NEW YORK — Children's author Mary Pope Osborne, this year's spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble's Summer Reading Program, has omitted at least one notable book from her own summer reading list: the final Harry Potter.
"It's sometimes smart not to read books on a subject that can influence you. They can cross into territories and mesh your wires a little bit," said Osborne, best known for her "Magic Tree House" series. "I read a lot of older fantasy books, but some of the newer ones, like Harry Potter, I tend to avoid."
When "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" comes out, on July 21, Osborne will likely be prepping on penguins, not wizards.
"I'm working on a 'Magic Tree House' about penguins," she explains.
Osborne said she read the first book in J.K. Rowling's series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," but has since fallen behind, depending instead on her nephews to keep her updated. She has certainly kept pace with her own books. The "Magic Tree House" series has sold millions of copies worldwide and she continues to release two new adventures a year.
This summer, she will be especially busy, whether researching penguins, promoting Barnes & Noble's reading program, or working on preproduction for a "Magic Tree House" musical that will open in September at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, Conn.
"We think the theater is as much a part of the imagination as books are," said Osborne, whose husband, Will Osborne, is co-writing the score and script with composer Randy Courts.
Mary Pope Osborne, who just turned 58, not only writes adventures, setting her stories everywhere from Japan to Hawaii to prehistoric times, but has lived them. The daughter of an Army colonel, she grew up in Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Austria and as a young woman traveled throughout Asia and the Persian Gulf, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and India.
She had already written numerous children's books when she completed the first Magic Tree House, "Dinosaurs Before Dark," published in 1992. Only four "Magic Tree House" books originally were planned; No. 38, "Monday With a Mad Genius," featuring Leonardo da Vinci, comes out in August.
"I started getting letters from kids and their parents and their teachers after the first book; I had never gotten letters like that before," she said. "I was getting a lot of feedback from boys and that was really heartening because boys supposedly don't like to read as much as girls."
Her books are aimed at early grade-schoolers -- "They learn to read from 'Magic Tree House' and they go on to 'Harry Potter,' " she said with a laugh -- and she has come to think of her fans as friends and even collaborators. Having visited schools throughout the country, she credits children with important ideas, including the titles of such books as "High Tide in Hawaii" and "Vacation Under the Volcano." Her decision to write about penguins was also in response to a poll of readers, who chose penguins over the Himalayas and Cleopatra.
"I take those votes very seriously," she says, adding that a recent trip to New Orleans gave her an idea for another "Magic Tree House" story.
"Everybody wanted to tell us their story about the storm. They didn't call it Katrina. They called it 'the storm.' And life seemed to be divided between before the storm and after the storm," she recalled.
"I started talking to kids about placing a 'Tree House' in New Orleans, maybe around the time of Louis Armstrong's childhood. And this one family I met with said, 'How about writing a book called "New Day in New Orleans." ' And I liked that idea. I think it will happen."