A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Jack and Annie visit historical times and locations across the globe, so readers learn about science, music, literature, art, nature, and other cultures. But real places and events are combined with magic, ghosts, and fantasy (such as riding dinosaurs and playing with polar bear cubs). Sometimes details are vague ("in the time of castles" or "in Roman times"), but select stories also include additional facts at the beginning or end of the story, which allows kids to dig deeper into the topics that interest them.
Books are essential documents to be saved and treasured. Knowledge is power: Be curious, look for facts, take notes to support that journey for knowledge. Value friendship and teamwork. Treat others, including strangers, in respectful ways.
Positive Role Models
Jack and Annie are guided by wise mentors/teachers like master librarian Morgan le Fay and Merlin the Magician. Jack and Annie are a strong team: Annie is brave, enthusiastic, and curious, although she sometimes rushes into things headfirst. Jack is more timid but uses his intellect to solve problems. Jack and Annie keep the tree house a secret from their parents, so many adventures start with them sneaking out without permission.
All main characters are White. They interact with East Asian, Indigenous, and Black people on their adventures. Jack and Annie respect cultural differences and point out issues like segregation. But non-White groups are treated as something foreign to be learned about and are often portrayed as magical, spiritual, old-fashioned. Some girls have important roles: Annie almost always starts the adventure, and Morgan le Fay is a knowledgeable elder. But Jack and Annie mostly go on adventures with men, and women fall into traditional gender roles, busy doing jobs like sewing.
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Violence & Scariness
There's a suspenseful arc to each book. Jack and Annie are bound to be in danger at some point: chased by a T. rex, thrown into a dungeon, etc. But the fear factor is calibrated for 6- and 7-year-olds, especially once they've read a couple of the books and know that no one is ever seriously hurt. Pirates and cowboys are armed with guns and knives. Jack and Annie also visit disaster sites such as the Titanic and Mount Vesuvius.
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Ableist terms include "crazy," "nuts," "loco," and "dummies."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the Magic Tree House chapter book series, written by Mary Pope Osborne, revolves around siblings Jack and Annie, who discover that a tree house in the woods near their home can transport them to different places and historical periods. Morgan le Fay (from the King Arthur legends) sends the kids on missions to learn about real historical events and find important items. The children's curiosity inspires their adventures, and teamwork helps them achieve specific goals. Jack and Annie respectfully interact with different cultures, but non-White people are often portrayed as magical, spiritual, or old-fashioned. Each volume follows a suspenseful arc, so the kids end up in at least one precarious situation (chased by dinosaurs, threatened by cowboys with guns, etc.), but things always turn out well. Later books in a series called Magic Tree House Merlin Missions are intended for slightly older readers and have a little more sophisticated language and fantastical plots.
Is It Any Good?
These books make wonderful chapter books for first and second graders (or advanced kindergartners) to read alone, or for parents of young school children to read aloud. There's something in the Magic Tree House series for every kid to learn, whether it's about nature, historical events, cultural traditions, or animals. The formula that all of the books follow may seem repetitive to parents, but kids find these books both fascinating and comforting because they know Jack and Annie will always get home safely to Frog Creek.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.