‘Dear Mary: Your book almost made me smart’

Mary Pope Osborne’s home in Goshen, Conn., looks like a serene place; its many windows open to a lake breeze in the summer and are blanketed with fleecy snow in the New England winter. Designed by her husband, Will Osborne, it even has a tree house room perched on top, accessed by a spiral stairway. But don’t let the enviable calm fool you. It is anything but absolutely still at Magic Tree House headquarters.

Osborne has many projects spinning, including a new literacy initiative called The Magic Tree House Classroom Adventures Program, aimed at teachers who use the series to instruct first- to fourth-grade students in subjects ranging from science to social studies — and, of course, reading.

The program has two components. The first, Gift of Time, groups Magic Tree House books by classroom subject and common core standards to help teachers use the books effectively in a cross-curriculum fashion, as well as lesson plans, reading-level information and activities for the classroom. The latter will include the dialogue for classroom plays based on the books, designed so every child in the class will have a part to read.

Perhaps more important is the program’s second act, Gift of Books, which invites Title I schools to submit a proposal explaining which Magic Tree House books they need for their classrooms. First Book, a nonprofit that provides new books to children in need, will then help distribute free books.

“This series would be nothing without the teachers,” Osborne said. “I went to hundreds of schools for years. Before the Internet, I kept my own teachers list of advisers, about 30 of them. I brought people from Random House with me on school visits to see what was going on in teachers’ libraries. Teachers were the ones who started waking up to Magic Tree House many years ago, and writing me, and making me write more. This is about giving back.”

The Magic Tree House book A Good Night for Ghosts, in which Jack and Annie go back in time to help a 15-year- old Louis Armstrong discover his destiny, will be visiting underserved schools in the form of traveling musical adaptation beginning in 2013 — with original music composed by legendary New Orleans R&B artist Allen Toussaint.

Osborne has refused to adapt Jack and Annie for any screen, big or small, preferring to keep them in kids’ imaginations. But a plan for a movie version of Magic Tree House may be in the works — if its profits would help the Osbornes fund charitable outreach in the schools.

“Putting things on stage and getting books to kids who need them …” Osborne said, “these are the things we want to be doing for the rest of our lives.”

Copyright 2012 UNC General Alumni Association

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