Please welcome Mary Pope Osborne to Big A little a.
Kelly Herold: Thank you for speaking with me, Mary. It is a great honor to talk with you!
Let me start by saying that Tales from the Odyssey is one of my 7-year-old son’s favorite series, so thank you for writing it.
Now on to the interview:
KH: The Magic Tree House series has become a staple in the lives of readers just beginning to read independently. Boys and girls love them for their entertaining storylines, for their use of history and myth, and for Annie and Jack as characters. Were you surprised by the level of success The Magic Tree House has seen?
Mary Pope Osborne: My success as a children’s book author has been the opposite of “overnight.” I published more than 20 books before I started the Magic Tree House series. And the series has grown so gradually in popularity over 17 years, that I don’t think of myself as being greatly successful. But if I am, I wish someone would tell my 3 dogs. They don’t give me any respect.
KH: It is obvious from The Magic Tree House series and from your retellings and nonfiction books, that you really enjoy research. How do you begin researching a project? Do you begin with the idea first, or do you like to browse widely before deciding on an historical era or theme?
MPO: I poke around at lots of different ideas, buy books, look on the internet, talk to kids. Eventually one idea or another takes the lead, and then I really bare down on it. I gather lots of books (a ridiculous amount of books actually) on the subject and start taking notes, and then my story more or less starts telling itself to me. I often feel as if I’m trying to decipher something that already exists.
KH: Tell us, please, about your involvement in The Magic Tree House: The Musical.
MPO: Ah, my favorite subject these days. Four years ago, my husband Will and one of our best friends, composer Randy Courts, started working on a musical based on my book Christmas in Camelot. They took out Christmas so it wouldn’t just be a seasonal show, and they focused on Jack and Annie’s quest to Camelot and the mysterious realm of the Otherworld. Now, Magic Tree House: The Musical is traveling the country on a national tour; It’s a full Broadway-style show with two-story high dragon puppets, over 20 life-size human puppets, Irish dancers, beautiful songs, Knights of the Round Table, Arthur, Merlin, Morgan le Fay, and of course, Jack and Annie.
Will and Randy took my story and made it better. They expanded and deepened it and developed the adult characters, so that grownups can enjoy the show as well as kids. My main “involvement” is that I slip into theaters in different towns and watch it from the back.
KH: Back to Tales from the Odyssey: I’d like to hear your thoughts on the value of retelling classic myths and stories for young children.
MPO: Along with Tales from the Odyssey, I’ve also published Favorite Greek Myths, Favorite Norse Myths, Favorite Medieval Tales, Mermaid Tales from Around the World, and American Tall Tales. And next fall my sister Natalie and I have a book coming out titled The Random House Book of Bible Stories.
So, obviously I think it’s important to expose children to the great stories of the world. I’m amazed and distressed whenever I learn that many children are not familiar with Bible stories. Whether a family is religious or not, children should know the stories – otherwise, it would be impossible to comprehend the countless references to them in our daily lives. Not only do ancient stories link us to one another, but they enrich our imaginations as well. My deep involvement with retelling so many old stories has greatly informed my work on the Magic Tree House series.
KH: You mention on your website that you enjoy school visits. What do you like most about talking to children about your books?
MPO: Sadly I’m so busy these days, producing Magic Tree House: The Musical and trying to make my book deadlines, that I’m not able to make many school visits anymore. But early on, in the first years of writing the series, I visited schools all over the country, well over a hundred of them, and I learned so much. I learned about kids are interested in, and I learned about all the good work that teachers and librarians do. Today, we have a Magic Tree House Teachers’ Club at Random House with over 29,000 members – and every year we give a Magic Tree House Teacher of the Year Award. I credit teachers with doing all the hard work of teaching kids how to read…so that authors like me can do the fun work of writing books for them.
KH: I think my readers would like to know about your writing process, given that you are so prolific. When and where do you write? What is your daily schedule like?
MPO: Since the adventure of laptop computers, I’ve been able to write any place and any time. I love working on Magic Tree House books so much that it’s hard to keep me away from my work. But I take lots of breaks. Whenever I’m working, if I get frustrated or stymied, I get up from my chair, walk a dog or make a cup of tea or look in the fridge or chat with Will…and when I come back to my writing, the problem is usually solved. My unconscious often takes care of problems when “I” get out of the way.
KH: Finally, Mary, I’d like to know a little bit about what you are writing now.
MPO: My next book coming out in March ’09 is called Moonlight on the Magic Flute. Jack and Annie go to Vienna in 1762, and help a six-year-old Mozart give a concert at the palace of the Empress of the Austrian empire. I’ve also completed a book coming out next summer called A Good Night for Ghosts, in which Jack and Annie visit Louis Armstrong in 1915 in New Orleans and help him get on the path to becoming the “King of Jazz.”
Now I’m collecting research to work on a book tentatively called, “Leap Year With Leprechauns” in which Jack and Annie visit the west coast of Ireland in the 1860’s, and make friends with a girl named Augusta, who later became the Irish writer, Lady Gregory, who collected folk stories throughout Ireland and was one of the founders of the Abbey Theater in Dublin. As you might imagine, I’m having a great time collecting information about life on the west coast of Ireland in the late 1800’s, as well as reading folklore about fairies and leprechauns.
You can catch the rest of Mary Pope Osborne's blog tour at the following fantastic sites:
Tuesday 12/16: The Reading Zone,
Wednesday 12/17: Fields of Gold
Thursday 12/18: The Page Flipper
Friday 12/19: The Well- Read Child