The “Magic Mirror” Series (Books 1-3) by Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi

the visionary voyageTHE “MAGIC MIRROR” SERIES: “The Visionary Voyage” (Book 1), “The Traveller’s Tale” (Book 2), “The Tomb of Time” (Book 3)
Author: Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi
Read Date: May-July 2014
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (average rating)

The “Magic Mirror” series tells of the adventures of brother and sister Marko and Miranda Lee, who one day found themselves living alone. Their parents went on a trip, leaving the kids with their grandfather, who likewise suddenly disappeared. Their grandfather, a historian and archaeologist, left behind a Magic Mirror and a string of mysteries that the kids must solve by going back in time. Tsai and Vittachi blend historical facts, people, and events from around Asia with fictional elements to form the backdrop for the Lee children’s adventures.

When I read about the premise of the “Magic Mirror” series, I was very excited. I love history, I love adventure, and this being focused on Asian history with Asian characters is a plus. It all sounds like the perfect formula for a fun new children’s series! On a personal note, it also reminded me of a wee story my high school classmate and I concocted for a (believe it or not) Biology class project, so I am rooting for this to be great.

The verdict: Great idea! The execution? Not so much.

Home alone

Being home alone has sparked numerous children’s adventures. I have no problem with this as a plot driver most of the time, but in this case, being home alone is just a given, and it baffles me. It’s just weird because of how tight-knit most Asian communities and families are, and yet weeks seem to have passed by and the Lee kids are still home alone. There was some mention of a housekeeper dropping in on certain days, but I can’t even tell how the kids manage to pay her or where they get the money for their necessities. Heck, even the Cahills in “The 39 Clues” had an au-pair and a dozen other relatives looking out for them. Also, shame on the teacher who already suspected they were living alone but didn’t even bother to investigate further.

I do realize that these little details don’t really need to add up because the core of the stories is the time-travel adventures, but some kid is bound to notice and ask, so I’m just going to put this out there. XD Talk about taking “Losing the Mentor” in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to the extreme. XD

Simple and sparse

This series is obviously written for younger children, so I don’t mind that the writing style is simple or that the books are only 100 pages or so on average. But simple writing to cater to a young audience doesn’t mean that details should be sparse. I can’t even picture Miranda and Marko and what they look like in my head. I know Miranda is twelve and Marko is ten, and that they were adopted by an American man married to a Chinese woman. There’s no info on whether Miranda and Marko were real siblings to begin with, or if they come from different biological families.

There’s also not much to go on with Mira and Marko personality-wise; they are rather wooden, kind of like chess-pieces that are just used to move the story from one plot point to another. I think one of the reasons why “The 39 Clues” worked well is because the characters are fleshed out, and readers discover new things about them as the series progresses. After 3 books of “Magic Mirror”, I don’t know any more about Miranda and Marko than when I started reading. I hope this changes when the rest of the series comes out.

This lack of detail also extends to the time-travel adventures themselves. We don’t get much time to appreciate the time period that we are reading about or the characters there because the writers seem hell-bent on plowing through plot point after plot point. A fast-paced adventure is all well and good, but sometimes we also have to stop and smell the roses.

Historical expositions

The historical focal points for the first 2 books were a bit lackluster: the first book dealt with a Chinese admiral and some pirates, and the second had something to do with Marco Polo. Sounds exciting, yes? Unfortunately, nothing much really happens in the story. For the first book, in particular, much of the plot and exposition is static. The third choice was brilliant, though: Emperor Qin Shin Huang and his famous tomb.

The third book is the best one so far, and the more exciting one. But it still suffered from lengthy expositions on history often spouted out by a helpful character. It’s nice that this series is also educational, but there is probably a more creative and less tedious way of explaining the historical background. Considering the structure of the stories, the longer expositions probably don’t belong in the narrative anyway. The authors also include end notes, so there is no need to get too lecture-y in-story.

Oh, speaking of history, there is the matter of Grandpa. He represents the “Call To Adventure” in Mira and Marko’s journey, but he has his own mysterious journey, which seems to involve meddling with history. This is the most interesting aspect of the series for me (it’s telling that I gravitated more toward the character who hasn’t even appeared “on-screen”), and I do hope that we get a good reveal and explanation in the end.

