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?
15 thoughts on “Magic Tree House Books”
I have mixed feelings about them. Kai, who is six right now, loves them and it gets in a fair bit of history. I find them fairly predictable, but they’re definitely not the worst thing we’ve read and they were some of the first chapter books Kai was willing to read on his own. For young-ish kids, they’re a fairly decent read, I think.
Thanks for your comment! From my research into storytelling, I think when it comes to kids, predictability is okay and maybe even good.
I have only read a couple of them aloud, but my 6.5 year-old has read them all, many of them several times. We mostly get them from the library as well; I think we own 4. I like that there is some history and introduction to other places and times, and my daughter makes connections between the books and our history studies often. Or something she has read in MTH inspires her to seek out more on a topic (like St. Bernards in the Alps). I do think it is the formulaic nature that gives them a bad rap. But since I don’t read them, I can’t complain. I think they are a bit beneath the reading ability of my advanced reader now. But if she wants to continue to devour them, I am okay with that – at least I know the content is age appropriate. She likes the “The Roman Mysteries” series too, and those have much more sophisticated ideas that make me balk at whether she should be reading those without me.
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Hi JenRay! Thanks for your comment. That’s great that your 6 year old is reading them by herself! Who writes the “The Roman Mysteries”?
She seems to be able to read 4th and 5th grade-level books with understanding. Her precociousness with reading/language arts was the first “straw” that started us on the path to homeschooling. “The Roman Mysteries” is a series by Caroline Lawrence. http://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CKD59ZG/ref=sr_1_5_acs_b_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391829726&sr=8-5-acs Just a warning that there are such dark topics as slavery, suicide, and torture. For a kid who won’t watch a full Disney movie because it is too scary, it is beyond me why she likes them!
My kids– 4 and 6– enjoy them, and I enjoy that they inspire them to learn more about history and classical literature. I HATE reading them though. So we get the audiobooks from the library. It’s a perfect compromise. s
Thanks for your comment, Georgia! LOL That’s a perfect compromise!! I’m certainly tired of reading some of the picture books we have, so I sympathize.
My son read this and love it too. He actually has a set of these books we got from school. Affordable books that are truly amazing. Makes kids enjoy and love reading.
Thank you for your comment, Island Traveler. I’m glad your son has enjoyed them too! I agree….they are great for getting kids into reading and learning about history too!
I love the series too! I have about 50 copies (some duplicates) in my classroom! 2nd graders love to read them! It is wonderful that George is reading them to him!!
I think this is my sister! Thanks, Terri!
My son read the first 38 or so, and LOVED them. He read the last one last year, at 10yo, and he’d still probably read another one now if it fell in his lap (although he probably wouldn’t tell his friends about it, because he’s “not a little boy anymore, mom” lol) I personally wasn’t crazy about them, but I loved how much they motivated his reading.
Thank you, Anonymous, for your comment!