“I can’t believe you didn’t get ‘Frog Creek, Pennsylvania,’ ” my daughter said, witheringly. "I deserved it. In a scorching humiliation, my team had lost a children’s-book trivia contest with the final question: 'In Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series, where do Jack and Annie live?'”
Following series opener Dinosaurs Before Dark, which introduced white time travelers Jack and Annie, every single Magic Tree House book began, “One summer day in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, a mysterious tree house appeared in the woods.” And since I had read every blessed one yet published with my daughter during her first-grade year—at that point somewhere in the vicinity of 30—I could have read it in my sleep (and sometimes did).
With Jack and Annie, we went to the Cretaceous, the moon, Pompeii, and more. Though the adventures were formulaic, Osborne didn’t shy away from hard truths. Jack and Annie escape from Pompeii as Vesuvius erupts, and both protagonists and readers understand the characters they’ve just met all perish. And, as Kirkus noted in our review of Christmas in Camelot, Osborne “never dumbs down the language for her young readers, instead introducing a rich vocabulary while seamlessly providing contextual clues for decoding.”
I think it’s fair to say that Jack, Annie, and Osborne deserve some credit for my daughter’s reading habit and that of throngs more, if the tattered state of the “Jack and Annie books” at libraries all over are any indication. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the arrival of that treehouse in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, and chapter-book readers now have over 50 adventures to choose among, as well as some 35-plus “Fact Tracker” nonfiction companions. Through her Gift of Books initiative, Osborne has given away some 500,000 Magic Tree House books to underserved schools to help them close the reading gap. Even if their caregivers forget “Frog Creek, Pennsylvania,” chances are good that most of their readers won’t. Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.