Friday, November 02, 2007

Magic Treehouse Brings the Noise

Okay. I give up. Magic Tree House wins. I was wrong to fight it. Tonight Benny cried, yes cried real actual tears, over the fact that we'd accidentaly left the house without the book he was reading. And this was not an Eyewitness book about space, or a Q&A book about African animals, or a Bill Nye study on germs. It was a story, with a plot about people, an actual work of fiction. Up until he read Magic Tree House #1, he had been interested in exactly ZERO novels. Science books, yes. Stories, no. This is a kid who will read high school textbooks on geology and stay up all night doing it. But he would not read... Redwall, or Henry Huggins, or Moomins, or anything ridiculous like that. Now, he cannot be separated from his Magic Treehouse So, I guess I am convinced.

I picked up a Magic Tree House a few years ago -- it was #16 I think: The Hour of the Olympics. I got it, with some other books, to read during the 2004 Olympic Games, and I was disappointed because of all this strange, unexplained stuff about Morgan Le Fay, and irritated by the kind of facile, flatly rendered treatment of the material. Benny didn't give a ripe fig about the book, and I put it down with a sneer, deciding it was the literary equivalent of visiting the World Lagoon at Epcot Center and deciding you'd seen Europe.

That was also before I'd been to Disney World and realized it was fun to go to the Epcot World Lagoon and pretend Peru was next to Hungary and watch fireworks. So okay! I didn't get it. I didn't get the fact that the books are *not* entirely episodic, there are longer plots and mysteries that span multiple novels. Also, there are "Research Guides" that go along with the books, so you can read what the main characters are reading, and see what informs their adventures. What I mostly didn't get was that my child would be charmed by the stories, would be drawn in by the plots -- and really, as long as he's finally reading fiction, what right do I have to complain?

I asked him, "Benny, what are you going to do when you run out of Magic Treehouse books?" and he replied, "I guess I'm going to have to find some other kind of storybook to read!" Any suggestions for what makes a good transition for a non-novel-reader who might just want to finally read a novel?


  1. Any idea what it is that's grabbing him about the MTH series? Is it the history hook, or the adventure thing, or the formulaic predictability, or the pictures on most pages, or the low density / large font typeface? You might have to do a little detective work to figure it out. Because it sounds to me like his reading level is far beyond MTH, so he doesn't necessarily need to be limited to stuff at the awkward "just barely ready for easy chapter books" stage, which is a tough stage to find stuff for. But to find something suitable, you might have to do some detective work to figure out what it is that's grabbing him.

    How about the old "Encyclopedia Brown" books? They're similar in terms of formulaicism (is that a word?) and their focus on facts. The "Marvin Redpost" books are entertaining easy readers that are more boy-ish than the Junie. B. Jones and Judy Moody stuff. There are the "Magic Schoolbus Chapter Books" which I'd imagine are similar to MTH in their non-fiction factoids, though we've never had them here.

    There are some fantasy series like Ursula LeGuin's "Catwings" and Tony Abbott's "Droon" series (the former well-written and with some illustrations, the latter rather poorly written and without) that are at an easy reading level, but given the reception he's given to "Redwall" and "Moomin" I'd guess they'd fall flat with Benny.


  2. Wow, THANK YOU for that suggestion -- I remember now that I loved Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid, but I had completely forgotten about that series. i did try him on the Droon books but they didn't take effect and I was a little relieved -- they are so bad. I so want him to be ready for Narnia, etc. but I think you're right -- I need to really figure out what exactly he's loving about the Tree House (which I belligerently call Magic Schoolhouse, hehehe). Thanks again for the suggestion.

  3. Benny is definitely a little bit older than our oldest, so we aren't there, as far as him reading chapter books to himself. However, I can remember loving the Encyclopedia Brown books. I'm also longing for when he can read C.S. Lewis's books. Just think it could be worse...I detest the Junie B. Jones books (too much silliness, not enough story line, way too much sass, but they seem to be all the rage with the moms around here).

  4. I hear you on the Junie B. Jones books. We tried one or two of those -- I decided that it wouold be wrong of me to put something in his hands that teaches him to talk in a way that he would get in trouble with me later. Also the fact that they're mostly about school situations is kind of off-putting.

  5. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I think all this reading is just wonderful. It's a great validation of your homeschool teaching.

  6. i read a junie b book with irene - i did MMMMMMMMAAJOR editing as i was reading. she got one as an award at school. i let her read it. she thought it was okay, but she MUCH prefers her Pure Dead books (by debi gliori - author and illustrator of my kids favorites - No Matter What & Polar Bolero), and Igraine The Brave (Cornelia Funke - irene also enjoyed her book dragon rider).

    right now we're finishing up book 5 (or is it 6?) of the Pure Dead books _pure dead batty_ and i just got out my book The Juniper Tree whichis several stories by the Grimms...not sure if she likes them much or not...but we're reading them.

    she's read most of the magic treehouse books and has enjoyed them a lot - both to read and on tape.

  7. Hey Lydia, I don't know if Benny likes Vikings, especially silly Vikings, but William LOVES the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III series by Cressida Cowell. Some of the language is perhaps a bit dubious (i.e. characters named Gobber the Belch and Snotface Snotlout), but William reads these books voraciously, and laughs his head off.

    The only things is, these books are quite purely fiction (took us a while to get there, too) and don't contain the satisfying bits of real information contained in the Magic Treehouse Books. Another suggestion I have is the "Choose Your Own Adventure Books". I mean, who doesn't like to choose their own adventure? lol And, they do have some facts spattered throughout there and there!

  8. How about Jane Yolen's Commander Toad books (Commander Toad and the Dis-asteroid, Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes, etc) or Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown? My daughter loves these, and she loves the MTH books too--though my husband was SO relieved when she could read well enough that he didn't have to read them to her anymore! And some of the Edward Eager books aren't too hard, I think, since he sounds like a strong reader (of non-fiction, at least!) Mary Pope Osbourne has also written a line of Spider Kane mysteries and Tales from the Odyssey--Emma liked Spider Kane (not as much as the treehouse) and we just got the first two Odyssey books since we just finished Ancient Greece--we'll see how they go.