“Magic Tree House” Renumbering Catches Librarians Off Guard

A slight update to the phenomenally popular series presents shelving challenges.

The renumbered editions.

Publishing houses often reissue older titles with new covers, and Mary Pope Osborne's “Magic Tree House” series, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is no exception. But that’s not the only thing that Barbara J. Shoemaker, the librarian for Mill Road Primary School in Red Hook, NY, spotted when she saw the latest addition, A Big Day for Baseball, at a Barnes and Noble. She also noticed the book’s number—#29—the same one as Christmas in Camelot, an older title in the series. Her first thought: “This was going to mean a lot of work for librarians to reorganize these books!” That wasn’t the publisher’s intent. Along with the new look, the publishing house wanted to clarify the difference between the classic adventure books and the Merlin Missions titles. “The Merlin Missions were longer, more complicated books aimed at children who were reading at a third grade level,” explains Mallory Loehr, senior vice president and publisher at Random House Children’s Books. “So the idea was to break the series in two to make that clearer.” Now instead of being numbered chronologically from one to 56, the beloved books chronicling the adventures of time-traveling siblings have been split into three separate but related lines: the classic adventure books (previously one to 28), the Merlin Missions (previously 29 to 55), and the nonfiction Fact Trackers, which act as companions to their fictional counterparts. The classic adventure books will retain the numbers one through 29 (with #30, a book about Galveston, TX, out next summer) and the Merlin Missions will be numbered one to 27. That decision caused some internal debate. “We ended up saying, ‘Well, it's going to be a hard few years as people adjust,’” Loehr notes. But, she added, that the new numbering system gives parents, teachers, and librarians a truer indication of the different reading levels. Shoemaker, who had always shelved the books numerically to make it easier for the students to find, will keep the titles in numerical order—but separate them onto two shelves: one for the classic adventures and one for the Merlin Missions. She’ll use stickers to renumber the Merlin Missions until she gets a new set.

Mary Pope Osborne Photo by Elena Seibert

That makes sense to Loehr. Splitting the series makes it more obvious that the Merlin Missions are for higher-level readers, she says. “I think what it does is help parents and teachers—especially as kids first get into chapter books—not get overwhelmed by the fact that there are 56 of these books and wonder which ones to pick. When they are broken into two groups, you can better appreciate the fact that the kids are becoming better readers and moving forward even if it seems as if they’ve been reading “Magic Tree House” books for a long time.” Other librarians, equally caught off guard by the news, are contemplating splitting the series, though not numerically. Barbara Gogan, school librarian at Peter Noyes Elementary School in Sudbury, MA, keeps all the “Magic Tree House” books in four bins on top of a low bookcase. “They were always in a big mess on the shelf and front-facing them in the bins makes them less messy,” she says. “It also makes them easier for the younger students to find.” Now she will designate one bin for the Merlin Missions and one for the Fact Trackers—when she and her staff have time. Others will do as they’ve always done. Sherri Malget, librarian for Hawthorne Elementary and Rancho Village in Oklahoma City, OK, shelves the series alphabetically in the fiction section. “Some of my books have [Accelerated Reader] labels that cover the number, so for me it is easier to shelve them alphabetically, especially because I have multiple copies of some titles,” she says. Though she admits her shelving isn’t perfect, the realities of managing one school part-time and a second school with one assistant makes that challenging. “But my students and staff can find the things they need—so it’s good.” “If librarians have time to worry about this, they will come up with a solution and renumber,” says Shoemaker. “If they don’t, they’ll just carry on.”
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Gah...who seriously puts their second grade books in one place and their third grade in another? Do we really want to make THAT many divisions, let alone push kids to read at one narrow, often arbitrarily assigned 'reading level'??? Many series get longer as you go, and the kids get to grow with it (Hello, Ms. Rawling) None of this reasoning makes much sense to me.

Posted : Mar 28, 2018 01:25

Shawn Pruski

I use the magic treehouse series when I am introducing my first graders to chapter books. We will form a book club and my small group will read the first book together. I am wondering why the books have changed. I had to order another book for my club and the words are different. The story content is the same, but as we were reading, the student told me her words were different. The only thing I can see is my older books have random house publishing and the new book has scholastic. Why would they do this??

Posted : Jan 25, 2018 05:43

Kitty Kozisek

This is just a heads up that several times in the article the Non-fiction series has been referred to as Fast Trackers. That is wrong. They are FACT Trackers (capitalized emphasis is mine -- it's actually Fact Trackers). Thought you'd like to know so that the article can be updated/edited.

Posted : Nov 02, 2017 01:50

Sarah Bayliss

Kitty, that error has been corrected--thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Posted : Nov 07, 2017 06:58


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