Dinosaurs Before Dark — “Magic Tree House” Series


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Magic Tree House” series.

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.

Profanity & Violence


Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

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

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