The author of one of the most popular children’s book series recently visited with her newest generation of fans.
Sitting in the shade of two trees, big enough to hold a treehouse, in Pitt Park the middle-schoolers did well to explain the range of topics Mary Pope Osborne has covered in her Magic Tree House series, which has spanned more than two decades.
“I’ve been writing the series for 22 years and I’ve visited with thousands of children,” Pope Osborne said. “What makes this a little different is that these are kids almost in my backyard. My sister and I, who work on the books, are from this area, Stockbridge and Great Barrington.”
Osborne was joined by her sister and collaborator Natalie Pope Boyce for a follow-up visit with children in the Pittsfield area. Working with the local teachers and Berkshire United Way, the sisters have donated more than 1,500 of their books to low-income children taking part in summer reading programs under the literacy campaign Pittsfield Promise. Pope Boyce has been writing with her sister for the past 12 years.
“That whole wiggly, funny, squirmy audience that you get, they raise their hands when you ask questions and they’re sincere…there’s just nothing like it,” Pope Boyce said. “You work in your room and write your books and then the real payoff is when go out and you’re with children. I think Mary and I just think there’s nothing that compares with that.”
The series follows the brother and sister team of Jack and Annie as they time-travel from historical events to mountain peaks, ocean depths and even the moon via a Magic Tree House. Osborne says it took an adventure of her own to find the idea for the time-travel capacity.
“I always tell kids that the easiest ideas are the hardest to find,” Pope Osborne said. “I spent a year trying to get two kids off the ground to go back in time and everything from magic whistles, to a magic cellar, to a magic museum, to a magic artist studio. Then I saw a treehouse in the woods walking with my husband Will.”
Osborne traveled the country for seven years picking the brains of schoolchildren and teachers to find the places and time periods they would want to experience and could if Jack and Annie went there. And those adventures continue to span generations.
“Just in last couple of years, I was checking in at an air terminal and the person doing the tickets recognized the name and got all excited and wanted a selfie with us,” Pope Osborne said. “Then checking into the hotel later that night, the young person behind the desk recognized my name and wanted a selfie. It’s emotional for these young adults because they tell you, and I find this very touching, ‘You were my childhood!”
Fourth-grader Tajzena Betton sat in the front row of the park bleachers with a stack of Magic Tree House books for Osborne to sign.
“What are some of your favorite ones?” I asked.
“All of them,” answered Betton.
Osborne says the series has been successful because kids can relate to Jack and Annie’s desire to explore and learn. Maybe that’s also true of the sisters behind the pages of the expanding series, which include separate factual guides partially explored in the Magic Tree House.
“I think we drive away a lot of dinner quests because we just keep talking about sharks, Mayans, World War II or whatever is the subject of the season,” Pope Osborne said. “We love it. That piece I think keeps both of us going because we keep learning and growing with the series.”