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Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House #1): 01/04/10
Last year Sean and Ian read the first eight Magic Tree House books together. Now that Sean and I have read a bunch of the later ones together I've decided to go back and read the first eight. The book that launched the series is Dinosaurs Before Dark.
In Dinosaurs Before Dark Jack and Annie have never seen the tree house before. They don't know who owns it or how it got Frog Creek. They do, however, figure out the basics of making it take them places. They end up going so far back in time that they see dinosaurs.
As with all the other Magic Tree House books, there's the hint of a story arc. In this case, it's a medallion with an M found back with the dinosaurs. Jack puts it in his backpack and of course takes lots of notes on their trip, though why he's doing it now isn't as clear as it is in later books. Without the stated missions which come later this first book lacks the urgency of the later ones.
Jack and Annie come off as kids just out to have an adventure and fall into more of the stereotypes of children in fantasy stories from my childhood. There's always the kid who leaps before looking and is usually rewarded for doing so. Then there's the nerd who invariably wears glasses and is the coward of the group. The nerd though always gets one chance to save the day. Fortunately though Jack and Annie grow out of their original assigned roles and become far more interesting and complex characters as the series progresses.
Although the first book isn't as compelling a story as the later ones I still recommend it to children who are just starting off with chapter books. The language complexity grows as the child's reading skills improve. The books also help teach basic story arcs and plot devices as I've seen from how my son's understanding of plotting has improved from reading through the Magic Tree House books.