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Interview: March 10, 2017

After 25 years of adventures with Jack and Annie in Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series, the fun still isn't over! For the series' 25th anniversary, Osborne has blessed her faithful readers with a special edition book for advanced readers. WORLD AT WAR, 1944 is set in France on the night before the D-Day invasion of World War II where Jack and Annie must crack a code to save the day. While Osborne has been busy over the years researching and writing her Magic Tree House series, she has also become a huge advocate for children's literacy. Here at Kidsreads, we had the chance to talk with Osborne about the past 25 years and the Magic Tree House series. In our exciting interview, Osborne discusses the process that goes into creating her educational stories, the future of the Magic Tree House, the importance of children's literacy and much more! This year, 2017, marks the 25th anniversary of your Magic Tree House series. Can you give us key highlights from the past 25 years?

Mary Pope Osborne: The Magic Tree House series has had several key highlights: The first occurred in the woods of Pennsylvania about 27 years ago. For over a year, I’d been searching for a “time machine” for brother and sister to travel to different places in history. I’d tried a magic cellar, a magic artist studio, a magic museum and magic whistles. Nothing seemed to work --- until the autumn day I took that walk in the woods with my husband Will, and we saw an old tree house…

Another highlight was when Will collaborated with Randy Courts and created a stage musical of the Magic Tree House book, CHRISTMAS IN CAMELOT. Since then, they’ve created five more Magic Tree House musicals that have been performed all over the country.

Another highlight was when my sister Natalie Pope Boyce took over the writing of the Magic Tree House Fact Trackers, the nonfiction companion books of the series. Natalie’s authored over thirty Fact Trackers now.

And finally, the most recent highlight: Will and I last year made the decision to sell Magic Tree House film rights to Lionsgate Entertainment. After many conversations and negotiations, we’re confident the filmmakers will aim to create a film that will be true to the books.

KRC: Your series has become iconic for its ability to instill a love of reading in children of all ages and reading levels. Did you ever expect the series to gain such a following? When did you realize you had a hit on your hands?

MPO: When I started writing the series, I never dreamed the books would attrac so many readers. Nor did I imagine that a quarter century later, I’d still be writing them! I originally intended to write only 4. But after I began receiving letters from educators that said Magic Tree House was helping kids learn to read, my writing goals changed. Over the years, as I became more and more inspired by my readers, I kept going --- until today I’m working on my 56th adventure with Jack and Annie.

KRC: Although a majority of your books are fictional, there are still lots of facts and figures written in to each, especially about history and science. How do you do your research for these books?

MPO: When I start to explore a new topic, I first gather materials from booksellers. (For instance, right now, I’m developing a library on the creation of the U.S. constitution in 1787.) I read and take notes in skinny reporter notebooks; I create maps, diagrams; and I tape photocopies of pictures onto large tablets. Slowly I create a world that’s far more expansive than the short tale I’ll eventually tell. But all the preparation and research seem necessary to thoroughly immerse myself in a different time and place, along with Jack and Annie. (Plus, it’s incredibly fun.)

KRC: How have your feelings and opinions about your characters, Jack and Annie, changed over the past several years? Do you have a favorite?

MPO: I would never designate either Jack or Annie as my favorite --- as I love my children equally. But I do identify more with Jack, with his caution and studiousness. Though I adore animals the way Annie does, I’m not nearly as physically brave as she is. She’s the girl I wish I could have been. The two of them haven’t changed much over the years. They still work well together and fearlessly love life. What’s really unfair, though, is that they’ve aged only three years, while I’ve aged 25!

KRC: After 25 years, it is probably impossible to choose a favorite book of yours, but do any stand out?  Feel free to name up to five!

MPO: Hmm…the five Magic Tree House books I love the most?
WORLD AT WAR, 1944: a “Special Edition” MTH book for advanced readers; takes place in France, night before D-Day invasion.

DOGS IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT: Jack, Annie and I visit the Swiss Alps and magically become St. Bernard dogs to help lost travelers.

BLIZZARD OF THE BLUE MOON: During the depression, Jack, Annie and I free a unicorn from the famous Unicorn Tapestry at the Cloisters Museum in NYC.

STAGE FRIGHT ON A SUMMER NIGHT: We meet Shakespeare! A visit to the Globe Theater in London was the best research trip ever.

Those are the first five that come to mind. (Please don’t tell all the other Magic Tree House books.)

KRC: I’ve read a great deal about your work in children’s literacy, especially when it comes to your donations and grants. In this day and age, what do you feel teachers, parents and librarians can do to help children meet appropriate reading levels?

MPO: Studies have proven that it’s vitally important for children to read at grade level by the end of third grade. It’s very hard to catch up after that. So I’d like to urge parents to make reading a priority in their homes. Be alert for special problems that early readers might have --- and ask their teachers for extra help. Make reading a family adventure: Go to the library regularly; give books as gifts; read together before bedtime. Help your kids not only learn to read --- but love to read.

KRC: Do you have any advice for aspiring young authors, such as the ones who are currently reading your books?

MPO: I tell aspiring young authors to read, read, read. Pay attention to good storytelling. Figure out why you like it. Fall in love with words. Look for words that come alive on the page. Listen to how people talk and take notes. Keep lists of good verbs and descriptive words. Before you try to tell your own story, do some research and gather details. Be sure to rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. And while you’re doing all of this, make sure you’re having a good time. Remember that using your imagination and the power of words to create something new can be the most fun thing in the world.