In Lieberman’s debut novel, a grandmother relates the magical, historical adventure of her grandchildren visiting her in New York City’s Battery Park.
Jessica, Meghan (12-year-old twins) and their younger brother, Zach, are visiting their Grammy in New York from their home in Colorado. Eager to do something fun, like visit an aquarium, the kids are disappointed when Grammy announces a more historical plan for their afternoon. Despite their initial reluctance, the children visit Castle Clinton in Battery Park and learn how the building was once a fort and, later, an aquarium. A trip to the SeaGlass carousel turns their history lesson magical, as the three children are launched into the past: They arrive in the aquarium that operated in Castle Clinton until it closed in 1941. The story mixes history with fantasy, giving the children talking animals as their guides to the old aquarium. The result is a lighthearted adventure in which the children are never in much danger—even the frightening animals aren’t a threat—and the facts the animals offer about the aquarium and its history are never too overwhelming. The story being told from the grandmother’s perspective is a bit odd, but Zach’s determination to rescue an animal in need will resonate with young animal lovers, and the sibling dynamic between the two twin girls and their younger brother has just the right balance of love and annoyance to feel real. The margins and chapter title pages are decorated with excellent, softly lined color illustrations by Soriano that perfectly capture the tone of the text. The vocabulary is approachable for confident chapter book readers, though a few new words—e.g., “aeration,” “electrolytes”—and concepts may have them looking for adult assistance. After the story ends, Lieberman offers two pages of historical details and a selection of real-life images of Battery Park’s once-famous aquarium. Readers may be left wondering why such a magical place closed down, and they may be inspired to look for places near their own homes that have served so many different purposes over time.
This fun, educational fantasy introduces readers to New York history and should appeal to those fond of the Magic School Bus and Magic Tree House series.