Allison's Book Bag

Creator of The Magic Tree House series

Posted on: May 5, 2015

MaryPopeOsborneThe popularity of The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne eclipsed that of Harry Potter as #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list in 2006. The series has received numerous honors and Osborne herself has received the Ludington Memorial Award from the Educational Paperback Association and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Random House Sales Force. I’ll review the most current title, High Time for Heroes tomorrow. Save the date: May 6!

The Magic Tree House brand has also spawned several other products. A non-fiction companion series, written by Osborne along with her husband and sister, now known as the Fact Trackers was launched in 2000 to expand on the facts behind the Magic Tree House entries. Other examples of products include a full-scale musical adaptation and a planetarium show. In addition, audio and braille versions of the books are available as well as companion programs aimed at educators using the books to illustrate history and writing skills.


A close relationship with parents and siblings supported Mary Pope Osborne, who grew up in a military family, through multiple state moves. By the time she was 15, Osborne had lived in Florida, Oklahoma, and four different Army posts in Virginia and North Carolina.

Through this transient lifestyle, Osborne and her three siblings learned to play together, make new friends, and eagerly look forward to each new adventure. In particular, according to Wikipedia, Osborne lived in a world of her imagination and “couldn’t cross the room without thinking that I was in a movie or I was a cowboy or I was in an alternate reality.”

When her family finally settled down to a small Southern town, Osborne found herself still craving the adventure and changing scenery of military life. One day, she found these things a block away at the local community theater. From then on, Osborne spent nearly every waking hour after school there, either acting or working backstage.

Theater satisfied her creative and imaginative nature to such an extent that Osborne elected to study drama at the University of North Carolina. In her junior year, she discovered an even greater realm of adventure and changing scenery in the world of mythology and comparative religion. Her major became religion, with Osborne learning as much as she could about other cultures.

Osborne’s Biography states that After graduating from the University of North Carolina in the early 1970s, Osborne set off on an adventure of her own, traveling through Europe with a friend and ended up camping out in a cave on the coast of Crete. Short on money, Osborne accepted an invitation from a group of travelers to accompany them on their journey eastward. With them, she traveled overland by van through sixteen Asian countries. The group nearly lost their lives more than once, first in an earthquake in northern Afghanistan and then a riot in Kabul. When Osborne reached Nepal her trip came to an end due to her developing blood poisoning, and soon after she returned to the United States.

Back in the real world, Osborne continued to live in various places and expose herself to adventure. She worked as a window dresser and later as a Russian travel consultant in Washington, D.C.

One night, while in Washington, she attended the opening of a musical about Jesse James. In her Biography, Osborne says that from the balcony, she fell in love with the actor/musician playing Jesse. A year later, in New York City, the two were married. When not on the road with her husband, Osborne worked as a bartender, waitress, acting teacher, and assistant editor. Then began her perhaps most long-lasting adventure, that of writing books that includes children’s books that range from mysteries to folklore to picture books.

After 26 years in New York City, Mary Pope Osborne and her husband moved to a house on a lake in Connecticut. In their spare time, they like to read, kayak, and hike with their dogs


Writing is a miracle. You can travel anywhere in the world, to any time and any place — and still be home in time to have dinner.

–Mary Pope Osborne, Biography

Osborne’s first book in print was published in 1982, ten years before the first Magic Tree House entry. Run, Run, As Fast As You Can was a semi-autobiographical story of a young girl growing up in a military family. She wrote several other books, mostly targeted to the youth audience. Finally, Osborne knew what she wanted to do with her adult life.

One day, Osborne’s publisher suggested that she write a series. Osborne tells Reading Rockets that she spent the next year on it, eventually hit upon a formula for a series of chapter books: protagonists 8-year-old Jack and his 7-year-old sister Annie. patterned on her own sibling relationships. They live in the fictional, pastoral Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Desiring to make it a time-travel series, Osborne happened upon an old children’s tree house that inspired the means.

In 1992, the first of what Osborne assumed would be a short, four-book series was published. Letters started pouring in from children, parents, and teachers. Osborne realized that her series had struck a chord. Osborne’s writing style is credited for the popularity of the series. Osborne tends to small cliffhangers at the end of chapters, which have been highlighted as a major ingredient in the books’ appeal with the target age group. The series is most commonly considered to be educational, both with the historical and geographical accuracy of its content and in its vocabulary. Osborne has now written forty-five Magic Tree House fiction books.

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