MARY POPE OSBORNE is an ardent advocate and supporter of children’s literacy, and the award-winning author of more than 100 books for children and young adults, including novels, retellings of mythology and folklore, picture books, biographies, and mysteries. From 1993–1997, Mary served as president of the Authors Guild, the country’s leading organization for published authors. She has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad, visiting schools and speaking on issues related to children’s literacy.
She spoke at the UN regarding the importance of worldwide literacy and was profiled on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams for her continued efforts. Mary has donated over 450,000 books to underserved children across the country through her Gift of Books program. She resides in Connecticut. The creator of the Magic Tree House series, Mary is also the coauthor of the companion Magic Tree House Fact Trackers series with her husband, WILL OSBORNE, and her sister, NATALIE POPE BOYCE. Mary is active on Twitter and loves to connect with readers, former readers, teachers, and parents.
I grew up in the military. By the time I was fifteen I had lived in Oklahoma, Austria, Florida, and four different army posts in Virginia and North Carolina. Moving was never traumatic for me, partly, I think, because I had very close and loving relationships with my parents, my twin brother, my younger brother, and my older sister.
When my dad retired to a small city in North Carolina, I still 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, either acting or working backstage. When I stepped from the sunny street into that musty-smelling, dark little theater, all things seemed possible.
I went on to study drama at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In my junior year, I discovered an even greater realm of adventure and changing scenery: the world of mythology and comparative religion. So I became a religion major and learned as much as I could about other cultures.
After graduating from college 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 overland in a caravan of rickety vans through sixteen Asian countries, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal.
We nearly lost our lives, first in an earthquake in northern Afghanistan and then a riot in Kabul. My trip came to an abrupt halt in Kathmandu when I got blood poisoning.
During the two weeks I spent in a missionary hospital there, I read all of the Tolkien trilogy. I would sleep, read, and look out the windows at the Himalayas. 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 in Carmel, California, as a medical assistant in Monterey, California, and as a Russian travel consultant in Washington, D.C. One night in Washington 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 in Greenwich Village, taught acting classes in a nursing home in the Bronx, was a bartender in Broadway theaters, 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 eleven-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 as Fast as You Can. Finally I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Now more than thirty years and a hundred books later, I feel I’m one of the most fortunate people on earth. I’ve written picture books, biographies, mysteries, novels, retellings of Greek mythology, Norse mythology, medieval stories, mermaid tales, and American tall tales. I’ve written a book on the world religions and a series based on Homer’s Odyssey. But the most fun I’ve ever had in my writing life has been taking journeys through time in the Magic Tree House.
I’ve now published 55 Magic Tree House fiction books. (My husband and my sister Natalie Pope Boyce write the wonderful nonfiction companion books.) I’ve traveled with Jack and Annie to meet Mozart in Vienna, Louis Armstrong in New Orleans, Lady Gregory in Ireland, and Charles Dickens in Victorian, England.
Writing is a miracle. You can travel anywhere in the world, to any time and any place — and still be home in time for dinner!