Beth Fawley

Beth Fawley

Columbia Heights Public Schools, Minnesota

Magic Tree House Books are used as the staple for our first grade reading enrichment program at East Bethel Elementary during 2/3 of the year. The students I work with are 1-2 academic grade levels ahead of their peers, so the Magic Tree House books are a good fit for them. I use the books to teach and reinforce the interaction between fiction and non-fictions texts, beginning with a unit on dinosaurs. As part of reading book #1 and the research guide, the students make dinosaur skeletons, take notes from non-fiction materials, practice oral reading skills, are introduced to several independent activities that will aid them in thinking as they read through the rest of the series of books.

Last year I had about 20 students reading the Magic Tree House books at the same time. They read at their own pace, going through all different books in the series at the same time. The students would meet together twice a week to work on and share independent projects they created based on the books. Their favorites activities included creating non-fiction “Jack Files,” completing a “Passport” (commenting on the plot, characters, and vocabulary), making a “Story Sack” of artifacts that Jack and Annie might bring back with them, and drawing a story map that showed the events of the plot in circular order. The books facilitated independent work, as the skills we worked on were universal regardless of the book the students were reading. The students were very content to work at their own pace; relatively unaware that they were building a store of background knowledge while they traveled with Jack and Annie around the world and through time.

At the end of the unit of study I could hardly pull the students away from the books. Several had read the entire series and had made their way through Merlin’s Missions in the meantime. We closed the year with an extension: the students created Jack and Annie’s Continuing Adventures. Each student came up with an imaginary title, a cover, and a summary. The summary became a paragraph for the back of the book that would detail Jack and Annie’s new pursuits. We turned the paper versions of the covers into cloth replicas and sewed a quilt of covers that hangs in our classroom this year.

The titles they created included: A Quest for the King and Queen, Nomads at Night, Scuba Diving at Sea, Earthy Day Eve and Saturn on Saturday. The first grade students had a wonderful time exploring the world through the pages of a book. The students were quite surprised when I told them I could send their stories into Mary Pope Osborne. Evidently they thought all the best authors were dead. It is exciting to see that we can share ideas between live authors, publishers, and teachers on the field in order to collaborate and make decisions for the good of the children we serve. Thank you for filling a void in children’s literature, and I commend you for doing so with such thoroughness.

Curriculum Goals met through the use of Magic Tree House books:

  • The student will read fiction and non fiction text with comprehension and higher level though. He or she will be able to recall and discuss events in the plot, motivation of characters, and intent of the author.
  • The student will read with oral proficiency. Benchmarks are determined at each grade level.
  • The student will make connections between what is read in class and what is experienced in life.
  • The student will read and write from various genres: non-fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, realistic fiction, fairy tales, and poetry.