If you know anything about children’s books, then you likely already know who Mary Pope Osborne is. For everyone else: Osborne is the author of the tremendously popular and highly-acclaimed Magic Tree House series, which has sold more than 130 million copies worldwide. Here, she talks with Bookish about the newest installment in her series, Shadow of the Shark, and the importance of the Soar With Reading program, which works to further the cause of children’s literacy by providing kids with books. Do you want your city to win 100,000 books from JetBlue? Vote here before 11:59pm August 31.
Bookish: Shadow of the Shark is the 53rd book in the Magic Tree House series. How have you seen readers change since you first started writing this series?
Mary Pope Osborne: I’ve seen my young readers change very little over the years. I can’t explain it, except that maybe between the ages of six and ten, children are pretty much the same, generation after generation. My readers have always seemed to love learning about the world; they’ve always been ready to laugh and have adventures. They’ve all been eager to share affection and support and praise. None of that has changed over the last 24 years of my working on the series. I think I lucked out writing for this particular age group. It’s magical.
Bookish: Sharks can get a bad reputation in the media, but this book and its companion go a long way in teaching readers more about these mysterious creatures. Did you have any misconceptions about sharks before you began your research for this book? What made you want to write about them?
MPO: My sister, Natalie, and I wanted to write about them simply because the subject would appeal to our readers. But in doing the research for the fiction and nonfiction books, we felt a new respect for sharks—and for all predators. Their struggle to feed themselves is awe-inspiring, and the role that predators play in the food chain is essential to the health of the planet.
Bookish: The Soar with Reading program provides 100,000 books to one special city in America every year. What is one book you wish you could give to every child in America?
MPO: Actually, that’s impossible to answer. I think my wish, though, is that every young child be given at least one book that will grab them and whisk them into another time and place and hold their attention and excite and overwhelm them, so that they will discover the great joy of reading.
Bookish: What do you think are three of the most important things kids get when they have access to books? What else can we do to help change the fact that children in our country don’t have access to the books that they deserve?
MPO: I think that when children read books, they gain a sense of self that would be hard to experience otherwise. I once read that we are most ourselves when we read because we are creating along with the author—we see print, and suddenly our imagination completes a picture with scenery, people we know, experiences we’ve had. We gain a self this way. Children also gain independence when they read and learn how to think for themselves. And thirdly, reading helps children find a way to escape negative surroundings and circumstances, and this helps them imagine a different future for themselves.
If parents can’t afford to buy books for their children, they need to seek out books through libraries, churches, charities, and schools. The desire for books will lead to a supply. So first, we need to convince the grown-ups that books are essential to their children’s lives.
Bookish: Books have the ability to take us on amazing adventures. What is your favorite adventure you’ve been on with Jack and Annie?
MPO: Danger in the Darkest Hour, about a mission to Normandy, France, on the day before D-Day, was an unforgettable writing experience.
Bookish: You’ve talked about how you never met authors growing up, so it never occurred to you that you might become one. Now, authors have active online presences and interact with readers there and in person at various events and assemblies. Do you think authors being more available is encouraging to young readers to read more?
MPO: Yes, definitely. Meeting authors helps children want to read. The world of children’s books seems to be thriving right now, with many wonderful authors and many wonderful books.
Bookish: Your readers love sharing their ideas for new adventures with you, and you take a lot of their ideas and turn them into books! You’ve said in the past that they’ve made demands for books about penguins and pandas. What are they looking for now?
MPO: I’ve written so many Magic Tree House books that children mostly give suggestions for books I’ve already done. But recently a reader begged me to write about the Sonoran Desert, another asked for a book about the Wright Brothers, and another wanted one about rattlesnakes.
Bookish: In the past you’ve wanted to write about Mozart and Shakespeare and have found ways of working those figures into your stories. Who or what do you most want to write about now?
MPO: I’d like to write books about Catherine the Great, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther King Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt, among many others.
Bookish: When inspiration fails to strike, what never fails to spark your imagination?
MPO: Reading. I read constantly, slipping in and out of other worlds. Books constantly inspire me to write my own stories. I read, and I want to get in the game myself and create worlds with weather and characters and settings and . . . and . . . well, it’s like play. And I love to play.
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.