Paint by Magic, by Kathryn Reiss for Timeslip Tuesday

Time travel mixed with art is a satisfying combo, and Paint by Magic, by Kathryn Reiss (2002) delivers on both elements to make a diverting, though ultimately a bit unsatisfying, read.

Connor's parents both work full time plus, and so he and his sister don't see much of them at all, but at least they have the multiple tvs in their house, and their computers, to keep them company.  Then one day Connor comes home to find that his mother is actually there waiting for him, and is cooking dinner.  More bizarrely still, she's gotten rid of all the electronics in the house, and insists that Connor's dad reads out loud to him that evening.  She is not herself at all, sometimes seeming to lapse into trance like states where her body is frozen, but her face shows fear. 

And indeed she is not herself, because she has just escaped from the 1920s, though some strange magic is still asserting itself within her.  Connor looks for clues, and when he finds a sketch of his mother, it draws him back into the same family she spent a year living with.  His visit to the 1920s doesn't overlap with hers, and the family (grandparents, grown son who is an artist, widowed daughter in law and her four kids), and  takes him in. 

Like his mother, he is appropriated as a model by the artist who lives a reclusive life up in the top of the house.  The reader has been given a few flashbacks to a Renaissance artist who was a nasty piece of work, and so is primed to draw the connection between that artist's sadist manipulation of his own model, and the 1920s artists manipulation of first Connor's mother, than Connor.  This evil magical painting mystery is a satisfying one, and its resolution makes for interesting reading.

And in the meantime, Connor, like his mother before him, finds the simple, wholesome life of the past much more pleasing than he would have thought.  The days are full of fun and business (puzzles, games, homemade lemonade and household tasks), and when Connor does return to his own time, he replaces his Star Wars bed with a more traditional wooden one.  This part is really a bit much.  Yes, family game night and home-cooked meals are nice, but the black and white contrast between Modern Life and Happy Past  is exaggerated so much here it becomes just annoying.  Especially since it is possible for both parents to work and still be present in their children's lives. I'm not sure what kids would make of this message, but as a parent I was put off.

Despite this, I did not mind reading the book at all, and indeed found the art aspect, with its truly creepy mystery, enjoyable.


  1. I'm surprised I don't have this one in the library. Must have just missed it; I started ordering books there in 2002. Do have a couple of Reiss titles. Hmmm.

  2. This one doesn't sound like my cup of tea. Thanks for letting me know about it though.

  3. We read a couple of Reiss books in grad school... in part, because Kathryn was our professor. Mystery is always a topic of interest in MG, but Kathryn's books definitely have a style that is from the golden age of children's lit, closer to the 80's... which doesn't necessarily translate as well today, as we value different things. You might better enjoy RIDDLE OF THE PRAIRIE BRIDE, I think that was one of my faves. No timeslip there, though!


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