'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: We're going to do a show in Newark next year based on the Treehouse on Louis Armstrong. It's going to premiere at the Jazz Festival. So it was my plan to give one book to every child – then every fourth grader – and probably try to do it before school was out, so they could read it over the summer. And then I came across a report, and I was so stunned by the need for third graders to read that I thought breezily to myself, I should give 28 [books]. So I called someone and said, "How many third-graders are there?" and there's like 4,300 third-graders. Will loved the idea and we said, "Let's just do it."
Prior to that, in the winter, we launched our new Classroom Adventures [program]. We spent the last two years, almost, with a team of teachers – we hired them ourselves – of giving teachers free information on how they can use the books in the classroom to enhance their core curriculum, and then we have a component of that, the Gift of Books, for Title 1 schools. We started giving away books in January through this program, and we were giving 2 or 3 sets to a classroom, any that applied and met the requirements. We'll get some feedback, hopefully by autumn, about whether this did work, whether it raised the scores, and if there's any way to quantify if it really helped the kids. If it didn't, this was still a joyous thing to do. We would do it all over again.
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A: It'll go to all the fourth-grade classrooms in the city, and it'll be at the Performing Arts Center. And then beyond that – we haven't even looked beyond that, but we want it to have a long life. And our dream is that, of course, it gets to New Orleans, and that'll probably be the next big stop.
Q: Is there any news about the Magic Tree House musical?
A: We're planning to take it out again in 2014. Meanwhile, we'll be running the Louis Armstrong show and we have a wonderful new partnership with a group called MTI that's turning Magic Tree House plays into school plays that just kids can do. We'll be launching a lot of theater projects in the next two years. Live theater ignites imagination as much as reading books does.
Q: What do you have planned for future Tree House adventures?
A: I do them in quartets. The next four are "Crazy Day with Cobras," "Dogs in the Dead of Night," and then "Abe Lincoln at Last!," and then the one that's coming out late this summer is "A Perfect Time for Pandas." And then after that is "The Stallion in Starlight." And my sister's working on the nonfiction [Fact Tracker book] to go with that. She's done the nonfiction for the last 19 or 20.
Q: How did that collaboration come to be?
A: It started with my husband Will – he wrote eight of the nonfiction. And then he wanted to turn his attention to the theater projects. So we called up my sister, who's a wonderful writer, and we handed the nonfiction over to her. And they do it totally by themselves, even though my name's on the cover, because I'm working so hard on the fiction. And we just have so much fun because we do book tours together, and the three of us are sort of a wild trio on the road. It's just so much fun. It used to be kind of lonely to go on these book tours by myself, and now I always have one of them with me. It's just a vacation.
I owe everything to teachers, the ones who really got this series off the ground years ago by using it in classrooms.
The teachers have done so many incredible projects with the books. I have volumes of pictures and projects. That's why we have a "Magic Tree House" teacher of the year every year. The teachers are the key to this.