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It’s been more than two decades since Mary Pope Osborne first began chronicling the adventures of Jack and Annie and their Magic Tree House; in that time, the intrepid siblings have journeyed to ancient Egypt, Elizabethan England, and even the land of the dinosaurs. In her latest book, Danger in the Darkest Hour, Annie and Jack parachute into France at the height of World War II. Danger is one of more than 50 books in the series and the first to be released as a Super Edition, complete with over 30 pages of nonfiction background, including maps and archival photographs. We caught up with Osborne to talk tree houses, informational text, and the magic of
Q | How did the Magic Tree House series come to be?
A | I I decided to try to do a time travel series because I love history and I’ve studied a lot of different cultures. I wanted to bring the world into my series. It took me a year to decide on a magic tree house. I had a magic cellar, magic whistles, a magic art studio, and a magic museum. I was just about to give up when I went for a walk in the woods with my family and we stumbled upon an old tree house. I always tell kids: The simplest ideas can be the hardest to find.
Q | What do you hope young readers will take away from your books?
A | Overall, to come away with a love for reading and to improve their skills in reading. Beyond that, I want them to learn about the world. I want to ignite their curiosity and inspire them to research subjects further.
Teachers were asking me for more information about the subjects I was writing about: dinosaurs, mummies in Egypt, pirates. So my husband, Will, created a nonfiction series called The Magic Tree House Fact Trackers. Jack and Annie take kids through background information, expanding on the companion fiction books. Readers are not only getting an adventure but gaining knowledge about science, or animals, or geography.
Q | Danger in the Darkest Hour takes place in Europe during World War II. What inspired you to tell that story?
A | A lot of kids have asked me to write about World War II, and I take votes when I go out on the road. I have always been interested in World War II, and my dad [to whom the book is dedicated] fought in the war. But I honestly didn’t know how to tell that story, it was a challenge. Of all the books I’ve written, it was the most satisfying, because I could really take my time and dig into the subject matter for the Super Edition.
Q | How did you decide what to include in the Super Edition?
A | First, I wanted to give kids a context for the war. I wanted to let them know which countries were fighting and how long the war lasted. Then I got more specific about details, such as the role carrier pigeons played in the war or information about D-Day. At the end, I have information about the Holocaust and a page dedicated to Anne Frank so that children can understand [more about] the human tragedy of the war.
Q | What’s the best part of embarking on all of these adventures with Jack and Annie?
A | The research. Sometimes I go to the actual place. Of course, I had to take a trip to Venice to write the Venetian book! I just love getting out maps and doing timetables or studying the Mexico City subway system from 1970 so I can take Jack and Annie to the World Cup. I love the tracking of details—it’s like a treasure hunt.
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