by Judy Newman with Alana Pedalino
I have been thinking all week about where I would want to go if, as children, my siblings and I found a rope that led to a magic tree house that could take us back in time. If I were a kid around the age of Jack and Annie in this week’s Book of the Week, Dinosaurs Before Dark, I might pick up a book about dinosaurs and, like Jack, make a wish to travel back to the time when those magnificent and mysterious creatures roamed the earth. Especially if it meant I could get my sister, my brother, and myself home—safely—in time for dinner.
But my answer as a grown-up is a little bit different. Today I might pick up one of my favorite books and wish for an in-person, old-fashioned leisurely lunch date with some of my favorite authors.
Edith Wharton—author of 15 novels, as well as numerous short stories, poems, novellas, and a memoir—wrote in bed before she got up for the day. Hopefully, she’ll be up in time for our lunch when I would figuratively pummel her with questions about her writing process; how it felt to win the Pulitzer Prize for one of my favorite books, The Age of Innocence; and how she designed her house, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts. If Edith could travel forward in time, I would tell her about the evening last summer when we had a food truck supper and took Sophie Rae on a Story Walk on the grounds of her gorgeous estate.
Many of James Baldwin’s novels, essays, poems, and plays are set in New York City, and one of his favorite haunts was the White Horse Tavern, which is pretty close to our Scholastic offices, so I imagine we’d have lunch there. Baldwin, one of my favorite writers, was a true book person who visited the library at least three times each week. After lunch, maybe we would take the subway uptown to Harlem’s 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library (known today as the Countee Cullen Library). Heading back to the office, I would walk past Minetta Lane—that’s where director Barry Jenkins filmed scenes for his Academy Award–winning film If Beale Street Could Talk, which was adapted from Baldwin’s 1974 love story of the same title.
I have so many favorite picture books, but Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig is at the top of my list. Steig has such an interesting background: he was known as the “King of Cartoons” (creating more than 2,500 cartoons and nearly 120 covers for the New Yorker). It wasn’t until he was 61 years old that he started creating children’s books. If you read about Steig and look at some of his books, such as Brave Irene, you will see his sources of inspiration. I would love to meet him for lunch in Kent, where he lived in Connecticut, before he died at the age of 95. We would have so much to talk about: his former sister-in-law, cultural anthropolist Margaret Mead, his parents, his several wives, etc.
It turns out Agatha Christie—the prolific writer whose 66 mystery novels published between 1920 and 1973 are still bestsellers today—also loved to cook. In her short story collection, The Adventure of a Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrees, Christie introduces herself in the foreword, stating, “This book of Christmas fare may be described as 'The Chef's Selection.' I am the Chef!” If I transported myself back to Agatha Christie’s time—the early 1950s—I’d hope to share a slice of buttery, chocolatey Delicious Death cake, which is part of the plot of A Murder Is Announced. Perhaps after lunch we would go to see Agatha’s play Mousetrap in London’s West End, which ran continuously from 1952 to 2020, only stopping temporarily due to the pandemic. (Fun fact: Agatha thought the play would only run briefly: “It won't run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months.”)
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t read too much Shakespeare. I acted in the role of Juliet in fourth grade at the John Ward School, and I read—but retained nothing of—King Lear, which was required reading in 11th grade at Newton High School. Right before the pandemic, I spoke with some friends about trying to catch up on my Shakespeare. I wanted to form a Shakespeare reading group, then go to see the plays. The pandemic put the kibosh on that idea, so I am not sure how prepared I would be for my lunch with the Great Bard, but I would still like to go. So much of literature and the arts and everyday references connect to Shakespeare, so I really would like to read his work.
My Magic Tree House trip back to Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 1600 would be a good destination for me. (As it was for Jack and Annie in Stage Fright on a Summer Night, a Magic Tree House book that takes place during Elizabethan times.)
Obviously, for all this literary time traveling, I would need a well-functioning tree house. As I do with most creative endeavors, I would turn to David Vozar first. David explained to me how he tried to build his first tree house and that maybe I should find another contractor:
People ask me all the time how to write compelling children’s books, and Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series, with 134 million copies in print around the world, is a great example. The story is simple and engaging—right on target for the interest level of kid readers. And it inspires readers of all ages to think about what they would do and where they would go if they were in the characters’ shoes.
“Veteran storyteller Osborne builds the power of reading into the story: it’s the books in the tree house that give the kids the magic to travel and see far, far away.” —Booklist
Everyone at Scholastic Book Clubs was as inspired as I was by Dinosaurs Before Dark. Please take a look at these resources you can use in your classroom to guide and shape your lessons:
• Come face-to-face with a T. rex in the latest Book Boys video
• Hear from second grade teacher Erin Warren in Book Talks
• Have students write and draw with this week’s Cooked Up from a Book activity
• Learn fun facts about Mary Pope Osborne in Behind the Scenes
Happy reading! And please share where you’d wish to go if you could turn back time. My in-box is always open: email@example.com
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs