This fantasy adventure book by Mary Pope Osborne is the fifth in "Magic Tree House" series and is published by Random House.
Night of the Ninjas is written for kids ages 5 to 8. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
A prologue explains the history of the magic tree house that Jack and his sister, Annie, have discovered. By touching a picture in one of the many books inside the tree house, the children are instantly transported from Frog Creek, Pa., to other time periods and places. So far, they have encountered dinosaurs, knights, pirates and an Egyptian mummy. They have also met an enchantress from the days of King Arthur named Morgan Le Fey, who travels through time to collect books for the tree house.
After several days of looking for the tree house, the children believe that it has disappeared. They are sad that they may never see Morgan again. Then one evening as they're walking through the woods, Annie sees it, and they both climb up the rope ladder. Inside the tree house, they meet a tiny mouse that Annie names Peanut.
Jack finds a piece of paper on the floor that seems to be a note from Morgan. It says that she needs help because she is under a spell. The children notice that a library book has been left open to a picture featuring two ninjas wearing swords and black scarves over their faces. Annie thinks Morgan is in trouble with the ninjas and wants to help rescue her. Before Jack can grab the book from her, Annie points to the picture and wishes that the tree house would take them to meet the ninjas. The wind begins to blow. When it stops, Jack and Annie find themselves in Japan, hundreds of years ago.
Through the tree house window, the children see two ninjas. Jack warns his sister not to let them see her because they might think she's an enemy. Jack reads from the book that ninjas were warriors in the 14th to the 17th centuries. They fought to protect their families and were sometimes spies. Ninjas could be male or female. Jack copies this information in his notebook. Suddenly the children hear the ninja cry out. Terrified, they pull up the rope ladder, but the ninjas climb the tree trunk like cats and enter the tree house.
Annie shows them Morgan's note and tells the ninjas that they (Annie and Jack) are trying to help her. The short ninja takes the note and points to the rope ladder, indicating that the children should climb down it. Annie puts Peanut in the pocket of her sweatshirt, and they follow the ninjas down the ladder. The ninjas lead the children to a rushing stream of freezing cold water. Jack wants to run back to the tree house, but Annie persuades him to cross it for Morgan's sake. The water is so cold that the children can't cross without help, so the ninjas offer to carry the children on their shoulders.
By the light of a full moon, the children follow the ninjas through a forest until one of them holds up his hand, indicating that they should wait. The ninjas disappear. Jack reads in the library book that ninjas sometimes hold meetings in hidden caves and take orders from a ninja master, who was usually a nature expert. He writes this information in his journal. Soon the ninjas return and motion for Jack and Annie to follow them into a cave.
A ninja master is sitting on a mat in the cave. He tells the children to sit down. They explain that they are on a quest to help Morgan. The ninja master tells them that he can help them, but first they must prove themselves worthy. He explains that his family is at war with some samurai fighters. To prove their worth, the children must find their way back through the dark forest alone and avoid the samurai. He tells them to use nature, be nature and follow nature. Jack writes these instructions in his journal.
The children draw up their sweatshirt hoods so they look more like ninjas. In order to figure out which direction to go, Jack uses nature. He tells Annie to find a stick. He holds it up in the moonlight to create a shadow. The shadow helps them determine the direction of east. Then he searches the library book for more information and finds that samurai carry two swords to combat their enemies. When he looks up, he sees a giant warrior carrying two swords. Annie remembers the master's instruction to "be nature" and tells Jack to be as still as a rock. They both freeze and wait until the warrior leaves.
To reach the tree house, Jack and Annie must cross the cold river again. Just as they begin to cross, Peanut jumps from Annie's pocket and scampers away. Annie reminds Jack that the master said they must follow nature, so they follow Peanut to a branch that crosses the river. When they arrive back at the tree house, they find the ninja master waiting for them. He tells the children that they have done a good job and gives them a moonstone, one of the four items that will help them break Morgan's spell. He reminds them to keep a kind heart.
The children touch a picture of Frog Creek, and the tree house spins them back home. Their mother is calling them for dinner. Annie makes a bed for Peanut out of one of her socks, and the children thank the mouse for helping them on their journey.
The Japanese ninja master commands respect from the children. When he tells them to sit down or to explain why they have come to see him, they obey. They remember the three rules of living like a ninja and practice them on their way back to the tree house.
Other belief systems
The tree house is a magic place that the children can see but others can't. Morgan le Fay is an enchantress. Her magic allows the tree house to transport the children through time and to the places they find in the books that are in the tree house. She is its owner. Annie is able to see the tree house because she believes in magic. In a previous book, Morgan le Fay became trapped by a magic spell. She needs four items to break the spell. The children travel through time to find those items for her.
One of the ninja master's rules for living is to "be nature." Jack and Annie pretend to be stones when they are in the presence of the samurai, and they believe that this practice saves their lives. They are told to follow nature, too, so they follow Peanut, a mouse, across the river and back to the tree house.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- When Annie talks to the ninjas, they don't answer her.
How does she know what they want her to do?
What are some ways that you have told people what you want without using your words?
- How are the ninjas able to climb tree trunks like cats?
How do real people climb trees?
How do they get down from trees?
What laws of nature have been put in place by God? (Suggest laws such as the law of gravity.)
Are the laws of nature above God's Law or is God's Law above the laws of nature? Explain.
- What does it mean to "be nature" and to follow nature?
Can pretending to be an animal or a rock demonstrate this?
Can following a mouse demonstrate this?
Why does God want you to be a good steward of nature?
Why should you follow God instead of following nature in all areas of your life?
- Why does the ninja master give Jack a moonstone?
Is it possible for a stone to have special powers?
Think about the Bible story of Creation.
How were rocks made?
How were people made?
Could someone mistake a magnetic rock as having special powers?
What other kinds of rocks could be mistaken in this way?
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