Friday, September 10, 2010

The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

There are some books that you see all the time on the library shelves, they have a constant circulation, and one day you realize you haven't read a single one. This especially seems to happen to me with juvenile series. I did read some series when I was a child - Encyclopedia Brown, some Boxcar Children, etc. but was never very interested in beginning chapter books after I finished all the easy readers. So, the other day a kid asked for something to read like Magic Tree House. Usually, by the time a kid has gotten to the end of Magic Tree House they've gotten to a higher reading level and want something else to read. If not, I just pass them Canadian Flyer by Frieda Wishinsky. This kid definitely wanted a read-alike and I found myself at a loss. So, I decided to read some.

The first Magic Tree House story, Dinosaurs Before Dark tells how Jack and his younger sister Annie discover a mysterious tree house that transports them through time - back to the dinosaur age! With the help of a friendly dinosaur they manage to escape, learning some interesting facts about dinosaurs along the way as well as picking up a mysterious clue to the owner of the tree house. Fast forward through a couple books, and Dolphins at Daybreak, the tenth adventure, has Jack and Annie off on a mission to the beach at the request of Morgan le Fay, who apparently owns the tree house and is at odds with Merlin. Jack and Annie accidentally turn on the mini submarine they are looking at and take an exciting and scary trip through a coral reef and are rescued from a shark by two dolphins. Zipping way, way ahead to the secondary series, the Merlin Missions (which are a higher reading level), in Night of the New Magicians Jack and Annie are now apparently working for Merlin and have acquired a little magic. They travel to the 1889 Paris World Fair to rescue four "magicians" from an evil wizard. The magicians turn out to be famous inventors and Jack and Annie learn about their inventions and their life philosophies.

So, a nice little sample here. My conclusion...I don't think I would have been much interested in these myself as a child, but I can see the appeal. There's a little magic, a little history, a little adventure, some humor, basically a smorgasbord of plot and genre elements. I found the "lessons", especially in the Merlin Mission, rather obvious but many kids (and adults) like a certain amount of didactism. As far as recommending read-alikes...I'm still at a loss. What do you recommend as a read-alike for Magic Tree House?

Verdict: Undoubtedly, your library already owns them. I'm working on making sure we have 3 copies of each title (the shelf completely emptied out this summer) and replacing the grime-encrusted older copies.

Dinosaurs before dark
ISBN: 978-0375844058; Published May 2008 by Random House; Borrowed from the library

Dolphins at daybreak
ISBN: 978-0679883388; Published April 1997 by Random House; Borrowed from the library

Night of the new magicians
ISBN: 978-0375830358; Published March 2006 by Random House; Borrowed from the library


Katie Fries said...

This is a timely post for me because my 7 year old has been reading these to me just in the past two weeks. I don't think I would have enjoyed them as a kid; I skipped from picture books to Beverly Cleary/Judy Blume and didn't do very much in the way of "in between" readers. As far as the stories go, not much happens in them (the first two, anyway). Very basic with a beginning, middle and ending. I see their true value as being very good books (especially as read alouds) for kids who have moved beyond the Level 3 I Can Read books but aren't ready for the small print/more advanced vocabulary books like the Boxcar Children, Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, etc. My son likes that the page length isn't overwhelming and that there are pictures every few pages to break up the text. The vocabulary is perfect too. My son can sound out almost anything but he doesn't always understand more advanced vocabulary. He can read a book in three or four nights, which also makes the books less overwhelming. We have a deal that when he finishes one he can pick out a new one from the library or the bookstore. As far as the storylines go, he doesn't like them as much as the Bad Kitty chapter books but he's interested enough. I like that they have a little bit of history in them.

Anyway, sorry for the novel here. I've always seen these books around but had no idea why someone would want to read them until I was tasked with finding appropriate read aloud material for my 7 year old. For that purpose they are perfect.

Jennifer said...

Exactly! Some books are "bridge" books and that's what I would call these. They're not the kind of book you rave about how wonderful they are - but they're not supposed to be. The mechanics, shorter text, illustration, interesting but not too involved plot, are more important than the writing or characters. My director was groaning at me when I said we needed to have 3 copies of each title and I was "yeah, I know they're awful, but every single one was checked out this summer and we had a huge empty space on the shelf!"