Mary Pope Osborne and Random House Children’s Books have teamed up for a new, week-long reading initiative that kicks off October 11 with a live-streamed event at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. Magic Tree House Reading Buddies Week pairs younger readers with more experienced readers to encourage literacy efforts in schools, libraries, bookstores, and homes. Nearly 1,000 schools, libraries, and bookstores have signed up for the webcast, which will include a talk by Osborne and a live theatrical performance starring Magic Tree House characters Jack and Annie, who will sing a new Reading Buddies song.

Reading Buddies teams can register to participate in the initiative on The Magic Tree House Web site beginning on October 11. The program features a Reading Buddy Minutes challenge and an interactive reading log that unlocks digital prizes as kids reach reading goals throughout the year. Also available on the site is an event kit created by Random House, which includes a bookmark, reproducible activities, and educational material about the Reading Buddies model.

The value of reading together was ingrained in Osborne at a young age; her mother made reading with her children a priority. “The greatest gift my mother gave her four children was making sure we were avid readers,” the author explained. “She was a schoolteacher in Alabama, and would sit with each of us on the couch every night and let us read to her. It was about much more than just developing reading skills, it was about sharing and enjoying the stories together, and nurturing a love of reading in her children.”

Since the 1992 debut of the Magic Tree House series, which has sold 120 million copies worldwide, Osborne has interacted with millions of young readers, through personal contact and via fan mail, and has seen firsthand the impact that books can have on a child’s life. A few years ago, while in Newark, N.J. to attend a Magic Tree House theatrical performance, she read an article that ignited her literacy advocacy work.

The article quoted a disturbing statistic: children who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who can. “That news changed my life,” said Osborne. “I think that the statistic hit me especially hard since my books are designed to be read by third graders. So I took this responsibility personally, and my husband and I started our own literacy campaign. The first thing we did was give a set of 28 Magic Tree House books to each of the 4,000 third graders in Newark.”

An Author on a Mission

Launched in 2012, the Classroom Adventures program, the foundation of the Osbornes’ literacy campaign, provides free online resources to elementary teachers, including a curriculum key that classifies every Magic Tree House novel and corresponding Magic Tree House Fact Tracker titles with regard to subjects and Common Core standards, and individual lesson plans for each book. That initiative was a springboard for Osborne’s Gift of Books program, which has donated more than 300,000 books to underserved children nationwide through First Book.

Osborne sees Reading Buddies Week as a natural outgrowth of Classroom Adventures. “Adding the reading buddies component to the school Magic Tree House literacy initiative will help it to continue to grow,” said Osborne. “Not only does the reading buddy model help support children’s reading efforts, but it also helps them gain self-confidence and a mentor to encourage their reading development.” For the first 5,000 Reading Buddies teams that sign up online between October 11–19, Random House will donate one book to the Classroom Adventures program, to be distributed to Title 1-eligible schools through First Book.

Mallory Loehr, v-p and publishing director of Random House/Golden Books, has been Osborne’s editor since arriving at the company in 1990, after the first Magic Tree House titles had been acquired. The series now includes 50 time-travel novels and 27 Magic Tree House Fact Checker titles. The most recent additions to the series are Magic Tree House #50: Hurry Up, Houdini! and a companion book, Magic Tricks from the Tree House, coauthored by Osborne’s sister, Natalie Pope Boyce, both July releases; and a full-color edition of the second book in the series, The Knight at Dawn, which pubbed on September 24.

Loehr views Magic Tree House as the ideal series to serve as the centerpiece of a reading buddy initiative. “The books have not only inspired children to read for more than 20 years, but thematically they fit well with the idea of sharing what you’re reading and helping your partner,” she said. “Jack and Annie are siblings who really help each other – that’s a big part of the stories. Reading Buddies Week is a great joint effort between Mary and Random House, and we are very happy to support an author who is so passionate about literacy.”

Osborne is looking forward to the October 11 Reading Buddies Week launch event; “I am surprised and delighted – if a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I’ve traveled all over the country visiting schools, libraries, and stores, and have Skyped with classrooms of kids, but this is the first time I’ll be in front of such a massive audience of people watching the webcast, which is very exciting. The Magic Tree House series has been a launching pad for families to learn and read together, and I hope Reading Buddies Week gets many more children and families reading and talking about books together.”