Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Magic Tree House Series

UPDATED
The Magic Tree House Series, Mary Pope Osborne

My boys really enjoy this series. We have listened to some on tape, my wife has read some to them, but mostly they have read these themselves. These have been some of the best books for them to get started with a love for reading.

The stories are centered around the adventures of a brother and sister duo, Jack and Annie, as they travel across time in their magic treehouse. They encounter various situations looking for clues and learning about historical events. This is not the source for profound or critical history lessons, but it is a good way to gain basic awareness of popular history.

The writing is on an easier level, but not simplistic. The adventure and intrigue make it a great draw for my boys, and we would recommend them.

FURTHER NOTE:
A question has come up in the comments because some others have specifically not recommended this series. I have addressed this some in the comments here, and I will offer some clarification as well.

I am recommending this series primarily as something for children to read on their own. They are not up to the level of some other books recommended here. They are not the most in depth kid’s books on history. However, we have found them to be acceptable. They have been good places for a start for our boys in reading for themselves. The element of mystery and adventure are appealing, and being a series there is a draw to keep reading. These have been books, then, that our boys have saved up money to buy in order to keep going with the series. We have been pleased with that sort of interest and in the fact that they get a basic awareness of the historical events. The tie in to Camelot during part of the series is an added benefit as well since knights are a big favorite of ours.

8 Comments:

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Lois said...

Thank you so much for reviewing this series. Thus far I have not heard good things about this series from the homeschooling circles because it's not considered good literature. Since my children are still young, I haven't had the need nor the time to check these out for myself. What do you think of those who think negatively of this series?

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger Ray Van Neste said...

Thanks Lois.
I am not aware of the critiques so I don't know how to respond. If you have any links to such critiques I would be happy to look at them.
These books are not high literature, and their account of history is not the best in places, but so far I ahevnot found any agregious errors. Thanks for alerting me to this.

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Lois said...

I don't have any links since most of the comments I heard are in passing. However, the Bluedorns listed this series in their blog http://www.triviumpursuit.com/blog/?p=53
as Poor Literary Quality and/or Not Suitable for Children. They did not explain the reason. Thus, I'm just wondering your take on it.

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger Ray Van Neste said...

Thanks, Lois! This is helpful.
It is interesting to see in the comments that they concede another book on their 'unsuitable' list might be appropriate for getting a child going. I really appreciate the Bluedorn's material, but I think I would not be as tight on literary quality when thinking about books for my children. I do not mean that I would have no standards, just that I do not require everything to be 'fine' literature. I am regularly holding up the value of the books I am reading to them (which are of high literary quality) as the ultimate for them to aspire to. They enjoy Magic Treehouse but long to be able to read some of these others.

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger Lois said...

Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate it!

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger jmattingly said...

Ray,

Thanks for the suggestion- I'll have to check these out further.

What is your view of the place of "good magic" in literature (in relation to the strict prohibition of sorcery in the OT)?

I don't know the story line for these books at all, so I'm not sure how much of an emphasis is put on magic as opposed to the children's imaginations.

I'd like to hear your thoughts!

 
At 7:59 PM, Blogger Ray Van Neste said...

Good question JMattingly. It will be even more pertinent for the book in the next post, The Hobbit, or for the Chronicles of Narnia which I mentioned in an early post.
In the Magic Treehouse series, the magic of the treehouse is that it travels back in time. Magic does show up elsewhere though it is not huge. In Narnia and Middle-earth magic is a significant part of life. Of course, these are new worlds, and here magic is in essence the supernatural. We would want to affirm the reality of the supernatural. Sorcery is the attempt to harness the supernatural under our dominion and for our purposes- like Simon in Acts 7. Those who seek to do this in these stories are evil, just as sorcerers are evil in the Bible. The 'good guys' in the tales of Lewis and Tolkien are in the vein of the prophets and apostles who did 'wonders' because they were endowed with power from above.
We do not want to suggest to our children that the material world is all there is. Good stories which include the interplay of the supernatural- both good and bad, so long as they are cleraly defined- will help rather than harm our children. More needs to be said on this question. I'll try to point out a good article.
Thanks for asking.

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger jmattingly said...

Ray,

Thanks for the insightful response. My son (5) really enjoys all of the Chronicles of Narnia, and I have grown up loving The Hobbit & LOTR. I’ve only recently begun to rethink my criteria for good literature based on what the Scriptures would define as “good” (which is always a “good” thing to do!), so I’m still trying to sort these matters out. In this light, I really have benefited from your suggestions on this blog.

I appreciate your statement that “we do not want to suggest to our children that the material world is all there is.” That is an important Biblical principle. Also, I truly have no issues with the existence of evil in a story, assuming the story is not dominated by nothing but evil, assuming that the evil is nothing that would provoke us to temptation (“flee all appearance of evil”), and assuming that the evil is defined as such (or can easily be pointed out by me as we read).

For this reason, I feel that the Chronicles of Narnia have been a magnificent series of literature for reading to my children. The “good” supernatural events/abilities present in these stories are patently “other-worldly” and they are clearly traceable to either Aslan or the Creator.

I’ve had a little more wrestling, however, with a character like Gandalf from Tolkien’s work. He is, by definition, a sorcerer. I’m not sure that it is clear in the story that his abilities are drawn from God in a similar way as those of the miracle workers of Scripture (though I can tell my kids that this would have to be the case). Whereas the prophets/apostles used prayer or the laying on of hands, Gandalf uses incantations and spells. In light of God’s strict prohibition for anyone to practice sorcery, there seems little room Scripturally for the possibility of a “good wizard.”

I realize that I run the risk of being overly scrupulous (and likely accused of being a kill-joy!), but my goal is simply to honor my Lord & Savior. Honestly, I love the LOTR series and would prefer to eventually read them to my children if I can do so with a clear conscience. And maybe there is simply a place to read the stories, and use those few instances as an example to my children as to what kind of supernatural is good (Gandalf being resurrected by the Creator) and what kind of supernatural is not to be emulated (sorcery)? It would be great to see my son imitating Aragorn as he leads his men into battle, demonstrating courage and leadership. But I’m not sure if I would like him to be waving a staff around, chanting some of the exact incantations that Gandalf used.

Sorry for the length of the comment. I’d really be interested in any further comments and a good article on the topic such as you mentioned.

In Christ Jesus,
Jeremiah

 

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