Book 1: The Wizard’s Map, Harcourt, 1999.
Book 2: The Pictish Child, Harcourt, 1999.
Book 3: The Bagpiper’s Ghost, Harcourt 2002.
When Jennifer, her twin brother Peter, and their family go to Scotland to visit their grandparents they know they’re in for sightseeing and adventure, but magic? They never would have guessed at that. Magic, it seems, is wrapped up in the very fabric of the Scottish town they visit, and Jennifer has a way of bringing it out. In each book Jennifer and Peter encounter a different type of magic: an evil wizard who’s been bound within a map, an ancient child wrapped up in the history of an ancient battle, and ghost, a lady in white who’s searching for her lost love. The magic is as exciting as it is scary and can be raised simply by going for a walk or by playing a game of cards. And the talking animals? It’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’re a help or a hindrance.
These books are the absolute best sort of summer reading. Jennifer and Peter are on an adventure with their family, but their parents conveniently disappear for most of the important bits of the story, leaving the twins to solve their problems on their own. They’ve got a magical advisor in Gram, as she’s a witch, and a little sister to care for, which adds to the tension. There’s just the right amount of information about Scotland and its history to pique your interest and loads of new vocabulary to try (with a glossary in case you can’t quite sort it out from context). Best of all, there are three books in the series, so you’re not disappointed by being finished reading when you’re just getting to know the characters.
These books brought to mind the books of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit. They have the same sort of feeling of adventure, and the children have the same responsibility to set things right. They are more playful and less dark and involved than Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, but something of Jennifer and Peter’s relationship with Gram and their parents brought to my mind Uncle Merry and the characters in Over Sea Under Stone. In fact, Tartan Magic might be a good series to lead up to these others. Though the Scottish words raise the reading level of the text, these middle grade books are short (about 150 pages) and so would be good for reluctant readers or those who might be overwhelmed by a large book. These are great for middle grade summer reading or to add to the stack when the school year starts and 20 minutes of reading a day rules prevail.