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Book Review: Magic Tree House in Simplified Chinese 神奇树屋

Magic Tree House in Simplified Chinese (神奇树屋) is a great book set for a child who has finished with levelled readers and bridging books in Chinese, and is ready for a new challenge.  The reading level (lexile) gradually becomes harder as the series progress. 

Key Information

Synopsis of the Magic Tree House

Put simply, the story is about a brother-sister sibling pair who know the secret location of a treehouse filled with magical books.  They regularly climb up into the house when no one is looking to read.  When they point to the pictures in the books, the sibling duo is magically transported to that place and time in history! On each trip, Jack and Annie have to navigate situations and adventures to gather objects or achieve goals.  They go from space, to the artic, to pyramids, and even a panda reserve in China.

The Magic Treehouse books have literally been around for generations – first written in English in 1992.  They’re universally loved and translated into 35+ languages, including Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Countless kids have discovered a joy of reading through this series – in both English, and also Chinese, as you’ll realise from a quick google search.

A Mum’s View

I really like the set because it blends non-fiction into a fun fiction narrative, and it’s a very different type of vocabulary from other Chinese book sets we have (my kids like it better than Magic Schoolbus too).

Yes, the narrative is simple and pretty flat – it’s not thrilling literature, but what it does is encourage children to do is to read longer books.   If you’re a parent who can read Chinese, you may get bored by how simple this set is ….. I know I found the same with the English version – I felt that it’s not a series to really read aloud, but more to work through together.  I know there are families who do listen to this as an audiobook (there are Mandarin recordings on Ximalaya), but that really would have bored me with the English version.  For Chinese, I love these books because because we don’t have too many chapter books at the right level (most are waaaay to hard), and therefore Magic Treehouse has been great for extensive reading.

If your child has already read this in English, they may be hesitant to read it again in Chinese. I don’t blame them either (unless it’s several years apart).

What’s excellent about Magic Tree House

What to watch out for

You can see from the difference in shelf space taken up by the different versions that one has thicker paper than the other!
Narrative is very simple – all sentences grammatically correct, and punctuated etc. Layout between both editions is slightly different.

Book Titles & Versions

Our box set in English has 31 Books.  (all from the original series).  One box set in Simplified Chinese is the same.  In terms of pictures, and layout, they’re identical, just in different languages. This is the same version which can be found in Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) collection.

Our Bilingual Chinese-English box set is totally different.  Firstly it has 34 books (28 from the original series, 5 books from the Merlin Missions series).  Secondly, it’s laid out with Simplified Chinese at the front, and English at the back.  Thirdly, the Chinese translation is slightly different from the Chinese-only version (it’s probably a bit more thoughtfully done).  Finally, the pictures are totally different!

The first 28 books titles are the same in both our sets.  Then the titles differ – this is because newer simpler stories were subsequently written as books 29 – 31 .   The book “Christmas in Camelot” (Originally book 29) and subsequent now make the first stories in the harder set of Merlin Missions.

 Simplified Chinese Version (published 2019 by Penguin)Bilingual Simplified Chinese Version (published 2006 by Random House)
Book 28High Tide in HawaiiHigh Tide in Hawaii
Book 29A Big Day For BaseballChristmas in Camelot
Book 30Hurricane Heroes in TexasHaunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve
Book 31Warriors in WinterSummer of the Sea Serpent
Book 32Winter of the Ice Wizard
Book 33Carnival at Candlelight
Book 34Season of the Sandstorms

The titles between the translations differ too, as you’ll notice from the photos. The version on the white background is our bilingual set, and the version on the wooden background is the single language version which we borrowed from the library (it’s the same layout as the English version).

Single language versions of Magic Treeh House are laid out identically
The bilingual version is illustrated and laid out differently

What level is it for?

In America, the English version is on booklists at Grade 2. 

In Taiwan, the Traditional Chinese version is on booklists at Grade 3. 

For Magic Tree House in Simplified Chinese in a Singapore context, I’ve never seen this on a reading list.  I would suggest about Grade 4.  My daughter started it in Grade 3, and it was a challenging read – mainly because of the amount of new vocabulary related to science/history, which required looking up the meanings for. 

The stories become increasingly longer and more complex, with less pictures, for example:

Where to get the book from?

Great news – the entire Magic Tree House in Simplified Chinese set is available from Singapore NLB in their Chinese collection (look in the “OSB” section of Junior Chinese Fiction).  Otherwise we couldn’t find a single store on the island which sells it.  Plenty of options from Taobao and JD, and occasionally Lazada.

These are the front covers of our bilingual version – which we managed to pick up a bargain on secondhand. Compares these titles with the first photograph in this post, and you’ll see the book translations are slightly different.

What’s your favourite graded reader?

I would love to know what books you think are great at this same level as Magic Tree House in Simplified Chinese! Please add comments below, or through my my Instagram or Facebook feeds. It’s only through meeting other wonderful parents virtually, that this shared language journey becomes a more valuable one.

If you’re in Singapore, join the conversation with other like-minded parents at the FB Group Ni Hao Singapore Primary School learning, which I host along with a few other Singapore-based bloggers.

I’ve also written detailed reviews of other graded readers that we’ve tried, and Chinese learning resources, see below:

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