Famous author of the ‘Magic Tree House’ series visits Eric Carle Picture Book Museum

Osborne is best known for her ‘Magic Tree House’ book series


Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

Well over 100 visitors stood in line at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art on Wednesday afternoon for a chance to meet “Magic Tree House” author Mary Pope Osborne.

Osborne, an advocate and supporter of children’s literacy, has written over 100 books in her 30-year career as an author, including biographies, mystery novels, a series based on Homer’s Odyssey and a book on world religions. Her best-known series, the “Magic Tree House,” was first published in 1992.

From 12 to 1:30 p.m., visitors were able to take pictures with Osborne and have books stamped with her signature. At 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., the Berkshire Theatre Group presented “Showtime with Shakespeare: A Magic Tree House Adventure,” a musical based on Osborne’s “Stage Fright on a Summer Night.”

Sandy Soderberg, the museum’s marketing manager, said that a major goal of organizing events like Osborne’s visit is to inspire visitors, especially young children.

“It’s really a great opportunity to meet and be inspired by authors and illustrators.” Soderberg said.

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

In an interview with The Berkshire Eagle, Osborne discussed the ongoing impact of her book series, which is estimated to have sold over 143 million copies in 35 different languages.

Her original readers “started to grow up,” she said.

“Now sometimes if I go to an airport or check into a hotel, the young adult who checks me in will recognize the name. That’s a new phenomenon that’s really fun and has added even more joy to the whole experience of writing these books.”

For current readers, Osborne hopes they experience the freedom she felt growing up, because “they don’t play outside like kids used to.”

“Jack and Annie [the protagonists of the “Magic Tree House” series] are just ordinary kids. Now and then they have a little magic to play with, but basically all their choices kids can make, too. They’re not superheroes,” Osborne said.

Seven-year-old Emma Johnson of Brattleboro, Vermont attended the event with her mother and younger sister.

“I’m on the 19th book [of the “Magic Tree House” series], but my favorite one was the one with ninjas,” Johnson said, referring to “Magic Tree House number five: Night of the Ninjas” where Jack and Annie are whisked to ancient Japan to train with secret ninjas.

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

When asked if she was excited to meet Osborne, Johnson said yes, because she wanted to be a writer someday.

Johnson added that she thinks she is more like the character of Jack, because she really likes reading books and learning.

Emma’s mother, Allison Johnson, said that they are frequent visitors to the museum.

“We try to come whenever there’s a big event,” she said. “Even if we don’t know the author, it’s really exciting for the kids to find more books to read.”

Katie Formosi, a German and linguistics major at the University of Massachusetts, said that she has been reading “Magic Tree House” books since she was five years old. After seeing the event on the museum Facebook page, she decided she had to go.

Formosi said that she knows how important reading can be for children from her experience working in an independent bookstore.

“There’s nothing better than recommending a book and having the kid come back for the next in the series,” Formosi said, adding that the “Magic Tree House” books are “palatable” for young readers because the characters are relatable and there’s so many different topics covered.

The visit with Osborne was included with admission to the museum, and the two exhibit galleries were filled with children and parents. In addition to the permanent exhibit on the life of Eric Carle and his career in picture book art, there was a new exhibit on graphic novels on view until May 26.

“We have the library, where families can come read together,” Soderberg said while pointing out displays featuring award-winning books and books with LGBTQ+ characters. “It’s important to have this representation.”

The Eric Carle Museum was founded to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books in 2002. Soderberg said that she hopes that visitors from the area, particularly students, continue to stay involved.

“Even if they’re just visiting the gift shop,” Soderberg joked, adding that free coffee is available in the museum café. The museum also hosts student interns who become very involved in events and exhibits, Soderberg said.

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of museum namesake Carle’s most famous book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” and Soderberg said that many events are planned in the upcoming year.

“Picture books bring people together,” Soderberg said about the museum’s mission and the Osborne event. “People remember their favorite picture books.”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.