Title: Magic Tree House Series
Author: Mary Pope Osborne
Major Themes: Mystery, Time Travel
Synopsis: A series of books for young readers, in which the characters are transported to other times and places.
I’ve been hearing a lot about the Magic Tree House books lately. A lot of people recommend them highly for emergent readers. Children who are just gaining confidence reading like books like this; the language is simple and the plots are engaging. A series is a good way to get children reading more and more, as they are familiar with the names and writing style and know that they will like the book before they begin. For those reasons, I decided I wanted to take a look at this series and see what they are like. We will not be bringing any more of them into our house, however. I do not like the magical aspect in these stories. In every one I’ve read, Jack and Annie find a mysterious tree house in the woods near their home. It appears and disappears at random times. When they go into it, they find a lot of books; when they look at a picture and wish to be there, they find themselves transported to a different time or place. They do learn a small amount about the time or place they have been transported to, but basically, as far as I’m concerned, these books are just twaddle, with not enough substance to make them worth reading. Here are brief synopses of the ones I’ve read.
#2 The Knight at Dawn (Castle of Mystery) Jack and Annie find themselves outside of a castle during the Middle Ages. This is actually the least-offensive book I’ve read in the series. They don’t steal or lie, and the only magical part is when the tree house transports them to and from the castle.
#4 Pirates Past Noon (Pirates’ Treasure) Jack and Annie find themselves on a Caribbean island, where pirates are coming ashore to look for buried treasure. A parrot saves them, then after they are returned home the parrot turns into a woman who reveals herself as Morgan le Fay, a witch from the time of King Arthur.
#5 Night of the Ninjas Jack and Annie are transported to ancient Japan where they find themselves among the Ninjas, and in danger from the Samurai. I looked online to see what I could learn about the Ninjas, and I do not want my children to learn about them. Contrary to the positive light in which they are presented in this story, the real Ninjas are spies and assassins. A story that portrays evil as good is not what I want my children reading.
#9 Dolphins at Daybreak (Diving With Dolphins) Jack and Annie are taken to a coral reef in the ocean, where they find a mini-sub. After some argument about using something that does not belong to them, they get in and explore the seafloor with it, finding themselves in grave danger. Stealing the sub is shown as a good thing.
#11 Lions at Lunchtime (Lions on the Loose) On their way home from the store where they got groceries for their mother, Jack and Annie stop by the Magic Tree House, and find themselves transported to Africa where they help a herd of wildebeest and avoid being caught by lions.
#13 Vacation Under the Volcano (Racing With Gladiators) Jack and Annie are transported to Pompeii, and when Mount Vesuvius erupts they are saved by a giant gladiator, who turns out to be Hercules.
#16 Hour of the Olympics (Olympic Challenge) Morgan le Fay sends Jack and Annie to Ancient Greece, where they attend the Olympic Games and, after getting in trouble are magically saved by Pegasus, the flying horse.
#26 Good Morning, Gorillas Morgan le Fay sends Jack and Annie to Africa to learn about gorillas. The children teach the gorillas a hand sign.
WARNING: Read the review; warnings are throughout.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 5 – 6, 7 – 9, 8 – 12