"The Magic Mound" is for children age 9 and up - all the way up, as many parents who have enjoyed the book in Spanish have informed me. An illustrated Spanish translation was published in a print version in 2000 by Longseller S.A., Buenos Aires. Now the English original is available as an e-book. It's about two brothers from a Brazilian favela (slum) who stumble into a fantasy land where they are charged with rescuing a girl from...Well, it's all in the book. We guarantee that both you and your children will enjoy it.
Sergio and Divino find the Magic Mound
It was late afternoon when Sergio and Divino started out, but there were still several hours of daylight left. Sergio studied the rushing stream which separated the house from the forest, then backed up and ran toward it as fast as he could. At the last moment he gave a mighty leap and landed safe and dry on the other side. Divino, knowing he couldn't jump across as his brother had, stood on the bank and felt like crying.
"Go back to the house," Sergio said. "You're too small for this job." Divino looked so sad that Sergio relented. "Oh, all right, come along downstream. Maybe there's a narrow spot where you can cross."
They followed the stream, Sergio on one side, Divino on the other, until they came to a bend where some large rocks lay in the water forming stepping-stones. Divino skipped easily across them. "Someone must have put them there so little fellows can cross too," he said. But his brother laughed and said they must have always been there.
Divino followed Sergio into the dense forest. It was not quite jungle yet, that started farther north, but it had some jungle characteristics: tall trees with thick leaves that formed a canopy above them and hanging vines that monkeys could have swung on. Not much light penetrated the canopy, so it was several degrees cooler inside. Sergio gathered kindling wood as he went along and placed it in Divino's arms. He was glad now that his brother had come along, not only to carry the kindling wood which left him free to carry the heavier pieces, but also to keep him company. He had never been in such a dark forest before and he might not have been so confident had he been alone. Divino walked along with his eyes as wide open as he could get them, taking everything in. He stumbled frequently because he was looking up and around instead of where his feet were going.
They had not been walking long when Divino, who we already know has sharp eyes, spied something strange on their right.
"Look at that hill," he called to Sergio.
"I don't see any hill. Where?"
Divino pointed and Sergio looked hard until he saw it. "That's not a hill," he said, "it's too low to be a hill."
"What is it then?"
"It looks like a mound."
"What's a mound?"
"Never mind, let's go."
"Don't you want to see the mound?" Divino insisted.
"Well, all right, if you must," Sergio replied, "but only for a minute. We have to start back before dark or we might get lost." He was curious as well, but didn't want to admit it.
They pushed their way through the underbrush until they came to a ring of white stones surrounding the mound. It couldn't have been very old for it had nothing growing on it and things grow fast in tropical forests. It was as large as the round room in the kindergarten and twice as high as Sergio was tall.
Indentations were cut into the side nearest them forming a kind of staircase. Divino suggested they use them to climb to the top, but Sergio hesitated.
"I wonder why this ring of stones is around the mound," he said.
"I don't know, but we can easily go over them. Look." And before Sergio could stop him Divino had jumped over the stones and was within the circle. "Come on, Sergio, don't be afraid."
Sergio wasn't afraid, he was just being cautious, for he was old enough to know that it can be dangerous to intrude on things you don't understand, regardless of how enticing they may seem. But he could hardly let his little brother taunt him with being afraid, so he stopped into the ring and followed Divino, who was already climbing the mound.
At the top they found two groups of small round stones placed in such a way that they formed back-to-back seats. Divino, without hesitation, sat in one of them.
"This chair is really comfortable, Sergio," he said happily. "Sit in the other one and you'll see."
Sergio looked around. The mound was a perfect circle that must have been carefully made. By whom? Indians? But there weren't any Indians left in that part of the country. Who then? And why?
Divino yawned. "I could go right to sleep," he said. "Why are you standing there, Sergio? Sit down."
Sergio sat in the vacant seat with his back to his brother. The sun, filtering through the trees, was low in the west in front of him. "Look, Divino, how big and beautiful the sun is." Behind him in the east, hidden by the forest, the full moon had begun to rise.
But Divino was too tired to turn around so he just said, "Uh-huh." Sergio was feeling drowsy too. "We better be getting back, Divino." But his brother didn't answer. Sergio turned and saw that Divino was asleep with his head resting on the soft earth that formed a kind of pillow at the back of his seat. Sergio shook him, but he didn't wake up. Sergio's eyelids became so heavy that he decided to rest them for just a moment before trying to wake Divino again. He closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.
Sergio and Divino arrive in Maxa
When Sergio woke up it was cool and the leaves on the trees and bushes hung heavy with dew. A fine mist covered the earth below the mound and birds were chirping and insects buzzing. The sun wasn't visible but the sky was orange behind him. He thought this strange because the sun had been near to setting in front of him when he had closed his eyes.
"Divino!" He nudged his brother, who grunted. "Do you remember which side the sun was on when we fell asleep?" But Divino didn't remember.
"You are right, little man, it was on the other side, in the west, where it always is when it sets."
Suddenly Divino was wide awake. "Who said that?"
Sergio jumped to his feet and looked around.
"I'm down here," the same voice said.
