Route” to what you see in the illustration.
Also, the artist Peter Joyce has scattered 20 objects all over the illustrations in this gamebook, items which do not belong to the time period. You are given a list of these items at the start, but you are not told where you can find these items! So in this page, you will also have to scan the illustration and spot the anachronistic object. It’s the radio – a tourist can be seen holding a most modern-looking radio, which is not something you’d expect to see in 1889.
And then, you also have to locate the Magic Hourglass, hidden in the illustration, in order to move on to the following Remarkable Moment determined by the color of the Hourglass.
There is also a bonus hunting game for those whose eyes are still up to the task at the end of the day – hidden in four of the 24 Remarkable Moments is your Great Aunt Fantasia. Which four? That’s for you to find out. Have fun looking for her!
The Remarkable Moments covered are pretty diverse, taking you from Russia to Australia to Japan to beyond, going back further in time with each leap of the Magic Hourglass until you go all the way back to the Cretaceous period. The gamebook loops – which means you will eventually return to the same Remarkable Moment once you have played through them all, but with 24 Remarkable Moments, I’m pretty sure you will be entertained for quite some time.
All in all, this is a pretty interesting interactive complement to the more straightforward Horrible History-type books out there. I personally would prefer the illustrations to be bigger and clearer, as going through this gamebook without a magnifying glass is a bit of a killer on my eyes (which aren’t what they used to be). Still, this is a pretty good way to have some fun if you are really that young at heart!