INTERVIEW: Mary Pope Osborne + Kelly & Nichole Matthews on MAGIC TREE HOUSE comedy adaptation
Have you had the opportunity to check Marie pope osborne‘s Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark, adapted by Jenny Laird, and illustrated by sisters Kelly and nichole matthieu?
This is the first book in a new line of graphic novel adaptations in Random House Graphic’s successful prose series.
The Beat had the opportunity to chat via email with series creator Osborne and graphic novel illustrators Kelly and Nicole to learn all about their all-time favorite books, to learn how to draw dinosaurs compares to draw non-extinct animals, and find out what happens in the perfect picture card!
AVERY KAPLAN: There were a lot of entries (106!) In the House in the magic tree series since the first entry, Dinosaurs before dark, was published in 1992. Why did you choose to start with dinosaurs?
MARY POPE OSBORNE: I wanted to start the series with a topic that is very popular with children. At the time, dinosaurs seemed like the best choice. And it continues to be the most popular book in the entire series.
KAPLAN: Have you ever imagined that Dinosaurs before dark would become a graphic novel? What was it like to see the story come to life through Kelly & Nichole?
OSBORNE: When I started the series, graphic novels hardly existed. Once they became a popular genre, I held on, wanting children to read “real” books. But one day I read a study that said that graphic novels really help a lot of kids learn to read. Since literacy is my mission, it was worth a try. It took a while to find the perfect illustrators, but I couldn’t be happier with illustrators Kelly & Nichole Matthews and book adapter Jenny Laird. The three creators beautifully capture the spirit of the series!
KAPLAN: In addition to being adapted as a graphic novel, House in the magic tree has also received musical theater adaptations and an animated series is in development. Why is it so important to share the joys of reading through other mediums?
OSBORNE: Our musical team (Will osborne, Randy Course, and Jenny Laird) took my stories and made them better than the originals. I love their music and I love seeing children and young adults perform in shows. Singing, dancing and role-playing are a wonderful way for children to use their talents and imaginations.
KAPLAN: Perhaps the most magical part of House in the magic tree it’s the books! What’s your favorite book of all time? Do you remember the book that first sparked your love of reading?
OSBORNE: I had several favorite books growing up – Uncle wiggly books, the Little house in the meadow books, Nancy drew mysteries and a great book of Bible stories. All of these and more have ignited my love of reading and helped me develop a self. Books still do it for me today. I am actually addicted to books. I probably have at least 2,000 of them. At least ten or twenty are stacked on a bedside table at any given time. Even when I travel, I take a small number to keep by the hotel bed.
KELLY & NICHOL: The all-time favorite book (for both of us) is Howl’s moving castle by Diana wynne jones! We reread our copy because the cover fell, haha.
Of the MTH series itself, it is a link between The night of the ninjas and Blue moon blizzard (because of ninjas and unicorns, respectively).
The very FIRST book we both remember was not a delivered book itself, but our mom always joked, we learned to read via Wendy and Richard Pini‘s Elfquest series, which in turn led to other fantastic series like Where the wild things are, My father’s dragon, Pern’s Dragon Riders, etc.
KAPLAN: Can you tell us how you got involved in this project?
KELLY & NICHOL: Short answer, they asked us if we were available and we said yes. Long answer, we have been put in touch with our wonderful editor April, by a mutual friend to see if we were interested in a children’s graphic novel project. We thought this sounded like a great idea, did some testing for the series, and the rest is history!
KAPLAN: I was wondering if you could share some of your visual inspirations with us! Am I detecting the influence of video games on the Frog Creek card?
KELLY & NICHOL: In general, we love to create pinterest boards for various projects, and we’ll fill them with anything that will give us the vibe we’d like to seek. With MTH, these are mainly the original book covers, as well as screenshots from Ghibli movies like Totoro, or Howl’s moving castle. We also watched the adaptation of the 2011 animated film which was a real delight! We’ve also rounded up the books we’ll be working on for reference, to get more information from the original source that might not have been covered in Jenny’s (excellent) adaptations.
For the card, the original idea was that it looked like something a child could draw and color, like a placemat in a restaurant. Everything is named in bold type, and the architecture and outlook of the city itself has been simplified because of this. Later it was decided that they wanted a 3/4 view of the whole city.
I wish we had thought of looking at the video game cards when we designed it! It would have made the job easier. We looked at isometric art styles to help with the 3/4 view, and after a lot of struggle (we had never drawn this style before), we made it look what everyone wanted. The map was definitely the hardest part.
KAPLAN: What’s it like to draw dinosaurs? Are extinct animals more difficult to draw than living ones? Where did you look for inspiration?
KELLY & NICHOL: We LOVE drawing dinosaurs! It’s a shame that we don’t draw more. It’s great fun to bring our interpretation of what they might look like and pull the color palettes of existing birds to give them a bit more validity (like a vulture for the T-Rex and a green parrot for Henry ).
Between dinosaurs and existing animals, however… I think dinosaurs are actually easier! With existing animals, it’s easier to go wrong with how people expect them to look, and sometimes we’ll have a hard time making certain animals (like horses) look good. . On the other hand, dinosaurs can have the challenge of not having an actual reference for drawing, but there are hundreds of models, 3D recreations, and toys to choose from! And we love that we can give them our own take on their physical appearance (like feathers, spikes, etc.).
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you would like me to include?
OSBORNE: I am amazed at the beauty of these graphic novels – the colors are so vibrant. Sometimes full-page art makes me gasp, like the first sighting of the treehouse, the huge flying reptile that saves Jack’s life, and the mysterious medieval knight appearing on horseback.
KELLY & NICHOL: If you liked Dinosaurs before dark Discover the next volume in the series, The knight at dawn, coming this fall!
Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark is available at your local bookstore and public library now, and Magic Tree House: The Knight at Dawn will be available on September 21st, 2021.