Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 5, 2014.
For over a year, my husband has been reading the Magic Tree House Books by Mary Pope Osborne to my seven-year-old every night before bed. There are over fifty titles in the series, and currently they are reading #39, Dark Day in the Deep Sea. My son is thrilled because the two protagonists, Jack and Annie, are going to meet an octopus! Though I haven’t read the series with him, I’m privy to many retellings of the stories.
Jack and Annie are a brother and sister, and in the first book, they find a magic tree house and travel back into prehistoric times. In every book, they are sent on an adventure throughout time to different places and even to mythical places. Through these books, my son has been introduced to Ancient Egypt, Leonardo da Vinci, the Civil War and the American Revolution, William Shakespeare, gorillas in the Congo rain forest and so much more.
The books are a great introduction to history and mythology, and there are even companion non-fiction books that will teach children more about the people and places Jack and Annie meet in their adventures, though we aren’t using those.
Starting with book #29, the books are referred to as “The Merlin Missions.” They are longer and the reading level is higher, so children can continue to be challenged as they grow with the series.
I have heard some criticism from other parents about the quality of writing in the books, which can make them unappealing for adults to read. But my husband has enjoyed reading the series with my son. He says the writing is simple and appropriate for kids, and he considers them to be fantasies and adventure stories for children. He thinks the author does a good job of getting kids excited about history, and he appreciates the author’s attempts at depicting the daily life of everyday people in the time periods the characters visit. From a history professor, that’s not a bad review.
Though we discovered the books while browsing at the bookstore, we only own two of them. My husband has been able to find all the books at nearby libraries by checking online first to find where the next book in the series is located. No library seems to own all the books, but he has found them all by searching for them at the Winder, Auburn, Statham and Bogart libraries. Since they are short books, he checks out three or four of them at a time. That way they always have something to read each night.
Since I haven’t read the books myself, I thought I would interview my son about them. This is what he said:
Me: Why do you like Magic Tree House books?
My son: I like it because they do all these adventures, and there’s magic, and they meet all sorts of giant animals like a cloud dragon and an octopus and a sea serpent.
Me: What is your favorite book in the series so far?
My Son: Dragon of the Red Dawn, #37
Me: Is there a subject you wish she would write about?
My Son: She already has lots of cool books, but maybe one about going to a volcano and seeing a fire-breathing dragon.
Me: Are you glad Daddy is reading the series to you?
My Son: Yes.
Me: When you finish the Magic Tree House books, what series will you read with Daddy next?
My Son: I want to read Robin Hood with daddy. It’s not a series though.
Me: Anything you want to add?
My Son: They’re really good.
So there you have it from the seven-year-old himself.
Have you or your child read these books? What did you think?