The chances are better than good that most teachers, librarians, and students know about the adventures of Jack and Annie as captured in the Magic Tree House series. As one of the bestselling series for children, Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne has been translated into more than 30 languages, has sold more than 100 million copies, and has countless fans of all ages.
Osborne is one of the most successful children’s writers due to the popularity of Magic Tree House. However, this highly acclaimed author did not exactly enter the writing world in a traditional fashion. Rather, her eclectic background, real-life experiences, and passion for learning guided her down the path she needed to go.
Osborne’s mother had been a school teacher and knew the importance of reading. Every night she would take turns with each of her children reading to her on the couch. “She made sure every one of her four children could read. It was her greatest gift to us.”
Those early reading experiences coupled with imaginative play and real-world explorations led Osborne to be a curious young adult eager to learn about the world around her. From traveling to Asia to exploring New York, Osborne absorbed and noted her surroundings. Eventually she began writing as a creative outlet. And in her mid 20s, after finishing a draft of a book, she showed it to a friend who showed it to an agent.
“Give kids books they really love to read. You don’t want to just get the skills down; you want to get a passion going so that it is a lifelong experience of reading.”
“I didn’t have to suffer a lot of rejection which might have just killed my spirit. I was published rather quickly, and I kept working and learning. The wonderful aspect of writing children’s books is that you can try so many different things. Every year I was jumping into different worlds: Greek mythology, mermaid tales, a biography of George Washington, a picture book about a moon horse, a young adult novel about a girl from the South… Anywhere my imagination led me, I could find a forum for it.”
After about 10 years and 20 books, Random House approached Osborne with the idea of writing a children’s series. “I didn’t want to do the same thing over and over. I loved variety. But then I started thinking that it could work if I sent some kids in a time-travel device to different places in the world. Then I could explore my love for history and mythology and incorporate real-life memories from playing with my brothers and sister.”
It took about a year to decide what the time-travel mechanism would be. She tried a magic museum, a magic artist studio, a magic cellar, and even magic whistles, but to no avail. Finally, she saw a tree house in the woods of Pennsylvania and everything clicked. “It took quite a few years after that before the series took off; but I hung in there, and now I am finishing up my 52nd Magic Tree House book. In the beginning, I always thought I was going to run out of ideas. But as I like to tell kids, if you use your imagination, the possibilities are unlimited.”
Today, Osborne continues to create adventures for Jack and Annie, but she has also surrounded herself with a collaborative team that has enhanced the series to include Fact Tracker books, a musical, children’s plays, a full-dome planetarium show, and more. Additionally, Osborne hired a team to develop the Classroom Adventures Program providing free resources to teachers and offering free books to Title I schools. “The dream of Magic Tree House is to get kids started on the path to reading for life.”