They went to the side of the mound and looked down at a girl standing up to her waist in the mist. Her black hair was tightly curled around her head in a perfect sphere. She smiled up at them and her brilliant white teeth made her dark skin look radiant. As they watched, the mist slowly sank to the ground leaving wisps clinging to her robe. At first Divino thought she was rising, but realized that couldn't be because she didn't get any higher. Her robe was green, or appeared to be at first, but as she moved it changed color, now light-blue, then yellowish red, then pink. Its color seemed to depend upon how much light or shadow fell on it. She was slim and pretty and almost as tall as Sergio.
"Don't you want to know how I am?" she said, breaking the silence.
"Who are you?" Divino asked.
"I am Mara, daughter of Mamara, which means queen."
"Oh," Divino said. "Does Mara mean queen or Mamara?"
"Mamara, of course."
"Then you must be a princess," Sergio said, obviously impressed.
"Yes," Mara answered as she climbed up the mound, "a princess who will never be queen." She was still smiling, so if she would never be queen it didn't seem to bother her.
"Why not?" Divino asked.
"My, you ask a lot of questions." She put her hand on his head and pulled his hair playfully, which Divino didn't much like. "What is your name?"
"Divin-o" she repeated. "That's a beautiful name. "It means you have something to do with God. "And your name?" she asked Sergio. When he told her she frowned. "What does it mean?"
"I don't know, it's just a name." He was a little annoyed because she obviously liked Divino's name more than his.
"All names mean something," Mara said. "How strange that you don't know what your own name means."
"Why is the sun there when it was on the other side when we fell asleep?" Sergio asked, wishing to change the subject, but also because he couldn't believe that they had slept the whole night through.
"Because it can't be here when it's there," she said, pointing first to east then to the west. Besides, you're in Maxa now, not Brazil."
"Yes. Now we will go to Maxanatara, where I live."
"We can't do that," Sergio said, "we have to return to our vacation house."
"Dona Juana will be worried about us," Divino added.
"You don't understand," Mara insisted. "You are not in Brazil now, so you can't go back to your vacation house."
"But how did we get to Maxa?" Sergio asked, thoroughly confused.
"On the mound, of course. Before you were in Brazil, now you are in Maxa. It's very simple really."
"On the mound?" Sergio repeated.
"It must be a magic mound," Divino said excitedly.
"Of course. Come along now, it's a long walk to the palace." Mara took hold of Sergio's right hand and Divino's left hand and led them down the mound. She did not hold them very tightly, but they felt a strange strength in her hands which left them no choice but to follow her. They walked three abreast through the forest on a wide path. Sergio didn't like being held and he asked her to let them loose, but Mara said they might run away and then Mamara would be angry with her.
They walked a long way, but it didn't tire them. The air wasn't humid as in Brazil. It was clear and fresh as though they were high up on a mountain. They knew they couldn't be on a mountain though, because the ground was level. They heard and saw many animals and birds which weren't completely different from the birds and animals of Brazil, but sufficiently different to have surprised certain people such as ornithologists, zoologists and other experts.
These animals were not at all afraid of Mara and the boys. The peeked out from the underbrush alongside the path and scurried about and squealed and squeaked or twittered and peeped at them. Mara answered them with the same sounds. She had long since let go of the boys' hands because the path had become too narrow for them to go on three abreast. They were so fascinated that they didn't even think of running away.
"Can you talk to the animals?" Divino asked Mara.
"Naturally." She turned to face them and continued walking backwards without missing a step. "They don't really say much, they only express their moods and curiosity.
"Are they curious about us?" Divino asked curiously.
Mara laughed and faced forward again. She spoke to them over her shoulder. "Don't you know?"
"No," Divino said truthfully.
"Well, one reason is that you don't smell like us. Animals can smell better than they can see."
"Do you smell better than us?"
Mara laughed again. She was still enjoying Divino's questions. I don't think we can smell better than you. I know that Mireya can smell as well as I can."
"Who's Mireya?" Sergio asked as he jumped effortlessly over a monkey-like animal sitting in the middle of the path. Divino walked around it.
After a long pause Mara said, "Mother will tell you about her."
"Will we see her?" Sergio felt a keen interest in Mireya, although he had only heard her name.
"Don't ask me about her. I wasn't supposed to mention her to you," Mara answered curtly.
Sergio wanted to ask why she wasn't supposed to mention her, but he knew this would mean Mara would have to mention her again, which she wasn't supposed to do. Divino had no such inhibitions.
"Why aren't you supposed to mention her?" he asked.
Mara didn't answer, nor did she speak again for a long time, until Divino said, "Why didn't you put the palace closer to the magic mound?"
Mara sighed. "What difference does it make?"
Divino was about to explain that then they wouldn't have so far so walk, but his brother shushed him.
Finally the path curved sharply to the right and from that point on the trees on both sides bent over towards the middle as though bowing. After a while they saw the palace in the distance before them.
"Is that a palace?" Divino asked.
"Yes, it's where we live," Mara said.
"I thought palaces were much bigger."
"You'll see how big it is when we get there."
Indeed, with every step they took the palace seemed to grow larger until, when they arrived, it loomed over them in all its majesty. Divino's eyes were wide open like brown saucers.
"Are there palaces in Brazil, Sergio?"
"No," Sergio answered, "only in fairy tales."
About the author
Frank Thomas Smith is an American expatriate who has lived abroad for many years - in Argntina, Switzerland and Germany, where he worked in the airline industry. He now resides in a remote but beautiful corner of Argentina. Five of his children's books have been published in print versions in Argentina, in Spanish. He is also, as you may have noticed, the editor and publisher of the SouthernCross Review.
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