Children’s Literature Review: The Magic Tree House
The Magic Tree House is a deservingly popular introduction to chapter books for young readers. It follows the adventures of the siblings, Jack and Annie, as they discover a tree house full of old books in the woods behind their house. As they open a book and begin to read, they are magically transported to the time and place the book describes.
Jack and Annie visit many points in time and space, including the age of the dinosaurs, the San Francisco Earthquake, the Civil War, Pompeii, and even the future. During the Merlin Mission books (the set which begins after the 28th book), they are also able to travel to literary fantasy realms, such as Camelot.
Overall, the main characters encounter enough suspenseful situations and mystery to keep young readers engaged in the stories. Additionally, the books help kids get exposure to a wide variety of cultures, climates, and historical events. In turn, this helps improve their knowledge and performance in school.
There are 55 books in the series, so it’s enough to keep any child occupied for a while. The books are relatively short, with most of them being around 70 large-print, illustrated pages, divided into around 10 chapters.
Most of my students take a year or so to get through the series, reading around one book per week. For the kids who aren’t yet comfortable reading chapter books (but are still able to understand the language in the story), these are great to teach reading with. You can read a chapter out loud, and then have your child practice reading out loud to you (with lots of encouragement!)
I also have some students who enjoy listening to the Magic Tree House audiobooks while they passively play with toys. Listening to stories they already know can help reinforce the narrative, as well as the new vocabulary and history lessons they are learning.
After your child finishes a book, talk with them about it! Ask them what happened, and note their ability to summarize material. Summarizing material is a very important school skill, and kids will have a much easier time if they can practice it at home.
I would highly recommend that as you read these books with your children, that you provide supplemental material to help them visualize the history. When Jack and Annie visit the first Olympics, show your kids illustrations of ancient Greece and talk about the history of the Olympics. When Jack and Annie go to the last Ice Age, show your children what Saber Toothed Tiger, Cro Magnon, and Mammoth fossils look like, and talk about man’s overhunting of the Mammoth, and how Mammoths were different from modern Elephants.
I’ve found that kids learn to read best when reading is a family bonding experience. When they share their reading with you, it helps them get excited about their stories. When they learn more cool facts about the history in their books from you, it helps their reading feel more relevant and personal. Because the Magic Tree House explores so many points in time and space, it’s idea for discussion and learning history.
Here’s a link to the boxed set of books 1-28, which are usually the favorites among my students.
If you just want to give the series a try before committing to the whole set, here’s a link to just the first 8 books.
As the series is quite popular, they are often available at local libraries as well.