Two kids chasing a dinosaur in "Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark."

The Magic Tree House Kept Going Even as We Grew Up

In terms of Arthurian mythology, it was Mary Pope Osborne’s book series Magic Tree House that captured my imagination as a kid. Thanks to this series, my ears perk up a bit when I hear the names Morgan le Fay or Merlin. Additionally, it’s probably why I became a voracious reader.

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So many nerds that grew up in the U.S. had some fixation on Arthurian mythology, even if only for a moment. Like many kids, I got my first impactful exposure to the many characters that make up the loose canon of King Arthur through two popular sources. One instance came via the 1963 Disney feature The Sword in the Stone (go rewatch it if you haven’t in a while, because it’s great), but the other was the Magic Tree House.

Osborne sought to channel the sense of adventure gathered from a life of traveling around the U.S. and Eurasia, plus reading Lord of the Rings, into children’s literature. In each Magic Tree House story, elementary school-age siblings Jack and Annie Smith get whisked away to another place in time. Other than trying to get home safely and ending on a cliffhanger, each book (after #4) features Morgan le Fay and, later, Merlin. Unlike her historical and mythological counterpart, le Fay is kind in this book series.

After solving the main mystery, the kids return to their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Since 1992, Osborne has written dozens of books on the Smith siblings’ travels, with Salvatore Murdocca illustrating the series until 2016. Osborne still publishes new ones and graphic novel versions, too.

These early chapter books were loved by kids and lauded by parents and teachers, not just for Osborne’s ability to get children interested in reading, but for the repetitious style. As historical fantasy, the traveling element also helped kids build empathy for new places and people. She continues to this day, with a new book coming spring 2024.

All the Magic Tree House books in order

"Polar Bears Past Bedtime" and "Polar Bears and the Arctic (Magic Tree House Research Guide)" books.
(Random House)

While le Fay served as a recurring adult character at first, she would later take turns with Merlin. After a while, he became their permanent guide. At first, these books were numbered directly in order. However, on the 25th anniversary of the series’ publication, Osborne began to rerelease the original books. She divided them up as le Fay books (Magic Tree House) or Merlin books (Merlin Missions Series).

This list puts the first dozen books in chronological order and publication order up to 2017. When looking at newer editions of Magic Tree House, you’ll only be getting le Fay titles. Nothing really changes until #29, a.k.a. the first book Merlin takes le Fay’s role. Another way of reading this series is by reading them as separate series.

  1. Dinosaurs Before Dark*
  2. The Knight at Dawn*
  3. Mummies in the Morning*
  4. Pirates Past Noon*
  5. Night of the Ninjas*
  6. Afternoon on the Amazon*
  7. Sunset of the Sabertooth*
  8. Midnight on the Moon*
  9. Dolphins at Daybreak*
  10. Ghost Town at Sundown*
  11. Lions at Lunchtime
  12. Polar Bears Past Bedtime*
  13. Vacation Under the Volcano*
  14. Day of the Dragon King*
  15. Viking Ships at Sunrise*
  16. Hour of the Olympics*
  17. Tonight on the Titanic*
  18. Buffalo Before Breakfast
  19. Tigers at Twilight
  20. Dingoes at Dinnertime
  21. Civil War on Sunday
  22. Revolutionary War on Wednesday*
  23. Twister on Tuesday*
  24. Earthquake in the Early Morning
  25. Stage Fright on a Summer Night
  26. Good Morning, Gorillas
  27. Thanksgiving on Thursday*
  28. High Tide in Hawaii*
  29. Christmas in Camelot (now MTH #29 is A Big Day for Baseball*)
  30. Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve (now MTH #30 Hurricane Heroes in Texas*)
  31. Summer of the Sea Serpent (now MTH #31 Warriors in Winter*)
  32. Winter of the Ice Wizard (now MTH #32 To the Future, Ben Franklin*)
  33. Carnival at Candlight (now MTH #33 Narwhal on a Sunny Night*)
  34. Seasons of the Sandstorms (now MTH #34 Late Lunch with Llamas*)
  35. Night of the New Magicians (now MTH #35 Camp Time in California*)
  36. Blizzard of the Blue Moon (now MTH #36 Sunlight on the Snow Leopard*)
  37. Dragon of the Red Dawn (now MTH #37 Rhinos at Recess)
  38. Monday with a Mad Genius* (now MTH #38 Time of the Turtle King)
  39. Dark Day in the Deep Sea* (coming May 2024, #39 Windy Night with Wild Horses, )
  40. Eve of the Emperor Penguin* (now MM #12)
  41. Moonlight on the Magic Flute (now MM #13)
  42. A Good Night for Ghosts* (now MM #14)
  43. Leprechaun in Late Winter* (now MM #15)
  44. A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time* (now MM #16)
  45. A Crazy Day with Cobras* (now MM #17)
  46. Dogs in the Dead of Night* (now MM #18)
  47. Abe Lincoln At Last!* (now MM #19)
  48. A Perfect Time for Pandas* (now MM #20)
  49. Stallion by Starlight* (now MM #21)
  50. Hurry Up Houdini* (now MM #22)
  51. High Time for Heroes* (now MM #23)
  52. Soccer on Sunday* (now MM #24)
  53. Shadow of the Shark* (now MM #25)
  54. Balto of the Blue Dawn* (now MM #26)
  55. Night of the Ninth Dragon* (now MM #27)

All books marked with an asterisk have an accompanying Magic Tree House Fact Tracker. In 2000, Osborne and her husband, Will Osborne, created a non-fiction series to go with many of the books. Later, Osborne’s sister Natalie Pope Boyce joined in Will’s stead. These companion books provide the science, real history, and more with a previous book. Because they created these with young readers in mind, the short books also include lots of pictures and a pronunciation guide.

This series remains popular to young kids this day. While it never got an American adaptation, Hiroshi Nishikiori directed an anime adaption in 2012.

(featured image: Random House)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.