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

  • Author:  Mary Pope Osborne
  • Number of books in set:  58, of which first 28 are the remainder are Merlin Missions series.
  • Number of lines per page: 2 – 25
  • Number of pages per book: ~100
  • Total length of the book:  For the first 28, it’s 5000 ~12,000 characters in length, and the 29 – 52 set (Merlion Missions) are about 50~80% longer in length.
  • Characters required by child to read it independently: 1500+ (with a dictionary or reading pen to translate scientific terms)
  • Pinyin: No
  • Bilingual: some versions
  • Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
  • Original language of publication: English

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

  • Exciting plot,  clear storyline, and limited characters  – seems to have a magic effect on kids
  • The length of each book – the books can be reads across several days, and the chapters are short enough to read one or two in one sitting. 
  • Grounded in scientific, historical, and geographic facts (mixed with a bit of mythology and fantasy, which can become a bit blurred)
  • Simple introduction to reading novels –  Really nothing complex about it at all, although the complexity does increase as the series progresses.  Don’t be put off by the handful of scientific terms – that’s the only real challenging part, and they’re repeated, and it’s a good way to pick up new, relevant vocabulary.
  • Appealing for both genders – especially great for a child interested in history

What to watch out for

  • Simpleness of narrative  – we have the English set too, and I know from reading this series with my kids how simple the vocabulary and sentence structure is.   It’s nothing particularly special in terms of literature, and it’s not something I encouraged my children to continue reading after they got the hang of reading in English (characters are very shallow and dialogue is flat).  . 
  • The pictures and paper quality – our Simplified Chinese version is all in black and white, and they illustrations are not overly clear; our Bilingual Version is two-tone, with totally different illustrations, and much thicker paper.  I’ve been looking out EVERYWHERE for a full colour copy.  The translated versions have all been drawn by different illustrators depending on the language. I’ve seen gorgeous full colour in the Traditional Chinese version (check out this blog post for photos of the TC full colour version ) but nothing similar in SC.
Magic Treehouse in Simplified Chinese
You can see from the difference in shelf space taken up by the different versions that one has thicker paper than the other!
Magic Treehouse in Simplified Chinese comparison of against English
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.

Magic Treehouse  bilingual Chinese-English version
 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:

  • Book 1 – Dinosaurs Before Dark 66 pages, ~ 150 characters on every second pages; ~5000 characters total
  • Book 28 – High Tide in Hawaii 73 pages ~ 200 characters on most pages = ~ 12,000 characters
  • Book 34 – Season of the Sandstorms  113 pages ~300 characters on two out of every three pages, ~20,000 characters total

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.

Magic Tree House in Simplified Chinese 神奇树屋
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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