In general, I think that the authors have managed to achieve what they were going for: telling good adventure stories highlighting Asia and its rich history. I had too many things to complain about, but that’s only because this series has so much potential that I wanted it to work well. We need more books like this for kids in the international market. But right now, this series is a bit unpolished and under-edited. I hope the future installments will be better; the improvement from Book 1 to Book 3 is already encouraging.

Disclosure: Review copies were provided by Scholastic Philippines

Filipino writers win top honors in the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award


The results of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award were announced during the Awards Presentation Ceremony on 30 May 2014, in conjunction with the launch of the 2014 Asian Festival of Children’s Content at the Singapore National Library Building.

The award was presented by Mr. Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s Minister of Culture, Community and Youth.

Winners of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award are:

  • Grand Prize Winner: SOPHIA MARIE LEE from the Philippines for her story entitled WHAT THINGS MEAN
  • 1st Runner-up: CATHERINE TORRES from the Philippines for her story entitled SULA’S VOYAGE
  • 2nd Runner-up: VIVEK BHANOT from India for his story entitled ROBIN AND THE CASE OF THE SUMMER CAMP KIDNAPPING

The Scholastic Asian Book Award is a biennial search for new Asian children stories that is written in English. Sponsored by Scholastic and organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) since 2011, the objectives of the award are as follows:

  • To recognise excellence in fiction in Asian stories for children
  • To showcase the diversity of literary talent within Asia
  • To encourage and inspire more books and stories with Asian content

Entries received were judged by an international panel of literary experts and renowned authors which was led by Sayoni Basu (India) as head judge, and comprised of Ken Spillman (Australia), Marjorie Coughlan (Canada), Sarah Odedina (United Kingdom), Wanitcha Sumanat (Thailand).

“We [the judges] were pleasantly surprised with the high quality in the manuscripts submitted this year, which demonstrated greater depth and diversity in their stories, and more sophistication in writing craft as compared to previous years. The universality of the themes will enable all children in Asia and across the world to identify with the stories”, said Sayoni Basu.

The award carries a cash prize of SGD 10,000 and is awarded to an unpublished manuscript or translation of an original work in English targeted at children aged 6 to 18 years. The winning entry will be published by Scholastic. Selected shortlisted entries will also be considered for publication. Scholastic has published six stories that were discovered via SABA of past years. They are:

  • Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  • The Girl Mechanic from Wanzhou by Marjorie Sayer
  • The Mudskipper by Ovidia Yu
  • Bungee Cord Hair by Ching Yeung Russell
  • Not In The Stars by Pauline Loh
  • Hidden In Plain Sight by Ang Su-Lin

“Asia is so rich and diverse in its history and culture; there are so many experiences and stories to tell. However, most of these stories are passed on by word-of-mouth, very little is published and distributed globally. I grew up surrounded by books, but there were mainly stories of western children, of their family and friends, and of their adventures in their neck of the woods. Asian children deserves to have a rich legacy of stories that celebrates their Asian heritage and their coming-of-age experiences. The Scholastic Asian Book Award is one of our long-term projects to support development of Asia children literary landscape and we are so pleased to find a partner in NBDCS who also champions the same cause,” said Selina Lee, Director of Scholastic in Asia.

The 2016 Scholastic Asian Book Award is now open and entries must be sent in by September 1st, 2015. Details and the Entry Form are available at

About Scholastic
Scholastic Inc. is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and a leader in educational technology and children’s media. For over 90 years, Scholastic has been providing quality educational and entertaining materials and products for use in school and at home, including children’s books, classroom and parenting magazines, technology-based products, teacher materials, television programming, film, videos and toys.

About the NBDCS
The National Book Development Council of Singapore is a non-profit charitable institution founded in 1969. The Book Council’s objective is to establish and develop Singapore as the Asian centre for publishing and literary arts.

PR courtesy of Scholastic Philippines

Congratulations, everyone! 🙂

“Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)” by Marissa Meyer

scarletSCARLET (The Lunar Chronicles #2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Read Date: 21 April 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.