A Magic Tunnel, a Magic Rowboat…What’s the Difference? As Long as it Gets You to Yesterday!

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Magic Tunnel, by Caroline D. Emerson. I read it when I was nine or ten years old, right around the time a paperback edition was released in 1964 (the book was originally published in 1940) through the Arrow Book Club, a service of Scholastic Books that brought book sales to schools around the country. My school was P.S. 233 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

The Magic Tunnel told the story of brother and sister John and Sarah who, on a New York City subway ride down to Battery Park to visit the Statue of Liberty, suddenly find themselves transported back in time to 1664, during the last days of Dutch rule over the city then called “New Amsterdam” before the new British colonial masters changed its name to New York.

I rode the subway all the time as a kid. We’d always ride in the first car so we could watch the track ahead as we sped through the tunnel. Now and then, we might catch a brief glimpse of an old, abandoned station my dad said were called “ghost stations,” or even dark, mysterious figures tromping along adjacent tracks, or hugging the tunnel walls as we flashed by. There was, I was convinced, magic in those dark and creepy underground passages. Anything could happen.

Of course, magic can happen anywhere. Emma’s Landing has a few things in common with The Magic Tunnel, including native New Yorker protagonists, a touch of magic, time travel, and unusual modes of transportation to achieve it, John and Sarah by train, Emma Candela by rowboat on a storm-tossed lake. And instead of the dark, ominous subway tunnels of New York, Emma makes her journey through the deep, dank Florida Everglades, where she’s been sent to live with her grandmother when her parents go missing on a humanitarian mission halfway around the world.

The Magic Tunnel by Caroline D. Emmerson. Bonus points for comic book fans, this 1964 Scholastic paperback edition featured a cover and interior illustrations by the legendary comic book and syndicated strip artist Jerry Robinson, co-creator with Bob Kane of Robin the Boy Wonder, the Joker, and much of the early Golden Age Batman mythos.

Suddenly, Emma is transported from the familiar landscape of New York’s skyscrapers and sidewalks to Land’s End’s dank, dark swamps and twisted waterways, lacking even the barest necessities of life, especially internet access and WiFi! And while Emma awaits word of the fate of her parents, she finds herself drawn to one of the area’s deepest mysteries, the strange, shadowy hermit of the Everglades known as P-Alonso who many believe to be immortal.

But it isn’t until Emma discovers the centuries old Candela family journal on her grandmother’s bookshelf that the truth behind her family history and the strange new world she’s inhabiting begins to reveal itself to her…and then a child’s cries in the night sends her out on the storm-tossed lake to row her way back through time to the 1780s. There she meets her many times great-grandmother and helps save the family home…and be offered the clues she will need to ensure the Candela homestead remains in the family far into the future!

Emma’s Landing combines my love for time travel stories and historic fiction that The Magic Tunnel instilled in me over fifty years ago. I’ve read hundreds of time travel adventures since, some better than others, but none better than that first thrilling story I encountered as a fourth grader.

Maybe Emma’s Landing will be the book that sets one of today’s young readers off on a similar lifelong journey of excitement and discovery. That would be the best kind of history I could ever hope to make.

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