Mary Pope Osborne has channeled a lifelong love of exploration and travel into one of the most popular children’s book series of the past two decades. With her fantastic Magic Tree House series, Mary Pope Osborne keeps the good times rolling for kids all over the world.
Ever since 1992, Mary Pope Osborne has been thrilling kids everywhere with her delightfully exciting Magic Tree House series. The globetrotting escapades of time travelers Jack and Annie are brimming with adventure and magic (not to mention some subtly placed lessons on history and geography). With a life like Osborne's, it's only natural that she would be capable of bringing such wondrous stories to life.
Osborne was brought up in a military family, and her parents' work led to a lifestyle marked by constant change. "By the time I was 15," she says on randomhouse.com, "I had lived in Oklahoma, Austria, Florida, and four different army posts in Virginia and North Carolina." While many kids would probably feel disoriented by such constant change, Osborne wouldn't have had it any other way. "Moving was never traumatic for me, but staying in one place was. When my dad finally retired to a small town in North Carolina, I nearly went crazy with boredom. I craved the adventure and changing scenery of our military life."
And adventure is exactly what Osborne got! After college, she embarked on a series of daring treks across the globe that would surely give Jack and Annie a run for their money. "For a while I camped in a cave on the island of Crete," she said. "Then I joined up with a small band of European young people heading to 'The East.' We traveled through 11 Asian countries and nearly lost our lives, first in an earthquake in northern Afghanistan and then in a riot in Kabul."
Following an illness she contracted in Katmandu, Osborne returned home to the U.S. trying her hand at a vast variety of jobs: window dresser, medical assistant, Russian travel consultant, waitress, bartender, and an assistant editor at a children's magazine. Although Osborne had unconsciously moved closer toward her ultimate career, she says that her first attempts at writing seemed to come without warning. "One day, out of the blue, I began writing a story about an 11-year-old girl in the South," she recalls. "The girl was a lot like me, and many of the incidents in the story were similar to happenings in my childhood...it became a young adult novel called Run, Run Fast as You Can. Finally, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up."
She sure did! Since then, Osborne has penned a slew of stories, including picture books, chapter books, middle-grade biographies, and young adult novels; but she is indisputably best known for her wonderful Magic Tree House books, a happy hodge-podge of history and mystery with a time travel theme kids find irresistible. No doubt inspired by Osborne's own highly adventurous life, these exiting expeditions have attracted droves of children and pleased educators by combining compulsively readable storytelling with useful facts about geography and history.
As was written of the series in Children's Literature, "Mary Pope Osborne provides nicely paced excitement for young readers, and there's just enough information mixed in so that children will take away some historical fact along with a sense of accomplishment at having completed a chapter book." As much as Osborne has certainly pleased her readers (not to mention their parents and teachers), perhaps no one is quite as pleased as she. "I'm one of those very lucky people who absolutely loves what they do for a living," she explained. "There is no career better suited to my eccentricities, strengths, and passions than that of a children's book author."
Good To Know
A few fascinating outtakes from our interview with Osborne:
"One of the most defining experiences of my life was traveling overland in an old van through the Middle East and Asia in the early 1970's. One day, when a small group of us were camped in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, we saw a woman riding horseback over the sloping plain. Her long brown hair floated on the wind and she wore a bright gypsy-style dress. When she got closer, I realized she was one of my roommates from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill! Though I didn't even know she'd left the U.S.and she didn't know I was in Afghanistan, we weren't that surprised to come upon each other. That says a lot about the times we were living in then."
"After 26 years of living in New York City, my husband Will and I now spend most of our time in Northwestern Connecticut, living in a house that overlooks a lake. We kayak and hike with our two Norfolk terriers, Joey and Mr. Bezo. Will's learning Italian, and I've been working with a tutor for two years trying to understand Dante's Divine Comedy. One of my biggest hobbies is reading philosophy and theology. We spend lots of time, of course, on our work. After writing three shows for the Morehead Planetarium in North Carolina, Will's writing a musical based on the Magic Tree House series. I'm writing book # 38 in the series. I also spend a lot of time with my sister Natalie Pope Boyce who works on the Magic Tree House Research Guides. Natalie and our nephews and some of our best friends live nearby in the Berkshires Hills of Massachusetts, so we're up there a lot, too. My only complaint is there is not enough time to do all I want to do. For instance, I'd love to take drawing classes and I'd love to paint the lake we're living on. And I'd love to bird watch and become a better cook and learn about classical music. Maybe sometime in the future...."