Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review: The Magic Tree House Series

Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-28Magic 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.


  1. Thanks for the review! I have always wondered about those books. I am tempted to grab one and read it myself. It sounds like something my son would like, too.

  2. Brandy, I forgot to mention that some of the series have non-fiction books to complement them. First Son found the dinosaurs one at the library last week and is loving it. He's been taking "notes" from the book (another benefit I forgot to mention, as First Son often makes his own copywork now, though I don't usually count it because it often doesn't include punctuation or even whole sentences).

    You might find the reading level a little too easy for E, though, since I know he's a few years ahead of First Son. There are, of course, great benefits to reading for pure enjoyment, even if the book is not particularly challenging.

  3. Yes, thanks for this review. Amanda has never shown much interest in these, and though many of them look interesting and even educational, I've been hesitant to suggest them due to the magical aspects. I read part of the first one and I wasn't crazy about that part of it.
    Amanda doesn't really like fiction much - she prefers science books about animals, nature, etc., so we were very happy to find the Magic School Bus Chapter Books. First Son might like them, as well. I haven't seen any problems with the magic in those books.

  4. Tiffany, I haven't seen the Magic School Bus Chapter books. First Son loves the original series, though he definitely shows less interest in the newer slimmer paperbacks you can find. I've requested the first few from the library and we'll see what he thinks.

    First Son reads pretty widely, but mostly he prefers dinosaurs, ocean creatures and anything Jack and Annie are up to.

  5. The other problem with MTH is it's completely inane. Every book is virtually identical, with the exception of the setting. You will tire of it after about three books. Fortunately, #1 has read them all from our library, and is now bored with them.

    Like Tiffany, I would also recommend the Magic School Bus series. It's a bit more advanced than "MTH," and doesn't involve magic... just a disorganized teacher and some tongue-in-cheek humor.

    We've also gotten into the "A to Z Mysteries." See They are further advanced than First Son probably is right now, but you can read them to him, and he'll probably like them. #1 is burning through them these days.

  6. It's true, Mazzucco family, the Magic Tree House books become insanely boring for adults very quickly. We picked up some Magic School Bus books at the library today and First Son seems to be enjoying them. (And by we, I mean Kansas Dad.) I'll have to sit and read some with him over the weekend. (In fact, we practically had to threaten him to get him to put the first one down and come eat dinner. I think all those years of my "not hearing" my mom while I was reading are coming back to haunt me.)

    We'll have to try the A to Z Mysteries, too. I have to admit, I'm not much of a mystery fan, but First Son does seem to be so and he's the one I want reading.


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