Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-28 by Mary Pope Osborne
We first listed to the first eight books of the Magic Tree House series while on a trip to visit my parents. They were recommended by multiple moms in my homeschool group. Jack and Annie find a tree house full of books in the woods near their home. An innocent wish to see one of the pictures unexpectedly sends the tree house spinning. Jack and Annie find themselves in the time of the dinosaurs (in the first book). They investigate a little about a few dinosaurs and barely escape disaster before wishing themselves back home again. Each book has a similar plot with a different destination: castles, ninjas, lions, and so on.
I've read A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind by Micheal O'Brien (discussed in Part I and Part II), so I was a little nervous about the series at first. I find it a hard line to draw as I want the children to delight in the "magical" aspects of children's books, but I'm not anxious for them to attempt magic themselves. When they ask if magic is real, I say no, but sometimes I'm not so sure. Perhaps there is magic, but if so, it may originate from the Devil and his minions. The first few books seemed fairly innocuous, though. The kids enjoyed an imaginary trip back in time or to another country. First Son and First Daughter enjoyed pretending to travel in similar ways themselves, knowing all the time it wasn't real. Then, at the end of the eighth book, I realized Jack and Annie actually chant a serious of words to save Morgan le Fay. I found that a little disturbing.
Kansas Dad and I discussed whether we should allow First Son to continue reading. There are a number of aspects of the books we appreciate. First of all, First Son refused for a long time to read anything that took more than one sitting. He would happily stop and put in a bookmark, but then insist on beginning anew the next day. Most chapter books he wouldn't even start. He can now read these rather easily, finishing them in a single sitting. (In fact, he's so proficient with them, I now usually encourage him to pick something else during our "official" reading lesson time.) There's no question, though, that the Magic Tree House books were the first that encouraged him to explore chapter books. In addition, the huge variety of people, places and times in the books have expanded First Son's interests. He'll often come across something in other books that remind him of a Jack and Annie adventure.
First Son has read through book thirteen or so at this point. For the moment, we've decided to let him continue reading. He loves the stories, devours the books and begs me to request the next one (or three) each week from the library. First Son and First Daughter (who sometimes listens to the stories) know the stories are imaginary and haven't repeated anything or engaged in any pretend play with more magic than the movement of the tree house itself through space and time.
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to recommend them, though. If you wish to avoid "magic" (as opposed to just that which could be described as "magical"), this series is probably best left unread.