The Best Part Of '90s Reading? For Me, It Was Magic Tree House

by Charlotte Ahlin

OK, you can agree with me that The '90s were a pretty wild time in children's literature. We had Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and those truly traumatizing Animorph covers. Or, if you wanted something cuddlier and a little less horrifying, we had Arthur, The Baby-Sitters' Club, and The Magic School Bus (actually, now that I think about it... The Magic School Bus series was pretty freaky, why did they go inside Ralphie so many times?). But nearly every '90s kid started reading on their own with the same magical, thrilling, and only slightly traumatizing series: The Magic Tree House. Those books have been going strong for 25 years now. Here are just a few reasons why The Magic Tree House books were the best, and why we should all be hyped about the upcoming film.

The thing about the Magic Tree House books is that most of us were so young when we read them, we might not even remember the full scope of the series. There were two kids with a TARDIS-style tree house that took them through time and space, right? ...or something? But long before Scorpius and Albus got their time turners, before we all watched Bran Stark turn into a time-bending tree himself, Jack and Annie were out there in the time-space continuum, solving puzzles and saving Camelot. Here are a few reminders why we all loved these books so much:

Time Travel

If you were a lil' sci-fi obsessed baby reader like I was, then you went nuts for the time travel in The Magic Tree House. I mean, sure, it brought up some issues, like why did Jack and Annie never take it upon themselves to go back in time and assassinate Hitler? But mostly, the idea of traveling through time to go on grand adventures with various animals and/or wizards captured all of our imaginations.

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They were actually educational

Almost every book in the series had a companion book full of real facts about the time period! Remember those? You would check them out of the school library thinking they were another adventure starring Jack and Annie, and quickly discover that you'd been tricked into reading a non-fiction book all about dinosaurs or vikings or whatever? Good times.

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It was basically Dr. Who Jr.

Minus the aliens. But seriously, those kids were always working for some shady Time Lord like Merlin or Morgan Le Fay. And their tree house was very TARDIS-like. And they were constantly hanging with Shakespeare, or Dickens, or rolling up to Pompeii right before Mt. Vesuvius erupts, just like Dr. Who does (I'd like to see just one piece of fiction in which people visit Pompeii on literally any other day).

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The feminist reclamation of Morgan le Fay

Move aside, Mists of Avalon: the Magic Tree House books are here to reclaim Morgan le Fay as a feminist hero. Seriously, in Arthurian legend Morgan le Fay is almost always portrayed as an evil seductress, who sleeps with her own brother and brings about the destruction of Camelot. But in these books, Morgan le Fay gets to be a good witch and also a Time Librarian, which feels like a real step up.

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There was always some kid trapped in the body of a puppy

What do kids like, besides magic and the imminent destruction of Pompeii? They like sentient animals, of course! There was always some random kid trapped in the body of a puppy or a mouse or a seal, and Jack and Annie would have to solve puzzles to help them regain their human form. It was like baby Animorphs, without the scary covers.

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They didn’t just go to medieval Europe

Look, the Magic Tree House certainly has its problematic aspects. Children's lit has made a lot of significant strides in diversity since these books. But, unlike a lot of kids' fantasy at the time, the kids didn't just go to Camelot to hang out with knights and other vaguely medieval European things. There was at least an effort to include history from all over the world, including that one book were they go to China in 2008, which... is technically the past, I guess?

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The danger felt REAL

The Magic Tree House books certainly never got as scary as Goosebumps or Harry Potter. But A few key moments are forever etched into my memory. I mean, only the Magic Tree House books took us to Nazi Germany. And remember the beginning of that Ice Age one? Where the kids are transported to the Ice Age wearing only their bathing suits and immediately start to freeze to death? Even if Jack and Annie always made it out OK, the Magic Tree House was not kidding around with the dangers of the past.

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There was an over-arching plot

Most of us read the Magic Tree House books fairly early in grade school, before we were heavily involved in elaborate HBO show plots and Reddit fan theories. But for a young reader series, these books actually had a lot of plot: the kids were always solving a puzzle to help someone like their buddy Morgan le Fay, or Merlin's pet penguin. Story arcs carried over from one book to the next, even if the adventures could also be read as one-offs. And there was immense satisfaction when Jack and Annie solved all the puzzles and little Teddy turned back into a human or whatever.

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There was a book for every interest

I feel like every kid had that one historical era that they were super into growing up (for the record, I liked pioneers on the Oregon Trail, probably because I played too much of the computer game). No matter what you were into, though, from ninjas to sea monsters, there was a Magic Tree House book for you.

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We all wanted that tree house, man

Honestly, most of us would have been thrilled to have a regular tree house as a kid. But a magic tree house was just beyond. These books launched a thousand arguments about where you would want to go in your own magic tree house. Would you sail the high seas with pirates? Fight a dinosaur? Explore ancient Australia? Probably Merlin would make you go to plague ravaged England to pick up his dry cleaning or something, but the point was that those books got us interested in history. And kids are still reading the Magic Tree House today, because those books are just the best.

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