GeekDad Interviews ‘Magic Tree House’ Author Mary Pope Osborne

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Mary Pope Osborne Books

Last year, when I shared the process of turning my son’s bedroom into a Portal test chamber, the most frequent comments were variations of:

“Will you adopt me?”
“Is this real?”
“Magic Tree House?! I loved that series!”

Recently, my MTH-loving son and I had the opportunity to interview Mary Pope Osborne, author of The Magic Tree House. Her latest book in the series, Magic Tree House #54: Balto of the Blue Dawn, is the harrowing tale of the 1925 diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska, and the brave trip by dog sled to deliver life-saving medicine to the town. This “Great Race of Mercy” saved hundreds of lives, and is commemorated every year via the now-famous sled race, The Iditarod. Yesterday was the 91st anniversary of the successful delivery of the medicine by sled driver Gunner Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto.

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GeekKid: What inspired you to write a Magic Tree House book about The Great Race of Mercy?
Mary Pope Osborne: I have a tremendous love of dogs. Our adored three dogs are shiftless, disobedient, and spoiled. So to write about heroic dogs is always refreshing. I think maybe the most heroic dogs ever were the husky teams who raced for hundreds of miles through a raging blizzard and sub-zero temperatures to carry medicine in 1925 to diphtheria patients in Nome, Alaska. I’ve long thought wanted myself and Jack and Annie to be part of that great adventure.
GeekDad: You’ve been writing about Jack and Annie’s adventures for years, yet you recently said you had no intentions of aging them any further. Do you find having main characters who never grow older limiting or liberating?
Osborne: I’ve aged Annie and Jack from 7 and 8 to 11 and 12. As far as I know now, that’s as old as they’ll ever be. Maybe it’s because I really loved my early life before I reached adolescence – before peer pressure, popular culture, and boy interests took over. I think I was most myself before all those things absorbed me. It wasn’t until after I turned 40 that I really got in touch with that happy childhood self again. Hey, funny thing: that’s when I started writing this series.
GK: In Balto of the Blue Dawn, you included lots of specific sensory details that made the story feel much more real. Did you get to experience a real dog sled ride yourself?
Osborne: No, I wish I had! What fun that would have been. But I had to rely on my research and my imagination to write about Jack and Annie’s dog sled ride.
GD: Balto was a bit darker than many of the previous Magic Tree House books. Did you find it difficult to tell the story of sickness and death while keeping a focus on the target age range of your readers?
Osborne: Actually the target age moves up a bit as the series goes along. The first 28 books are basically intended for beginning and developing readers. The next 26, known as the “Merlin Missions” are a higher reading level with longer and more challenging stories. And then, my one and only “Super Edition” book, Danger in the Darkest Hour is for even older readers, as it deals with the darkest subject of all: WWII.
GK: What is the most interesting scenario that led to a Magic Tree House book?
Osborne: Hmm, I find so many scenarios interesting: 6 year old Mozart playing for Austrian Empress at her Viennese palace; the 1970 World Cup in Mexico City; Washington crossing the Delaware, the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth; I could go on and on. Whenever a situation grabs me, I turn into a research demon…and find more and more interesting details to incorporate into a story. It’s exhilarating — and is probably the reason I’m addicted to writing the series.
GD: When I posted photos of my son’s room remodel, a large number of the comments were about his Magic Tree House collection. Several people made comments about how Jack and Annie were such a huge part of their childhood. Do you ever feel a responsibility to the legacy of Jack and Annie?
Osborne: Yes. It is a big responsibility. But I try not to think about it too much. I just hope my characters will keep choosing the path of kindness, courage and justice — and inspire readers to do the same.
GK: What gave you the idea to create a parallel fact tracker series in addition to the original stories?
Osborne: After about ten MTH books had been published, my husband Will noted that teachers and parents kept talking about the books inspiring kids to learn more about the places and times that Jack and Annie visit. So he created the Fact Tracker series as nonfiction companions to the fiction. After writing 8 books, he began writing plays based on Magic Tree House; so my sister Natalie Pope Boyce took over the nonfiction writing. She’s now written more than 30 Fact Trackers. This is definitely a family business…add to that our longtime best friends, Randy Courts and Jenny Laird have been Will’s collaborators on five different musicals based on MTH books. Will’s other collaborator was the late legendary jazz great, Allen Toussaint, who composed the score for our early New Orleans show based on MTH A Good Night for Ghosts. I’ve been blessed with a great team.
GD: Do you have any desire to see Jack and Annie in film or television (outside of the anime based on the books)? If so, how would you like to see it happen? Live action or animated? Series or movie?
Osborne: For many years Will and I chose not to expand the series into TV or film (except our Japanese anime). But after we started our nationwide literacy outreach in 2012, we changed our minds. Now we think a live action film might help us reach even more kids and inspire them to read.
GK: How often do you base Magic Tree House stories around your own interests?
Osborne: I would have to say that every subject I’ve set out to research has turned into a new interest – everything from Mogul India to the Serengetti plain to the Cretaceous period. This series has opened my eyes to the wonders of our world in so many ways. And that’s one of the things I’m most grateful for.

Thank you so much to Mary Pope Osborne for chatting with us. Magic Tree House #54: Balto of the Blue Dawn is available today on Amazon and at book stores everywhere.

About Mary Pope Osborne

Mary Pope Osborne 300pxMary Pope Osborne is an American writer of children’s books. She is best known for the award-winning and bestselling Magic Tree House series, which has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

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