If you decided to read this blog then you’re probably familiar with those lines, they conjure up images of your friends with Jack and Annie and countless missions you’ve accompanied them on. However, just in case you are unfamiliar with the Magic Tree House series, let me begin by explaining what exactly it is and why I care about it so much.
The Magic Tree House series, written by Mary Pope Osborne, follows a pair of siblings, Jack and Annie, as they travel across the world, and through time, on important missions. The sibling team go to see numerous places and cultures, including Ancient Greece and China, the North Pole and the Amazon, they even visit Camelot. On their trips through space and time they encounter and help out historical figures and adorable animals. Jack and Annie teach their readers facts and history lessons through wonderfully creative storytelling and beautiful illustrations. These irresistible books have inspired a love of reading for many children, including myself. The first book, Dinosaurs Before Dark, was published in 1992 and the most recent addition to the series, Camp Time in California, was released March of 2021. The series includes over 54 books, has sold over 134 million copies, and is available in over 30 countries. Magic Tree House’s success has been nothing short of magical.
Why do I care so much about Jack and Annie? As you probably guessed by now, as a kid I read the Magic Tree House stories. I remember my mother and my grandmother reading them to me nightly. Once I was able to read them myself, I went through them so quickly that my mother refused to continue purchasing them for me. She made me go rent them from the library because it was a waste of money when I read a new Magic Tree House book every day. Jack and Annie were an essential part of my childhood and helped me develop into the avid reader that I am today. Now, 15 years after I experienced my first Magic Tree House adventure, my five-year-old sister has fallen in love with the series. Samantha (my sister), begs my mom to read Jack and Annie to her every night and she has finished a decent amount of the series. Our shared love for the series had me wondering: why has the Magic Tree House series remained so popular for young readers? To answer this question, my sister and I read Magic Tree house book #12 Polar Bears Past Bedtime (1998) and #33 Narwhal on a Sunny Night (2020) to explore the plots, characters and themes that Osborne uses.
Polar Bears Past Bedtime follows Jack and Annie as they are whisked away to the Arctic. They encounter baby polar bears, meet a seal hunter, and learn what it means to be brave. According to Samantha, the best part of this Jack and Annie story was the polar bears. With Samantha, any book that includes an animal is going to be a success; unsurprisingly I was the same way as a kid. Osborne seems to be acutely aware of how enjoyable animals are for kids because she includes an encounter with animals in most of Jack and Annie’s adventures. Of her 35 Magic Tree House books, 17 have animals on the cover and 12 of those books include animals as the main storyline. Annie’s character even seems to have a supernatural connection with the animals that allows her to understand what they are saying. This is never said explicitly, but Jack points the phenomenon out in most of the books. Osborne also includes interesting facts about the animals included in her books. Samantha has been telling me polar bear facts since she read the book. Polar Bears Past Bedtime was a perfect example of a Magic Tree House book. Samantha and I enjoyed reading this one and I could definitely see other kids Samantha’s age loving this book.
Narwhal on a Sunny Night was my favorite of the two, Samantha and I finished it way too quickly. I figured that after 30 years, Osborne’s stories might have become repetitive, but that was not the case. Book #33 featured characters, animals, and a location that was totally unique. Narwhal on a Sunny Night chronicles Jack and Annie’s adventures as they travel to Greenland. Once there, the siblings save a Narwhal, meet Leif Erikson and Eric the Red, and learn the importance of saying thank you. Samantha told me she learned that saying thank you brings people together and gives joy and happiness. She was also able to rattle off a long list of narwhal facts that she learned from the story. Additionally, this book had orca whales, Samantha’s favorite, so that definitely helped make this story a hit. Over the course of the book, Osborne included subtle references to climate change. When reading, Samantha asked me what the climate was and why it was important that the ice was melting. While Samantha isn’t a climate warrior, it was cool that she learned from the book about one of the issues affecting the world we live in. I found this book more entertaining than the other one and I think Samantha will be requesting it to be read again.
After reading both books, I noticed a few important aspects of the Magic Tree House series. First, Osborne is careful to include important figures, animals, cultures, and historical events in all of Jack and Annie’s journeys. Secondly, none of Osborne’s books are just an animal story, adventure book, or an autobiography. This practice helps the books reach a larger audience and make them entertaining to kids with all sorts of interests. I also noticed that there is a moral lesson or theme to each Magic Tree House book. In Polar Bears Past Bedtime, Jack and Annie learned about the importance of home and bravery; the two ideas were woven throughout the book. Narwhal on a Sunny Night had all the characters learning about the importance of saying thank you. In Magic Tree House, once Jack and Annie recognize the overlying theme of their adventure, they complete their mission and go home. This emphasizes the importance of whatever they learned, such as thank you and bravery.
When reading Magic Tree House through a critical lens, it becomes clear that Osborne is a thoughtful writer. She makes sure to write plot lines that are intriguing to all readers while simultaneously including a lesson that parents will appreciate. Jack and Annie’s adventures and friendships, paired with lessons and beautiful illustrations, are key to making the Magic Tree House remain a popular series. I would like to thank Mary Pope Osborne for these books, they are my little sister’s favorite stories and hold a special place on my bookshelf.
PRR Writer and Editor, Frances Drye