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Book Review

Dingoes at Dinnertime by Mary Pope Osborne has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the 20th book in the “Magic Tree House” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

From their front porch steps, Jack and Annie hear Teddy’s bark calling them to the magic tree house. The kids assure their parents they will be home for dinner. Morgan’s note is still in the magic tree house, reminding them that they need four gifts to break the spell on Teddy. The fourth one will be from a kangaroo. Jack knows that kangaroos only live in Australia, so he is not surprised when the magic tree house transports them there for their next adventure.

The tree house lands in a hot, dry jungle. Jack and Annie suddenly have broad hats that will protect them from the sun. They see smoke in the distance. Thinking there must be campers nearby, they head toward it. They pass a pair of emus, a koala bear and a kookaburra on their way.

Annie notices a sleeping kangaroo with a joey in her pouch and accidentally wakes it when talking to Jack. The kangaroo is suspicious at first, but soon she and Annie are having a hopping contest. Jack looks up facts about kangaroos in the Australia book he brought from the tree house.

Suddenly three dingoes come out of the bush and chase the kangaroo away. The mother kangaroo throws her joey out of harm’s way as she runs on, hoping to lead the dingoes away. Jack and Annie decide to watch over the joey until his mother returns. Jack wears his backpack backward and puts the joey in it to make him feel more at home.

The plume of smoke thickens as the children and Teddy continue toward it. Jack realizes that it wasn’t coming from campers but from a wildfire. The kookaburra from earlier flies past them, away from the fire. Jack says they must go find the tree house before it burns, but Annie runs back for the koala, knowing it is too slow to escape the flames. By the time she returns, the smoke is too thick to see. Teddy leads the kids to a cave.

Inside the cave, the children and animals are safe from the fire. On the cave walls, they find a strange painting: a large white snake with glowing handprints beneath it. Curious, Annie and Jack place their hands over the handprints. Thunder rumbles outside, and Teddy leads them to the front of the cave.

The rain puts out the wildfire, so Annie finds a safe place to leave the koala before she, Jack and Teddy return to the spot where the mother kangaroo left her joey. Just when Jack begins to think that the dingoes or fire had harmed the kangaroo, the mother returns.

When Jack gives the joey to his mother, the mother gives them a piece of bark before hopping away. On the bark is the same painting the children saw in the cave. Jack finds the painting in the book about Australia. It identifies the markings as a depiction of the Rainbow Serpent from Aboriginal mythology. Annie believes the Rainbow Serpent must have brought the rain and points to the rainbow as proof.

With the final gift, the kids run back to the tree house and return to Frog Creek. Morgan, the owner of the tree house, is waiting for them. She takes each of the gifts and gives a brief object lesson on them, though it is clear the lessons are meant for the reader.

When the kids look again, Teddy the dog has been transformed into a boy. Morgan explains that the little boy had been her helper in Camelot. He had been too curious. After going through her spell book unsupervised, he accidentally turned himself into a dog. Now that the spell is lifted, he and Morgan are ready to leave, though Morgan assures Jack and Annie this is not the last time they will meet in the magic tree house.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The tree house is a magic place belonging to Morgan le Fay, an enchantress. Her magic allows the tree house to transport the children through time and space to the places they find in the books that are in the tree house. Teddy turns out to be a little boy who accidentally placed a spell on himself.

A summary of the Aborigine myth of the Rainbow Serpent is included at the end of the book. Along with bringing the rain, the Aborigines believe the Rainbow Serpent helped with the creation of the world, during a time they call Dreamtime. Because the rain came after Jack and Annie placed their hands on the glowing cave painting, Annie believes they must have participated in a rain ritual.

Authority Roles

Jack and Annie’s dad tells them not to be late for dinner, and Jack assures him that they won’t be. When Annie chases after the kangaroo, Jack keeps his eyes on her. The children trust Teddy to protect them and Morgan to guide them.





Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

4 to 9


Mary Pope Osborne






Record Label



Random House Publishers


On Video

Year Published





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