'Magic Tree House': Author Mary Pope Osborne looks back
The children's series about siblings who travel through time via a magical treehouse is celebrating its twentieth anniversary.
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A: I was a vagabond, and what I realized was it was a lot safer to stay at home and be a vagabond. By writing the series, I got to indulge all my travel passions and still be home in time for dinner. [Through the books] I had been to or will travel to a lot of the places, but without a backpack anymore and without risking my life.
Q: What do you think it is about Jack and Annie that appeals so strongly to children?
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A: Jack and Annie are ordinary kids, but they're really good kids. They're always trying to help others and they're very supportive of each other. They have a sense of humor, but they love reading and learning and they have great compassion for animals and people who need their help. The series is in over 100 countries, 33 languages, and [the kids] all identify with Jack and Annie. I find that so encouraging.
Q: You've said before that Jack and Annie's relationship is in some ways based on your own relationship with your siblings?
A: Yes, I have wonderful siblings. They're still my best friends. We were all raised in the military so we had to rely on each other. We moved almost every year or two, so we really bonded, and one of the things that we most enjoyed doing together was games of make-believe. We were reenacting Peter Pan and creating forts and spy networks – whatever. Of course, we didn't have computers, watched minimal TV. We read books, but we just lived outside. I think a lot of the impulse from the treehouse comes from an attempt to relive some of that joy, that freedom that we had.
Q: Is there a particular Magic Treehouse book that your fans bring up often when they meet you?
A: Of the first 28, "[Tonight on the] Titanic" is popular, and also "Dolphins at Daybreak." Of the next 20, the one that was so immensely popular was "Dragon of the Red Dawn." That had a great cover with a dragon. We spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about covers and titles and sort of trying to get the kids over the bridge into some meaty subject matter, but still sensationalize the covers a little bit to try to bring them in.
I just want the books to be a stepping-off point. I just want [readers] to go, "I now know a very little bit about Leonardo Da Vinci, I'm going to go learn more." And one way they can learn more is our Fact Tracker series, the nonfiction. My ideal is they read our fiction, read our nonfiction, and then, if they still are interested, they go and read more difficult books about the subject. And they'll always own it. When they really hear about Shakespeare when they get to their teens, they'll feel they're already friends with Shakespeare, or any of these – Mozart, Louis Armstrong. That imprints so much when you're seven and eight.
Q: When you recently donated the 28-book sets to every third grader and teacher in Newark, how did that idea come to you initially?