Mary Pope Osborne
Photo: © Paul Coughlin
About the Author
“I’m one of those very lucky people who absolutely loves what they do for a living. There is no career better suited to my eccentricities, strengths, and passions than that of a children’s book author.”—Mary Pope Osborne
Mary Pope Osborne is the author of the popular Magic Tree House series. She works with her husband Will and her sister Natalie on the nonfiction companion series, Magic Tree House Research Guides. Many of her books have been named to best-books lists.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“I grew up in the military. By the time I was 15, I had lived in Oklahoma, Austria, Florida, and four different army posts in Virginia and North Carolina. 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. Miraculously, one day I found these things, literally only a block away—at the local community theater. From then on, I spent nearly every waking hour after school there.
“After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early 1970s, I lived an intensely varied life. For a while I camped in a cave on the island of Crete. 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. My trip came to an abrupt halt in Katmandu when I got blood poisoning. During the two weeks I spent in a missionary hospital there, I read all of the Tolkien trilogy. To this day, my journey to ‘The East’ is tangled up in my mind with Frodo’s adventures.
“After I returned home and recovered from my illness, I promptly headed back into the real world. I worked as a window dresser, as a medical assistant, and as a Russian travel consultant. One night I attended the opening of a musical about Jesse James. From the balcony, I fell in love with Will Osborne, the actor/musician playing Jesse. I loved his boots and his white cowboy hat; I loved how he sang and strummed the guitar. A year later, in New York City, we were married.
“Thereafter, when I wasn’t on the road with Will, I worked as a waitress, taught acting classes in a nursing home, was a bartender, and had a job as an assistant editor for a children’s magazine.
“Then one day, out of the blue, I began writing a story about an 11-year-old girl in the South. The girl was a lot like me, and many of the incidents in the story were similar to happenings in my childhood. The first draft was crudely written, but it must have communicated something to an editor, because shortly after I finished, 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.
"Now 24 years and 80 books later, I think I’m one of the most fortunate people on earth. Whenever I work on a book, I feel as if I’ve traveled to some amazing place in the world. Writing Tales from the Odyssey, I sailed with Odysseus through the ancient Greek world. Working on the Spider Kane Mysteries, I spent time in an abandoned cottage garden with a group of nutty and wonderful insects. Working on my novel Haunted Waters, I lived in a haunted castle with a sea spirit. While working on my new picture book, Pompeii: Lost and Found, I felt as if I myself were excavating an ancient Roman city. And of course, with my Magic Tree House series, I take daily journeys with Jack and Annie to different times and places, from the prehistoric world of dinosaurs to the world of Camelot. Though there are 36 books of fiction and 13 non-fiction books in the Magic Tree House series now, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of places to travel to in my imagination.
"The Magic Tree House has also whisked me to schools all over the country, and the contact I now have with millions of readers has brought overwhelming joy into my life. I love the letters I get and I love reading the countless Magic Tree House stories that children themselves have written. I feel as if my readers and I are all exploring the creative process together, using our imaginations and writing skills to take us wherever we want to go. This, I tell my small fellow authors, is true magic."
MARY POPE OSBORNE ON THE MAGIC TREE HOUSE SERIES
We passed an old dilapidated tree house . . .
I spent a year trying different ways to get two kids back in time. I tried an enchanted cellar with magic whistles, an enchanted museum, and an enchanted artist’s studio. I wrote seven different manuscripts using different magical devices and nothing worked. Then on a walk in the country with my husband, we passed an old dilapidated tree house. We started talking about the tree house . . . and continued talking about it. The next day I tried writing about it—to see if it might possibly be magic. And it was.
I’m aching to hang out with penguins . . .
My stories always coincide with my personal interests, which seem fairly unlimited at this point. I find that the more you learn, the more you want to learn. I want to take Jack and Annie to Antarctica. I’m aching to hang out with penguins.
They started dreaming me up . . .
At first I just dreamed Jack and Annie up. They seem so happy and complete. I don’t want to subject them to the awful peer pressure that comes with growing older. They’d probably start hanging around the mall instead of climbing into the tree house.
My brothers and I had great adventures on our bikes and in the woods and on the beach where we lived. We felt as though we’d been to far distant worlds by the time we came home—adventures we happily kept to ourselves. I want kids to live through Jack and Annie’s independent journeys as well as their own!
It’s harmonious teamwork . . .
My editor has had an incalculable impact on these books. She has worked on all [the] books to date, and has been a great inspiration and guide. The series has a wonderful illustrator, Sal Murdocca. Sal researches the illustrations himself, and he’s very flexible and open to my ideas. The series’ designer and editor also have input into the art. It’s harmonious teamwork.
MARY POPE OSBORNE ON MARY POPE OSBORNE
I’m a creature of constant change . . .
No two days of writing for the last 20 odd years have been the same. I write at every time of the day. I carry my laptop to every part of the house—or to places outside the house. I’m a creature of constant change. I do a lot of research before I start writing, but I do a great deal more after I start writing, as I confront more and more questions about the subject matter.
I’m living an extraordinary life . . .
The best part of being a writer is being transported to other places and living other experiences. By surrounding myself with the smells, weather, animals, and people of imaginary landscapes, I feel as if I’m living an extraordinary life. The worst part of being a writer is not having enough time or energy to write all the things I want to write.
I started writing poetry in high school . . .
I was living in North Carolina and I loved the work of Thomas Wolfe. Not until my late twenties did I have any idea I could be a writer. I only knew that I loved living in my imagination, and that no matter what job I was doing, my mind and thoughts were elsewhere. I was ready to settle for being a professional daydreamer.
I’ve had too many favorite authors to list . . .
As a child, I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laura Ingalls Wilder. In my teen years: Thomas Wolfe, J. D. Salinger, Hermann Hesse, and Jack Kerouac. In my twenties: Tolstoy, Nabokov, E. B. White, and Colette. Since then I’ve had too many to list. The Little Princess, The Three Ugly Sisters, and Big Farmer Big were my favorite books.
To aspiring writers:
Write, write, write. Always try to have fun and at the same time always do the hard work of rewriting.
Mary Pope Osborne is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children and young adults, including novels, picture books, biographies, mysteries, and retellings of fairy tales, myths, and tall tales. She has completed two terms as president of the Author’s Guild, the leading organization for professional writers in the United States.
THE MAGIC TREE HOUSE SERIES
“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.”—Children’s Literature on the Magic Tree House series
“A rousing adventure tale filled with dancing fairies, white stags, and hideous beasts.”—School Library Journal on Christmas in Camelot
AMERICAN TALL TALES
—A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
—A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
—An NCSS–CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
—An ABC Children’s Booksellers’ Choice Award
—An American Bookseller Pick of the Lists
—A Parents Magazine Best Book of the Year
SPIDER KANE AND THE MYSTERY AT JUMBO NIGHTCRAWLER’S
—An Edgar Award Nominee for Best Juvenile Mystery
SPIDER KANE AND THE MYSTERY UNDER THE MAY-APPLE
—A Parents’ Choice Story Book Honor
—A Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Book of the Year
ONE WORLD, MANY RELIGIONS
The Ways We Worship
—An Orbis Pictus Honor Book, National Council of Teachers of English