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Book Review

This fantasy adventure book by Mary Pope Osborne is the first in the " Magic Tree House" series and is published by Random House.

Dinosaurs Before Dark is written for kids ages 5 to 8. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

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

While exploring one afternoon with her older brother Jack, 7-year-old Annie discovers a tree house. Before he can object, Annie climbs up the rope ladder to see it is filled with books. Jack follows her, and the two of them investigate the stacks of books, including one about Pennsylvania and Frog Creek where they live, and one about dinosaurs. When Jack touches a picture of a Pteranodon and says that he wishes he could see a real one, Annie claims to see a monster flying through the sky. Jack identifies it as a Pteranodon. Suddenly the wind begins to blow and the tree house starts to spin wildly. The children hold onto each other and close their eyes. When they open them, they find that they have been transported back in time to the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago.

The children approach the Pteranodon and find that it has soft, fuzzy skin. Jack decides to write down what he's experiencing, as a scientist would, using a notepad from his backpack. In the middle of their conversation, they spot another dinosaur on a nearby hilltop. Looking up the description in the dinosaur book, Jack learns that it's a plant-eating Triceratops. The children approach him, and Jack takes more notes about the dinosaur's appearance and habits.

As they explore, Jack stumbles across a gold medallion engraved with the letter M. He tries to tell his sister about it but she has run off to get a closer look at a mud nest filled with baby dinosaurs. A large duck-billed dinosaur bellows loudly, and Jack knows that he must protect his sister. They look at the ground and remain still, and the dinosaur quiets down. Annie thanks her brother for saving her life. Jack explains that mothers don't like anyone to disturb their babies. The book describes this dinosaur as an Anatosaurus and says that they live in colonies. Jack understands that there are more mother dinosaurs nearby. Suddenly he hears a loud bellow again and sees the Anatosaurus running away from a giant Tyrannosaurus rex. The book says that if a T rex lived today, it could eat a person in one bite.

The children run as fast as they can toward the tree house and try to figure out a way to get back home. They make a wish but nothing happens. Then Annie remembers that Jack was looking at the dinosaur book just before they were transported. Jack explains that he left the book and his backpack on the hill when they ran to escape from the T rex. He races to retrieve it, dodging the Pteranodon and a pack of Anatosaurus. When he returns to the tree house, the Tyrannosaurus is standing in the way of the rope ladder. Annie climbs down and begins talking to the Pteranodon nearby. Jack urges her to go back into the tree house, but she continues to talk to the dinosaur and point to the sky. Then Jack sees the Pteranodon fly toward him and land at his feet. As the T rex charges in his direction, Jack climbs on the Pteranodon's back, and they fly to the safety of the oak tree. When Jack gets there, he thanks Annie for saving his life.

Jack manages to climb to the tree house before the T rex reaches him. He scrambles to find the book with the picture of Frog Creek so that they can return home. When he makes a wish, the wind begins to blow, and the tree house spins as before. They return to present time and realize that no time has passed since they've been gone. The sun is in the same place in the sky, and their mother is calling them to come home for dinner. Jack shows his sister the gold medallion, and together they wonder what the M stands for. Maybe it means that a magic person built the tree house and put the books inside. The children decide not to tell their parents or their teacher about their magic journey because they think no one will believe them. They decide to return to the magic tree house the next day for another adventure.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

After their time travel experience, Jack and Annie both believe that someone with magical powers has built the tree house.

Authority Roles

As the older sibling, Jack is the authority figure in the relationship. He tells Annie not to climb the rope ladder because they don't know who owns the tree house, and he reminds her that they should be home before dark. He is also cautious around the dinosaurs they meet and warns his sister not to get too close to them. The children decide not to tell their parents or teacher about their adventure, thinking that their father will say it was a dream, their mother will say it was pretend, and their teacher will say they are crazy.





Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Annie likes to pretend and Jack likes real things.
  • Which do you like better? Why?
  • Is it OK to like both?

  • Jack enjoys writing in his notebook when he learns new things.

  • Do you have a diary or a notebook where you write things you think about?
  • What do you write about?
  • If you don't have one, would you like to?

  • The children aren't sure who is the owner of the gold medallion or what the M stands for.

  • Where do you think it came from?
  • What are some things besides magic that the M could mean?
  • Do you think that Jack should have kept the medallion or left it in the grass?
  • Have you ever found a coin and wondered whom it belonged to?
  • What did you do with it?

  • Jack helps his sister when she is looking at the baby dinosaurs, and Annie helps Jack when he can't get back to the tree house.

  • Do you have a sister or brother that needs your help sometimes?
  • What do you do to help him or her?
  • How does it feel to be a helper?

  • Why does Jack climb on the back of the Pteranodon?

  • Would you want to ride on the back of a dinosaur if you could? Why or why not?

  • Why do Jack and Annie decide not to tell their mom and dad what happened in the magic tree house?

  • Do you tell your parents about all of your adventures?
  • Has there ever been a time that you decided not to tell?
  • Why did you make that choice?

  • There are no dinosaurs in the world today.

  • What do you think happened to them all?

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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